Understanding the Legal Advice Process

One of the things that we have found a struggle for many of our clients is in understanding the legal advice process.

Too many family situations end up locked in conflict because of people not willing to spend a few dollars to get good quality advice or because they believe bad advice and act on it.

Low Cost Legal Advice and Strategy Sessions

Interact Support is building a referral list of specialist Family Lawyers who will offer a discounted legal advice session for our clients in order to overcome this issue of people making decisions based on bad advice.

The sessions go for about 90 minutes and cost only $275 including GST.

This is a significantly discounted service as most Family Lawyers normal hourly rate is between $350 to $450 per hour.

How to get good quality legal advice

Getting  good quality legal advice depends on two things.

You have to give the lawyer the information they need to assess your situation and you need to find a lawyer who is knowledgeable enough about the area of law to give you accurate advice.

1 Proper Preparation for Legal Advice

Getting good quality legal advice depends on you providing the lawyer with good quality information about your situation.

If you are vague, leave out information that you feel makes you look bad or are unable to remember important information your lawyer will not be able to give you very good advice.

What to take to your Legal Advice and Strategy Session 

You may find that booking in for an Interact Consultation helpful if you are feeling very unclear about what your goals are or would like a better view of all your options apart from going to court before having a Legal Advice and Strategy Session.

It is really important for you to know what you want before seeing a lawyer so that you can get accurate advice.

2 Experienced Family Lawyer

It is very important that you get advice from a qualified family lawyer who is either experienced or working under the supervision of an experienced lawyer.

It is also very important that they practice in your state or territory and they understand how local family violence legislation interacts with the Federal Family Law Act (or state Family Law Legislation if you are in WA)

A general practitioner is generally not sufficiently aware of the current state of the courts and we do not recommend that you rely on advice provided by a lawyer who’s firm is not often in the Family and Family Violence courts.

The other aspect of understanding the legal advice process is actually understanding the legal advice you get!

It is the lawyers job to make their advice able to be understood

One of the things we notice with some lawyers is that they personally hate with a passion saying that they don’t know something.  Because a lot of their role is to provide advice they feel that it diminishes their standing if they say they are not sure and will need to get back to you.

A good lawyer who is confident in their skills and abilities will admit it when you come up with a twist that they are not sure how to respond to and will get back to you once they have reviewed the issues.

A bad lawyer will be quite willing to provide you with so called “legal advice” when they don’t know what they are talking about. They will usually say it in such a way that it actually doesn’t mean anything or is so confusing that you could never come back at them with a complaint. They will say these things in a way that tries to make you look foolish if you ask for clarification.

Don’t put up with tricks. We don’t think that any of the lawyers we refer to will behave in that way but would be happy to hear about it if you feel that they have.

If you are working with a lawyer who is providing you with advice it is their job to provide that advice in a way that is clear and understandable for you.

If they know what they are talking about and are client focused they will be able to do that.

What are the alternatives to paying for legal advice?

There are some options available that seem like a good alternative to paying for legal advice and sometimes they can be.

But, and it is a big BUT,  it is important that you seek this type of advice with your eyes open and ask questions to make sure that the adviser is actually giving you current advice based on the reality of what sort of decisions are coming out of the courts. In other words that they know what they are talking about.

Community Legal Services

Community Legal Services are designed to help make legal services available for people who can’t afford legal advice. They get government funding and the legal advice is usually free.

The lawyer you speak to when you go to a Community Legal Service may not actually do any work in the Family Court. The best question to ask is “Do you represent clients in the Family Court or brief barristers to represent clients in the Family Court?”  If the answer is no thank them politely and ask if anyone at the legal service does and can you get an appointment with that person.

If they are not doing Family Law work they won’t have more than a theoretical understanding of the current family law situation and will not know how long local courts are taking to decide, the attitude and approach of the local judges in your court or be able to give you realistic indications as to costs to go to court or likely orders if you can’t reach agreement.

If there are issues with regards to Family Violence ask the same questions about the state family violence court. “Do you represent clients in the Family Violence Court or brief barristers to represent clients in Family Violence court cases?”

Don’t take advice from someone who only has a theoretical understanding based on limited experience with the Family Court and Family Violence Courts.

Free 30 minute legal advice sessions

The free 30 minute legal advice sessions are generally worth what you pay for them. They are used by law firms as a way of marketing their business and are more about getting you as a customer (if you have enough money to be of interest) than about giving you good quality legal advice.

We don’t believe that it is possible to get enough information from you to understand your situation and then provide you with specific tailored legal advice in 30 minutes.

A small number of practitioners use a bait and switch approach where they tell you what you want to hear and then once you’ve committed to them as a client start working on lowering your expectations.

By all means use these sessions to check out law firms and determine if you want to work with the practitioner but use it the same way they do. To find out if the firm is a good fit for you.

Ask questions about their fees, how they calculate their fees, what you would be expecting to pay for each stage in the process, whether they will brief all hearings to a barrister (more expensive) or represent you in some hearings (less expensive as there are no briefing costs) and what their experience and track record is.  Do they have some or all fixed fee services or are they still using a time costing process?

Don’t expect to get tailored legal advice during the session. If you like the lawyer ask what they will charge you for a legal advice session where they help you with full legal advice and strategy.

Legal Aid

You may be eligible for legal aide which means that the government provides a lawyer who is on the legal aid panel with a grant of legal aid to pay for your legal expenses.  Unless the legal service has a bucket of funding that is not calculated on a per person basis you will usually find that the amount of legal aid is limited.

That means that if the lawyer is not efficient they can burn through your legal aid before your family law issue is resolved. You would then find yourself having to find the money to hire  a private lawyer which would be likely to be between $2,000 and $10,000 a day in court and more for any preparation in between.

If you are eligible for Legal Aid you probably do not have many financial resources so more likely you will be forced to self-represent or agree to a compromise that you are not happy with and have trouble living with.

Use legal aid if you are eligible but keep an eye on costs the same as you need to if you are paying a private lawyer for the full process.

Talking to a non-lawyer

You can not get legal advice from someone who is not a lawyer.

You will get information and advice from people who are not lawyers. It comes with the territory of getting separated and divorced. Everyone has an opinion and something to share.

Some of the information shared is helpful such as the information (not legal advice) and help to understand the Australian Family Law System that you will get when you attend an Interact Support Consultation or a Family Dispute Resolution Practitioner when they are helping you to prepare for Family Dispute Resolution and when asking you to discuss your options.

Sometimes other professionals or service providers such as accountants, social workers, family violence workers, counsellors, psychologists will have a perspective and opinions about Family Law. Take anything they take as being potentially something to ask a lawyer about. DO NOT take it as the truth or advice you can trust. They are not qualified to give you advice.

Other such as family friends, family violence recovery support services, support services for fathers, mothers, grandparents or non-qualified interested parties such as hair dresser or anyone else with an opinion but no qualifications will also share opinions and advice. Once again DO NOT take advice from unqualified people. They may have some helpful information for you, what they advise may even be right but always check with a currently qualified and practising family lawyer.

Often costly conflict is generated or perpetuated by people who feel completely justified in what is an unrealistic position based on bad advice taken from unqualified people. Don’t allow that to leave your family destroyed by conflict when with proper realistic advice you may have found a way to reach agreement and get on with rebuilding trust in your new family arrangements.

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by Joanne Law time to read: 8 min
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