How to find a family lawyer and make the most of your first conference
Selecting a family lawyer is not a simple matter; you don’t take the first you find in your internet search. Preparation before your first conference with your lawyer can also ensure the conference is productive and you get the answers you are seeking.
You should take time to select a lawyer best for your particular needs. Here are some pointers for you to think about:
There is nothing wrong with conducting an interview with a lawyer to determine if they are right for you. You will have the opportunity to ask questions to determine their level of experience, see how they interact with you and whether they speak plain English. You will also find out whether their style fits with yours and see if the two of you are a good fit.
Be prepared that a good, experienced lawyer will not tell you what you want to hear — rather they will tell you what you need to hear. Therein lies the difference for many. It’s not always an easy message for the lawyer to deliver. It takes integrity and confidence, but that’s the least you should expect from your family lawyer. Your lawyer should be honest and use their experience to guide you in progressing your case.
If you have young children, look for a lawyer who will make clear that you will need to put their needs first and that they will not simply act as a mouthpiece for you if you are making unreasonable demands in relation to your children. A family lawyer who is aware of the importance of your children is an asset in your case. Your lawyer will be integral in joining you to write your child’s “divorce story” and it is essential to have a family lawyer who will take you through the process to ensure the best possible outcome for you and your family.
If your matter involves complicated property structures select a firm that has a commercial law department who can assist where necessary. Also ensure that your lawyer has close working relationships with other financial experts who have knowledge in that area.
It will be necessary through the process to share very personal details about your life, your marriage and your finances. It is very important that you feel comfortable with the lawyer you pick.
Most importantly, you should select a lawyer who will share and support your attitude to your divorce and one that will not escalate matters simply to increase the legal fees that you spend on your matter.
Once you have selected a lawyer (or lawyers) that you think will be able to assist you, the next step is generally a first conference with the lawyer.
Seeing a lawyer for the first time can be very daunting, especially at a time when you are already feeling vulnerable. Your first meeting is important because it is an opportunity for you to get as much direction and clarity as you can as to what to do next.
So, what can you do to help your lawyer provide value for money from your first meeting?
Understand what a lawyer can and cannot help you with
Understanding the role your lawyer will play before your initial meeting will help you properly prepare for your first meeting; which is the next essential step. It is important to set your expectations now on what your lawyer can and cannot help you with. This will also give you clarity on what questions to ask.
So, what can your family lawyer help you with? They can:
- advise you about your legal rights and responsibilities in regards to divorce, parenting, child support, spouse maintenance and property.
- act as a buffer between you and your former partner, to engage in negotiations to reach agreement about the division of your property and/or parenting of your children.
- help you develop an action plan, create practical solutions to problems which can be resolved independently from the legal system and determine which solutions would best suit your circumstances
- connect with other professionals to assist you in dealing with any family violence such as police and to also assist you with non-legal problems arising from your separation including, financial advisors, accountants, mortgage brokers, and mental health professionals
What your lawyer cannot do is:
- help you emotionally recover from the breakdown of your relationship
- help you change or alter your former spouse’s attitude, personality or parenting styles; or
- help you with any problems that are not legally based
Prepare, prepare, prepare
As Winston Churchill said “Fail to plan, plan to fail”. Being organised and prepared for your first meeting will limit the work your lawyer will have to do to provide you with the initial advice you need. What a lawyer can advise you on greatly depends on the facts and information you give them and your defined goals. The work you do before your first meeting like gathering, organising and making note of the relevant information will provide your lawyer with essential information, therefore, they can spend more time on your advice rather than helping you gather the information required.
For example, if you are seeking advice about property matters, it is very helpful to have to hand:
- A list of all assets in your name, your former partners name, or joint names, with your best estimate of the value of each asset. If the assets include companies, it is helpful to know the names of each entity and, if possible, who owns shares in each entity;
- A list of all the liabilities in your name, your former partners name, or joint names, with details of the funds owed under each liability;
- Detail on the value of each of your superannuation interests;
- Details of what (if anything) each of you owned when you commenced living together;
- Any information you might have about (substantial) gifts of money or inheritances received by either of you;
- An overview of your current living expenses.
If you are seeking advice about parenting matters, your lawyer will be assisted in advising you if you are able to tell them:
- The full names and dates of birth of each child;
- Where the children are currently living;
- Where the children attend school/daycare/preschool;
- The children’s weekly routine – i.e. extracurricular activities, sports and the like;
- How much time the children are currently spending with each child;
- Any additional needs your child might have;
- Any concerns you have for the children in the other parent’s care;
- Whether the other parent has put forward any proposals about the arrangements for the children.
Take your time to pick a lawyer that is most appropriate for you and one who will give you the support and has the knowledge to make a world of difference in your divorce experience.
At Swaab our advice is objective, honest and practical. We will do our best to keep you out of the courts so that you can avoid the expense, delay and uncertainty that this brings but if court becomes necessary you can rely on our skill and expertise to get you through it.