We understand that hiring a family lawyer is a massive step. We get that you want 100% confidence that your family lawyer:
- Has your best interests at heart;
- Has the knowledge and experience to solve your family law problems, without court intervention;
- Will help you to reduce the conflict with your former partner (not increase it);
- Will deliver an outcome to you quickly and cost effectively;
- Will do everything within their power to get the best result for you and your family.
In this TOP SECRET high value article, expert Brisbane Family Lawyer Courtney Barton reveals 6 things you must know before hiring a family lawyer. Not knowing these could cost you thousands:
1. Big firm + Big $’s doesn’t always translate to a better outcome
The bigger firms tend to have a bee under their bonnet that because they are more expensive, they are better lawyers and will deliver a better outcome to you the client.
However, in our experience, sometimes the bigger firms with bigger fees don’t always deliver on their promise to provide an outcome to you quickly, cost effectively and (if possible) without court intervention. Because of their reputation to deliver a ‘better’ outcome to their clients, the bigger firms have a tendency to focus on the smaller issues whilst forgetting about the bigger picture issues. What do we mean by this? The bigger firms sometimes forget to give you the client the practical, strategic and commercial advice you need about the benefit versus the cost of going down a certain pathway during negotiations with the other party. The consequence of this is that you end up spending more money and the benefit you get back sometimes doesn’t outweigh the costs, including both financial and emotional costs.
TOP SECRET TIP: Choose a lawyer who has a ‘bigger picture’ attitude, who tells you not to sweat the small stuff. You need a lawyer who does not just act as your mouth piece but who gives you practical and strategic advice which enables you to weigh up and assess the benefit versus the cost of choosing a certain legal path.
2. Know your lawyer
Knowing your lawyer may seem like a given. Surely no person would engage a lawyer without knowing that that person is their lawyer who will handle their family law problem from negotiations, to mediation, to litigation and settlement, right?
WRONG. Sometimes you will meet with one lawyer, usually the senior lawyer of the practice but your file is ultimately passed on to be managed by another junior employee of the practice that sat in on the appointment. In bigger firms, the senior lawyers don’t always do the ‘hard yacker’ work on your file. They just supervise. You usually find this out pretty quickly when the lawyer calling you is rarely the senior lawyer who you thought you were getting when you signed up and paid the retainer fee.
TOP SECRET TIP: When meeting with your lawyer for the first time, ask them if they will be the person handling your matter from start to end, so you know exactly who you are getting before you sign up.
3. Know your lawyer’s fee structure back to front
When you meet your lawyer, one of the first questions you ask is likely going to be about their fee structure. During this meeting and before signing any cost agreement, you should be asking important questions such as:
- what is your method of charging – e.g. fixed fees or an hourly rate?
- If you charge an hourly rate, what is the range of fees I can be expected to pay you?
- In what circumstances are you entitled to charge me above that range?
By choosing fixed fees you take the stress out of engaging a family lawyer because you always know how much you are going to be charged at each stage and you know your costs cannot be driven up by your ex or circumstances outside of your control. It promotes better communication between you and your lawyer as you don’t have to be nervous every time you pick up the phone to speak to your lawyer or send an email. Fixed fees keeps you in control of your costs.
In the last five years, we have seen fixed fees escalate in popularity. A Fixed Fee offering is ‘the new black’ when it comes to effectively marking family law services, to maximises the prospects of converting you into a paying client.
However, the sad reality is that many ‘Fixed Fee’ Law firms are making an offer that doesn’t actually match what their service provides. For example, when you read the fine print the ‘fixed fee offering’ is only in relation to agreements and other menu priced, easily quotable work.
Our TOP SECRET TIP: read the fine print early on before signing up to a fixed fee family lawyer to make sure that the offer matches what you actually get in return.
4. Choose a lawyer who cares about you but doesn’t care about you too much
TOP SECRET TIP: Choose a lawyer who listens to what is important to you, who understands your ‘non-negotiables,’ and who acts accordingly. That lawyer should care enough about you (and their reputation) to:
- Give you realistic, practical and strategic advice that is commercially balanced;
- Help you to reduce (not increase) the conflict with your ex partner;
- Make good on their promises to you (and not make promises they can’t keep!); and
- Deliver an outcome to you that meets your litigation needs, quickly and cost effectively.
But don’t choose a lawyer who cares about you too much, as that tends to cloud their judgement and their ability to meet the four criteria above.
Some lawyers invest themselves emotionally in their client’s matter. Why is this bad? Because the emotionally driven lawyer is too caught up in the moral righteousness of your problem and achieving a just outcome for you, rather than what is possible within the confines of the law and fails to devote appropriate attention to developing the strategies necessary to deliver an outcome to you that is possible and practicable. The emotionally driven lawyer also often has a ‘win at all costs’ attitude when in reality what you need is a lawyer who will give you tactical, strategic and practical advice and who will deliver an outcome to you that meets your needs, at the least possible financial and emotional cost.
5. A busy lawyer does not mean a better lawyer
A lawyer who tells you they have 100 files is not going to be responsive or attentive to you and your matter. They are not going to treat you like you are number 1. If you call your lawyer you may not get a return call from them at all or within a reasonable time frame. You may even be palmed off to one of their employees.
TOP SECRET TIP: A good lawyer will respond to you within 48 hours of you making contact with them. A good lawyer will not take two weeks to draft a response to a letter from your ex partner’s lawyer. A good lawyer will be responsive, attentive and will promptly deal with issues that crop up in your matter to bring it to a resolution quickly and cost effectively. A fixed fee lawyer is generally a more efficient lawyer as they have an incentive to deliver an outcome to you as quickly as possible as that is when we get paid.
6. An aggressive lawyer is not a better lawyer
TOP SECRET TIP: Do not choose a lawyer who gives in to your emotional drivers. What do we mean by this? Whilst you may be hurting from the trauma of your relationship breakdown, your lawyer is not helping you by rehashing your hurt feelings and emotions in correspondence to your ex partner and/or their lawyer. In reality, they are dragging things out unnecessarily. Your lawyer should stick to the relevant facts and issues in dispute.
When writing a letter to your ex partner, our top tip for lawyers (that is rarely adhered to) is to think about how you would feel if you were the person receiving that letter (and this tip goes for any method of communication you have post separation with your ex). Playing the blame game may feel good at the time but in the long run, it will cost you more emotionally and financially.
Try taking off your armour of justification and defensiveness and putting down your weapons of blame and accusation when corresponding with your ex via your lawyer. By doing this, you enable a more productive conversation to take place with your ex partner which will maximise the prospects of you resolving your sticky issues quickly and cost effectively and without the necessity of court intervention.
A lawyer should never just be your mouthpiece on letterhead.
We highly recommend that you seek advice from an experienced family lawyer promptly post separation in relation to your rights. Contact us today to book a reduced rate initial consultation to discuss your individual circumstances.
Don’t wait months or even years following separation for things to hit the fan as there will be higher emotional costs and financial costs.
It is easier, and less costly, to prevent the volcano erupting in the first place.
If you choose to contact us promptly post separation, before things hit the fan, we can give you some invaluable advice and the tools to help you make smart decisions following separation that will save you money and emotional heartache.