In the first of a two-part series, Daniel Myers, Principal Solicitor – Family Law talks about what to expect during an initial appointment with a family lawyer, and why family lawyers are not as scary as you might think.
I’m aware from meeting with clients over the years that the idea of going to see a family lawyer for the first time can seem daunting, perhaps even confronting. This is understandable. In a perfect world, no one would choose to spend their limited resources to discuss intimate and often difficult areas of their personal life with a lawyer if they could possibly avoid it.
Feeling Anxious is a Normal Response
The anxiety associated with meeting a lawyer may be increased by the fear that as soon as you meet with one, it automatically follows that the next step will be a huge and unpleasant war with your ex-partner and that it will cost a bucket-load. Although it’s sadly true that some cases do end up in intense and highly expensive litigation, fortunately those cases remain a minority. Excessive costs can often be avoided by taking sensible steps at the outset of a separation.
When I meet with a client for the first time, I understand they’re likely to feel apprehensive and uncertain about the future. If the separation is recent, their world may feel like it has turned upside down, making sense about many aspects of their lives almost becomes challenging. In those cases I try to assist the client by breaking down the relevant legal issues into bite size chunks, for example, property settlement, arrangements for children, financial support, child support, divorce, and so on.
However, once clients have told me a bit more about their story, I often find they’re as much concerned about the process towards resolving their matter as they are in receiving a detailed analysis of their “rights’ or “entitlements” at the end of the case. In particular, most people would prefer to keep things civil with their ex-partner, or at the very least, they want to minimise the conflict. I’ve never once met a client who told me at the outset “Let’s drag this thing out for the next 2 years because I really want to pay you a load in legal fees”.
With this in mind, when I first meet with a client we often talk more about the best way of approaching the case rather than getting too stuck into the substantive details, particularly if the separation is relatively fresh. This means discussing things such as how they feel about the separation, the nature of their communication with the former partner, questions about their respective personalities and emotional states, and understanding, in the big picture sense, what is most important to them and what they value. My emphasis is more about trying to steer things towards the most appropriate pathway i.e. obtaining the best outcome in the least acrimonious and cost-effective way. At this time I will also mention Rockwell Bates Health and Wellbeing Program (H2H) as I understand the impact of emotional stress and strain on you and those around you.
What if we have an Agreement in place or have commenced court proceedings already?
In some cases, a client informs me that they’ve already reached an agreement with their former partner and they just need it formalised legally. In those meetings, it’s a lot easier to jump to the “nuts and bolts” of an agreement because the hard work in getting there has already been done between the couple.
In other matters I might meet a client for the first time when they’re already mid-way through messy court proceedings. In that case the priority is coming up with an overall strategy plan to help deal with the litigation in the most effective way
Regardless of their situation, by the end of an initial appointment, my aim is to have helped give the client a sense of context about the law and empowered them to make informed decisions about their matter going forward.
In my next blog I talk further about what to expect during an initial appointment, including practical issues and how to prepare for the meeting.