What Makes a “Good Family Lawyer”?
By Daniela Dell-Aquila, Student-at-Law | June 22, 2023
The law is complex and, for those unfamiliar with it, interacting with the legal system is often an overwhelming experience. Here’s what I’ve observed as a law student aspiring to become a family lawyer: in the context of family law, that overwhelming feeling is often paired with a lot of other emotions, such as sadness, frustration, anger, or betrayal. When the complexity of the law is taken alongside the nuances of practising family law, the significant impact a family law matter can have on each individual and the family, as well as the unique history shared between the parties, the stakes become very high – too high to have a legal representative who is not well-versed in all of the “extras” that go into effective representation in a family law matter. This is what I’ve learned during my student placement at Henderson Family Law (HFL):
1. Half the Job is Customer Service
Family lawyers should be supportive, informative, and clear in their advice. However, due to the heightened emotional elements of family law, it is very important for a family lawyer to manage their time in a cost-effective way on behalf of their client. From what I observed during my placement, it could be very easy for a lawyer to spend an hour with a client without accomplishing anything noteworthy on their file due to the significant emotional toll that family law proceedings take on a client. While family lawyers are one piece of their client’s support system, they must encourage their client to be focused and streamline conversations in a direction which will add value to the progression of the legal matter, rather than getting sidetracked. The lawyers at Henderson Family Law are compassionate, kind and supportive, while also remaining effective with their time, which is a cost benefit to their clients. Learning how to balance the competing nature of these interests is an essential part of the practice of family law.
2. A Good Lawyer is Level-Headed
To be an effective lawyer you do not need to be aggressive or loud. Family law is a unique practice area, because the parties will often remain a part of each other’s lives. The lawyers at HFL have taught me that throughout the progression of a family law file emotions run high and there is often conflict; however, a lawyer’s role in these moments is to be a voice of reason rather than to instigate. Family law is largely negotiation-based and, in situations where collaboration is possible, the lawyer should encourage their client to exhaust this avenue. While I recognize that there are situations which require a lawyer to be assertive and navigate conflict, I have learned that effectively doing so can be achieved without sacrificing collegiality, cordiality, and respectful communication. I believe strongly that a lawyer who is able to compose themselves in high-intensity situations, gather their thoughts and respectfully advocate for their client will be much more effective than a lawyer who takes the “aggressive” route. This is, in my opinion, an essential component of practising law ethically and effectively.
3. Preparation is Key
As a student observer in various proceedings, I have learned that it is extremely apparent when a lawyer is unprepared. And when a lawyer is unprepared, the proceedings are significantly less productive, often resulting in a waste of the client’s money. The lawyers at HFL have shown me the importance of only taking on what you can manage and ensuring that quality of service never suffers due to an over-ambitious case load.
The three lessons I have highlighted, along with many others that I will take with me, have taught me that being a “good family lawyer” is more than just competency in the law – which is simply the baseline. What sets a lawyer apart from the pack is the lawyer’s ability to offer the client service that is customized to their needs and circumstances, in a way that is strategic, cost-effective and resolution-focused. At HFL, I gained the tools I will need to be “a good family lawyer.”
This content is provided as a general informational source by Henderson Family Law, and does not constitute legal advice or opinion, or establish a lawyer-client relationship. Every situation is complex and fact-specific, and appropriate advice will vary accordingly. Do not rely on this information for legal decision-making under any circumstances. Please consult with us and obtain proper advice and strategy concerning the specifics of your particular situation.