11 December 2014

How Not to be an Average Family Lawyer

Published on 11 December 2014
Without a doubt, it’s one of the most sensitive areas of law. Requiring its practitioners to work with people during the most difficult stages of their lives, family law can often drain as much from its solicitors as it can from its clients. For all aspiring family lawyers out there, Insights has compiled a list of tips for you to consider.

Don’t be overly aggressive

Mark Youssef is an adjunct lecturer in the Master of Applied Law (Family Law) program and lecturer in the Practical Legal Training  family law elective at the College of Law Australia, in addition to being the head of the Family Law Department at Sydney law firm Taylor & Scott Lawyers. In his extensive experience in family law, Youssef has learned that aggression can be one of the greatest follies practised by a Family lawyer.

“Family Law is unique in that it touches the most sensitive area of a person’s life – that being their family unit,” Youssef said.

“It can be a highly emotive area and one where lawyers need to finesse their finer, ‘soft’ skills in dealing with clients, not just their robust written and oral advocacy skills when dealing with opponents and the court.

“Being tough with your opponent is admirable, but being aggressive for the sake of being aggressive is an all-too-common flaw in our area of law. Threatening such things as ‘indemnity costs’ in every second correspondence you forward your opponent is poor form and shows a lack of understanding and discernment.”

Remember that both parties are facing a difficult time, and you’ll go a long way by displaying your empathy towards all involved.

Be ready to deliver a reality check

Nicole Smith is a College of Law alumnus and an Accredited Family Law Specialist at Rafton Family Lawyers. Having specialised in family faw for over eight years, Smith understands the importance of fact checking.

“Reality check everything your client tells you,” Smith said.

“If it doesn’t sound plausible, test them so you do not put something in their affidavit which later affects their credibility. An example of this is when a person says in their affidavit ‘I always dropped the child off at school’. There might be even as little as one occasion when the other side can prove they dropped off the child and this will make a judge question what else in that client’s affidavit is not quite true.“

While such details can appear minor, they can be enough to unfurl your case.

Be involved in the community

When establishing oneself in the practice area of family law, Youssef says it is important to look beyond the legal profession.

“Lawyers need to set themselves apart and engage in the wider community, whether it be in professional organisations and committees, or make a name for themselves in some other way so as to be more appealing to prospective clients and employers,” he said.

“Gone are the days when you could just expect to move up in the world by simply relying on your post-admission experience and nothing else. The law is highly specialised nowadays, and lawyers are expected to follow suit.”

Remember that your client won’t remember

Smith says one of the many pressures faced by a family lawyer’s client can be a short memory.

“Don’t assume your client will remember everything you tell them,” she said.

“Keep detailed file notes of all telephone calls/conferences and advice given and confirm advice in writing. It is not uncommon for clients to say you did not advise them of something when you did.  They are going through an emotional time and often don’t remember everything you say to them.”

Don’t hit your clients with bill shock

As with so many aspects of the professional sphere, the largest problems can often arise from money.

“Don’t just send your client a big bill at the end of their matter,” Smith said.

“Provide clients with regular monthly bills (or at least after large events) and provide them with regular cost estimates. The more realistic you are early on the less shocked (and less upset) a client will be.”