There was no course in school where you learned how to select the right family law lawyer. And, you probably didn’t need one back then. Now, you’re considering making a transition from being in a relationship to going solo or, from being solo to being a couple. It’s a good move to understand what legal issues lay ahead. What you’re entitled to and what you are obliged to share with your partner or spouse.

Here are 3 common tips from clients who found the right lawyer.

1.    Take the lead

Take the time before you make the appointment to meet a lawyer to develop essential lists of what is important to you to make sure you cover everything at the meeting. The lists cover what you want in a lawyer and what family matters you want to resolve or understand to ensure that the lawyer has the knowledge and skills to be able to assist you.

The ‘lawyer list’ will include

  • rates and payment arrangements,
  • experience with similar issues of concern to you, and
  • any disciplinary action taken against them from their governing body

Knowing that when you retain a lawyer you are retaining the whole law firm,  there should also be a discussion about how many ‘hands’ will be involved: clerks, assistants, secretaries, and lawyers. It can be quite a surprise when a lawyer you haven’t met is the one who will be doing most of the work. On the other hand, working with a sole practitioner usually means lower fees and a more nimble organization. The lawyer you meet is the one who handles all your work.

The ‘family list’ should include

  • any urgent matters and when they need to be accomplished
  • an outline of the family’s resources, liabilities, income
  • what you want to accomplish and what’s important to you

2.    Understand the Role of a Lawyer

The lawyer is a professional. That means abiding by a strict code of ethics, acting with courtesy and respect. Discussions about a client’s personal life should be nonjudgmental. Questions asked should be given in context and the relevance explained to the client leaving no doubt of the reason and value of the answer.   The lawyer’s primary roles are to provide appropriate legal advice given the client’s needs and circumstances and at all times to act in the client’s best interests.

The lawyer should provide a retainer agreement to review with any prospective client before the work begins. This agreement outlines the scope of the legal services, billing practices, scheduling appointments, termination or withdrawal of services, privacy and confidentiality.

3.    Bullying in not tolerated

Clients hesitant to approach a second lawyer after a bad experience they had with their first one. These experiences were many and varied.  A client was made to feel guilty or less worthy as a person because they wanted to leave an unhappy marriage.  Another was directed to sign an affidavit which included false statements in order to “win” the next battle at court. When the client had no issue with a family matter, the lawyer attempted to persuade the client of the ‘critical need to move quickly at all costs’. In each instance the client felt uncomfortable and challenged what was proposed by the lawyer.

There’s a difference between a lawyer recommending a course of action which, from their experience, will be in the client’s best interests and taking a client down a path which is inconsistent with the client’s wishes and instructions. When these paths are incongruent, it’s time for the client to find new counsel.

Bullying not only arises during private meetings, it also shows up in a client’s accounts.  Every client has the right to discuss upfront how much time the lawyer estimates the negotiations or litigation will take and what will be an estimated range of fees. While it is difficult to offer such an estimate of time and cost at a preliminary meeting, once the client provides more information and supporting documents and the lawyer has had time to consider the legal issues, a discussion of these topics is wise.     

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