Our Find a Family Law Lawyer App has been developed to help you put together a shortlist of lawyers you would like to contact. Start looking for a Family Law Lawyer as early as possible, preferably before separation if possible. This will give you time to do your research before everything becomes urgent. Finding the right family law lawyer is important, but how do you know what to look for? Here are some tips to assist you:
Family Law is a complex area of law that changes often, and not every lawyer will have the knowledge or expertise to provide you with the best advice and representation.
Look for a lawyer who practices solely or predominantly in Family Law, and with a reasonable amount of experience.
It is always good to get a recommendation, but investigate further and make sure they have the right experience for your matter.
You will be sharing a lot of very personal information with your lawyer, so it is important that you feel comfortable talking to them, that they listen to you properly, and that you trust them to act in your best interests.
Before making a decision about which lawyer to instruct, it’s a good idea to attend initial consults with 2-3 different law firms. Many lawyers offer a free 30 minute initial consult. Treat each initial consult like a job interview, where you are the potential employer. Look for signs that the lawyer is:
- Knowledgeable and experienced in Family Law;
- Providing an attentive service – they should not be constantly distracted by other staff members, emails or their phone;
- Listening and showing interest in you and your matter, and any questions or concerns you raise;
- Not using too much legal jargon;
- Prepared to tell you what your worst and best outcomes are likely to be, what additional information they need to do that, and the cost for that advice (as legal advice often falls outside the free initial consult);
- Acting professionally and ethically. For example, if they are discussing confidential information from other cases or telling you they will destroy the other party, these should be warning signs;
Lawyers charge fees in different ways:
- Community lawyers are free but there are usually limitations on how much they can do to assist you, so you should make appropriate enquiries about what they can and cannot do for you;
- The Legal Services Commission of South Australia does provide some free legal advice. You might also be eligible for Legal Aid funding, in which case you can choose your own lawyer (if they are on the Legal Aid panel), or you can let Legal Services Commission choose a lawyer for you. There are conditions and limitations, so it is important to read the terms and conditions.
- Lawyers in private practice have traditionally charged an hourly rate, which is broken down into 6 minute billable units. For example, if they charge $400 per hour, you would be charged $40 for every 6 minutes they spend working on your matter. In addition you may have to pay extra for photocopying and other services. Before commencing work for you, your lawyer is required to provide you with a Costs Agreement that details all their fees (including GST), with an estimate of costs, and concise information about the scope of the work that has been included in the estimate. They are also required to provide you with a copy of the Law Society of South Australia’s Fact Sheet: Legal Costs – Your Right to Know.
- Some private practice lawyers offer fixed fees instead of hourly rates or 6 minute units. This gives you the certainty of knowing in advance how much your legal fees will be. It can also reduce stress and anxiety because you don’t have to worry how much it will cost each time you contact your lawyer, or every time they receive or send correspondence. You should still be provided with a Costs Agreement so you know what is included and excluded from the fixed fee agreement.
- Some lawyers will offer discrete task assistance, also known as unbundled services. This might be cost effective if you are able and willing to handle some of your legal matter yourself. Your lawyer will be able advise you whether or not your matter is suitable for discrete task assistance, and what the likely cost saving would be.
Some lawyers will offer you a deferred fee arrangement where you pay your legal fees at the conclusion of your matter instead of upfront. Whilst this has an obvious advantage if you have limited access to funds, care should be taken because:
- You might pay at a higher rate than if you pay upfront;
- If you are unhappy with the service you receive from your lawyer and you want to change, the lawyer might require all fees to be paid immediately before handing your file to another lawyer. Some lawyers will let you have your file if you sign an “irrevocable authority” to have your fees paid on settlement. This information should be detailed in the Costs Agreement – so read the fine print carefully before signing or instructing the lawyer to do any work;
- Fees might escalate, for instance you might inadvertently give instructions that fall outside of the scope covered in the costs estimate or fixed fee, and this may come as a shock to you if you do not become aware of this until you receive the final bill. It is therefore important to request regular itemised accounts from your lawyer if fees are being deferred.