by Kiarah Grace Kelly
There’s every chance that you’ve never been to see a lawyer before. Maybe your have, but maybe it was to help you with a single transaction or to help you write your Will, I hope you’ve never had to see a Lawyer about a dispute before, especially one as personal as your Family Law matter.
I like to think that Family Lawyers are a special bunch, we wake up every day and before we’ve even put our feet on the floor we know our day will be filled with tears, confused little voices in the background of our phone calls with clients (followed by- “just give Mummy five more minutes, she’s talking to a friend!”), we know we’ll hear deep signs of frustration, but sometimes of relief, we know there’ll be powerful silences in our resolution conferences or mediations, we hope there’ll be exclamations of excited but cautious completion.
I say this as your Family Lawyer will be a part of your team throughout your separation journey, and a great one will love what they do. But what is it actually like to have a Lawyer? What will be expected of you? What can you expect of them?
The first time you meet your Family Lawyer, you’ll be filled with nerves but probably also excited trepidation that this meeting marks the beginning of you reaching resolution with your former partner.
If in the days or weeks leading up to your first appointment you’re kept up at night with questions, write them down- clutch your notebook like a lifeline and bring it in with you so that you can feel confident the most important things don’t escape your mind when you really need them not to.
Your Lawyer will likely start your meeting with some broader questions so that they can get to know you, they’ll then start to narrow in on some of the things you have mentioned with some more questions. I don’t want to give away all of my secrets but at the next part of my first meetings I usually whip out some of my well-trodden anecdotes like- “there’s an answer to all of this, we just have to help you find it”.
Ultimately, you should leave your first meeting with an idea of the plan that your Lawyer has for you. Family Lawyers have a few options to help you reach a resolution (we call those resolution pathways) so you should be told which one is best for you.
You don’t need to bring anything to your first appointment, unless you really want to. If you are feeling really nervous, it might help to phone the Lawyer’s office a few days before hand and ask about parking, if there’s somewhere there you can hang out if you get there a bit early and whether there’s any other tips they have to help you feel at ease. I do recommend you take the full day off work if you can, I usually recommend my new clients go somewhere to have a sit, a rest and to do some quiet reflection before going back to the busyness of their day after our appointment.
Getting to Know Them
By engaging a Family Lawyer, you’re signing up to work fairly closely with them for a few months, don’t be afraid to try to get to know them as a first step!
Ask your lawyer about their approach, their experience, their recommendations for your matter, whether Court is a last resort in their practice and how working with them is different to working with another firm.
After this, it’s time to get to work.
Working with a Lawyer will look a bit like them setting out a plan for your matter, and keeping you updated as you progress through that plan. Some steps will involve a bunch of questions being asked of you- those might be about your financial situation including your assets and liabilities or even about your family’s routine prior to separation and now.
Throughout your matter you’ll be asked to read things, provide things, come in to sign things and asked to meet with other professionals like Financial Planners and maybe even a Counsellor too.
Your working relationship with your Family Lawyer will be all about you delivering information and your Lawyer returning ideas, visual summaries of your situation and eventually, legal documents too. Working with a Family Lawyer is a two-way street where your Lawyer is absolutely here to help you.
Here to Help You
Your Family Lawyer is there to act as your Advisor, they’ll tell you how any given step in your Family Law matter may play out. Your Family Lawyer has the tools that you need from them but at the end of the day you’re in the driver seat.
Your Family Lawyer will run everything by you before it is sent out, will help you feel ready for your resolution pathway with prep meetings and information and advice, but it is you and your former partner who will steer your matter to an end. Your Family Lawyer’s goal should be to help you feel ready for your new normal, if you are in control throughout your Family Law matter you’ll feel all the more ownership and comfort over your resolution.
Really, seeing a Family Lawyer will be what it will be. I can say this- make sure you are comfortable with their approach, make sure you can get along with them and make sure you both come to an understanding of your goals and hang on to those when things get tough.
I’m wishing you all the very very best.