The best practice tip for my legal career was given to me by principal and mentor, lawyer, Ted Hanman. Thanks so much Ted!
In all areas of law, and particularly family law, there is an unlimited number of rabbit-holes that can distract us during a legal file.
In family law, there are the original pleadings that have to be drafted, there is the exchange of financial information, there is the document discovery process and examinations for discovery. Ultimately, there may be a trial.
The problem is that these legal processes can be overwhelming, and a family law lawyer can lose sight of what their client needs. A lawyer should be focused on what their client needs and get there in the most direct way possible.
Although there is a lot to do for the lawyer and their staff, it is totally important always to keep the goal of the matter in mind. In family law, people want to get an order or agreement about the following:
In family law matters, the above areas are the goals our clients want to achieve. That's pretty much it. If we are focusing on something else, like the opposing party's unreasonable demands for disclosure, it's important to change our approach. Although disclosure is important, we need never to lose sight of what our clients need.
To get there, we must focus on our client's goals. Ted relentlessly drilled into my head, "never lose sight of the goal."
What this means is that to be really effective as lawyers (and everything that flows from that) we must always focus on the goal of what we're doing. If we're doing something that does not get our clients closer to one of the above results, then we have lost sight of the goal.
A young lawyer was running a family law matter. While acting for the wife, the lawyer had commenced a legal action for divorce, a division of assets, and support. In this particular matter, the children were older, so a parenting plan was unnecessary. The husband would not voluntarily pay support. The wife was desperately in need of some interim support. Something had to be done.
The opposing lawyer was focused on making very detailed (and not reasonable in the circumstances) disclosure demands for documents. The husband's lawyer, clearly more experienced, was playing with the young lawyer in that they kept making demands that kept the young lawyer from moving forward in their case.
What the young lawyer did was have numerous phone calls with the husband's lawyer. Although the phone calls were "testy" in nature, and this young lawyer was frustrated that the opposing lawyer was not offering up support. At the same time, the husband's lawyer required disclosure that seemed way outside of what the Supreme Court Rules required. The matter seemed to be going nowhere. Despite this, the fees for the wife were mounting.
The young lawyer had commenced a legal action but had not set a Judicial Case Conference, an interim court application, or a mediation.
Finally, during a frustrating phone call for both lawyers, the opposing lawyer said to the young lawyer, "How can I advise my client if you don't tell me what your client wants?" It is here that the penny dropped for the young lawyer.
The young lawyer, deeply embroiled in the legal dispute forgot about the best practice tip. The goal was that the wife needed interim support of some kind and needed it soon. What the young lawyer needed to do was focus on the goal of getting that support. Once we reminded the young lawyer to keep her eye on the goal, she took the first step.
She implemented the best practice tip. This is how she did it: she wrote a letter making a formal request for interim spousal support. That first letter had a clear date on it for a return of reply. When that did not work, the young lawyer then set up a Judicial Case Conference with the clear goal of arranging spousal support. When that did not work, the young lawyer made a court application for interim spousal support. It was a bit of a process to get there, but eventually the young lawyer had an order for interim support for her client.
Once the young lawyer implemented the best practice tip and remained focused on her client's goal, she was able to steer the case in that direction.
So, it is important for family lawyers always focus on keeping the client's goal in mind. We need to never lose sight of it. Such focus is the surest and most direct approach to resolving matters for our clients, for getting results, and for keeping our clients happy with our service.
Written by Val Hemminger, divorce lawyer and owner of Hemminger Law Group Westshore.
Val has created this website to share with her colleagues. She is not suggesting, by any means, that she is the best divorce lawyer out there. She is, however, suggesting that she is the best divorce lawyer that she herself can be. Feel free to share anything you find useful.