Step 1- Realising that you need one
The first step (and probably the hardest) is realising that you need one. Whether you are married or in a de-facto relationship, are separated or considering separation, then the chances are that you could benefit from legal advice.
A good family lawyer will be able to offer advice and guidance in these areas:
- Separation and Divorce;
- Child custody arrangements and parenting matters;
- Property settlements and the transfer of assets including superannuation splits;
- Spousal maintenance;
- Child support;
- Drafting Consent Orders or Parenting Plans;
- Drafting Financial Agreements (before, during and at the end of a marriage or de-facto relationship);
- Family Violence.
Step 2- Look for an experienced family lawyer
Because family law covers the things that you most value, that is your family and your property, you need to make sure your lawyer has experience in this area. Don’t be afraid to “interview” your potential lawyer and ask questions about their experience and knowledge of family law. Many firms offer free or discounted initial consultations so take advantage of that and talk to a few Family lawyers before committing.
You don’t have to engage an “Accredited Specialist” to receive the benefit of experience and knowledge. I have personally met and worked with many experienced veterans of family law who have chosen not to do specialist accreditation for one reason another, but who are brilliant and very well-respected family lawyers and advocates.
Ask friends and family to recommend a family lawyer that they have used and had a good experience with. Some 20% to 25% of my clients have been referrals from previous clients and there is no greater compliment nor pressure for a lawyer to continue to deliver great results than when you realise the importance of future referrals.
Step 3- Find someone you are comfortable with and trust
You need a lawyer who you are comfortable with and who understands your needs and legal position. It’s likely that you will be communicating a lot with your lawyer and to do that effectively you need to be comfortable and at ease with him or her.
You also need to be able to trust your lawyer and know that the advice you are receiving is based on a foundation of experience and law and isn’t just being said to please you.
Look for a lawyer who will reality test you and advise you if they believe what you are trying to achieve is beyond your likely range of outcomes. Look for a lawyer who will clearly explain their reasoning and provide you with the legal foundation to support that advice.
While this advice may not be what you want to hear it could save you thousands of dollars in legal fees by pursuing something through the Court that you may never achieve or worse still having a cost order made against you.
Step 4- Does size matter?
Finally, in my view bigger is not always better. While larger firms might have greater resources and facilities the trade-off is often you pay higher fees and your matter might be dealt with by several people including juniors and paralegals, which can make it difficult to contact your lawyer quickly or directly. Smaller law firms often have lower overheads and while they may have less resources than a large firm they can often offer more personal service and better access to your lawyer at often lower fees.
Take a look around, is the office organised and orderly are there support staff. Are the staff from the support staff to the lawyers friendly and helpful or do they seem stressed and unhappy? Find out who will be working on your matter and what their fees are. Ask yourself if you feel comfortable and valued.
Remember if you are not happy or getting the service you should be getting then you should walk away.