How to choose a family lawyer
We have talk at length about the importance of your “communities of support” during a separation and/or divorce. This is because family law matters produce a lot of emotions to process and personal decisions to make. So when it comes to choosing a family lawyer, it’s important to find the one that fits you.
Here are some questions to ponder if you find yourself making that decision, before, during and after you meet some potential candidates:
Are they family law specialists?
Like therapists, doctors, and engineers, lawyers too can be generalists and specialists. However, family law is simply not an area that someone can just pick up and run with. Given the family court system is essentially its own entity, this means it has its own processes and nuances to become familiar with. This knowledge is often accumulated through experience, and not something to be found in a book.
Are they experienced in all aspects of family law?
Almost following on from the first question, family law is so much more than just about going to court in adversarial settings. It can involve negotiating, creating and maintaining relationships, and collaboration. When looking up potential lawyers, try and see what settings they’ve had experience in and think about whether it fits your needs.
Do I feel comfortable with them?
Like any relationship – personal or professional – this is arguably one of the most important things to look for. This is because good relationships mean good communication, and communication between lawyer and client is key in family law:
“do I feel silly for asking them questions?“
“can I trust them with personal information?”
“do I feel understood?”
“how do I feel when they tell me something I don’t want to hear?”
What are they promising me – process or outcome?
If there is one thing that is guaranteed in family law, it is that there are no guarantees. At least in terms of outcomes. Every situation is different, and a good lawyer is one who effectively communicates walks along side you on your journey through a complex system. Pay attention to whether they are walking you through the process, and empowering you with options and contingencies, rather than making you blindly rely on their guarantees of success.
What have other people said about them?
While you need to decide what fits you, sometimes it pays to give a cursory glance at what other people have said. If you look at testimonials and reviews, pay attention to the reasons others are giving for their comments. Whether it is positive or negative, is it because of the outcomes achieved (i.e. success in court) or the process of dealing with them (i.e. communicative, supportive, versatile etc.)
How many other family lawyers have I spoken to?
When jumping into a new area of knowledge, it’s tempting to go with the first thing you learn. This is called “anchoring bias”. If you’ve met with a lawyer, gone through the process outlined above, and are still unsure about committing to their services, then you always have the option of speaking to other lawyers and comparing the experiences. The question to ask yourself here is “what value can I get from talking to someone else?” It’s hard to be sure when you’ve only had one particular experience. But always be honest with yourself: make sure you can tell the difference between looking for a lawyer that will tell you what you want to hear and those you feel comfortable going on this journey with.
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