What do we mean by unscrupulous professionals?
To be unscrupulous means to not have or show moral principles, not to be honest or fair.
We are not saying that all lawyers or any other profession are unscrupulous. Many are extremely principled, honest and fair in the way they work with their clients.
There are however some who prey on the vulnerability of family law clients to deprive them of a large amount of their cash reserves by making them believe that a long, expensive and drawn out battle is the only way. It is not.
“Don’t do Mediation – it’s a waste of time and money”
Some lawyers are giving clients this message with regards to their property settlement. Their logic goes along the lines of what if you try mediation and then it doesn’t work. You’ll have to go to court so you might as well not waste your time and go straight to court.
I’ve personally experienced this situation when a lawyer faxed me to cancel a planned Family Dispute Resolution session with his client. (We’ll call her Marcia) It was really simple family law matter that could (and eventually was) resolved through Family Dispute Resolution.
I was surprised to get the fax from the lawyer so I called Marcia to confirm.
Marcia said that her lawyer told her not to bother with Family Dispute Resolution. That they should issue immediately. It was a property matter so they did not have to go to Family Dispute Resolution Mediation.
That fact that you don’t have to by law attempt alternative dispute resolution before going to court for property matters doesn’t mean you shouldn’t. I spoke to Marcia about the benefits of mediation and she decided to give it a go. They did reach and agreement amicably and without an escalation in conflict between them.
That agreement was then converted into Consent Orders. A total cost of less than $4,000 including the binding and enforceable orders for their super split and property transfer.
The lawyer had quoted her $20,000 just to get the application to get to court done and was going to brief a barrister for all of the hearings. That would probably have cost Marcia another $10,000 for each court hearing including preparation.
Based on the statistics from the Family Courts about 85% of matters are resolved without a final judgement. In other words they negotiate an agreement at some point during the court process. She would have paid her lawyer about $50,000 or more by the time he’d finalized the Orders by Consent they would have reached during the court process.
Her willingness to ignore her lawyers advice probably saved her $46,000. We’ll never know for sure but it is always best to resolve some or all of your issues out of court if you can.
Call me cynical but I think the lawyers advice to avoid FDR may have had an element of self-interest. What do you think?
Here are some examples of behaviour that we consider to be unscrupulous that has been recently recounted to us by clients or which one or other of our practitioners has had first hand experience of.
Uncontrolled Billing – The Friendly Approach
They are willing to stay on the phone with you for hours if you want while you unburden yourself to them. You can talk about your family law issues and ask their advice about what you should do. You might even want to talk to them about how upset you are. They seem just like you are talking with a friend.
A more scrupulous lawyer who learnt mediation from me a while ago told me she says to her clients.
“I’m willing to talk with you as long as you want me to. Just remember though that your lawyer is the most expensive friend you’ll ever have.”
So let’s have a look a what this looks like. Ralf (not his real name) approached Interact Support for help and guidance about the Family Law system. He had been dumped by his law firm because he ran out of money.
This is what happened to Ralf.
When he first approached his law firm he was quoted about $20,000 for his family law matter. A lot of money but something he could manage and it was for the kids.
His lawyer was very approachable. Very understanding. Very willing to talk with him.
At $350 plus tax a thirty minute phone call was costing him almost $200 and not progressing his case at all.
After about six months he started to think that he might be getting close to the $20,000 so he asked. You can imagine his shock when he was told he was closer to $50,000 owing to his law firm. They’d agreed to a pay at the end since he had equity in the home that they knew would mean they got paid.
By the time he got to us he’d had his property settlement, paid $70,000 of it to the lawyer (pretty much all the cash he got) and didn’t have representation for his two day trial for the children’s matters.
Not only was his lawyers behaviour unscrupulous it was probably unethical as well as they should have kept him up to date with costs. He should have asked but as a Victorian Lawyer they have obligations under their legislation.
The lesson for you.
It doesn’t matter how “nice” your lawyer is don’t use them as a counsellor if they are charging you based on billable hours rather than a flat fee. Actually don’t use your lawyer as a counsellor full stop. Go to your doctor and get a referral or simply seek out a counsellor, coach or other support person to help you deal with the emotional side of things.
Lawyers are not trained to do that work and will usually only encourage you if they are on the clock and have pressure to meet billable hour targets or their own child’s private school fees.
Issues related to family violence are messy, difficult and can be distressing for professionals. Some unscrupulous family lawyers appear to be taking on property settlement work and are telling clients that they don’t want to hear about family violence issues. That they don’t do that kind of work.
If you go to a family lawyer who brushes aside your comments about family violence, who ignores the fact that you are CURRENTLY being stalked, harassed or in any way threatened by your former partner you had better get a second opinion.
While it is true that family violence isn’t a consideration in property settlements beyond possibly being something that will impact future needs it is not ethical that a Family Lawyer should be able to ignore abuse that is being perpetrated against a client and in front of children.
The client who brought this issue to my attention recently was, let’s call her, Mary. Mary was working with a lawyer who tells her that he only deals with the property side of things.
She approached us for a Separation and Divorce Consultation because she’s having trouble with her former partner at changeovers.
According to Mary he frequently indulges in abusive language and behavour at change overs. For example he’ll scream abuse at her, tell her she’s a piece of trash or other demeaning things in front of their three young children.
That is not OK. She told her lawyer about it and asked for help but was told something like “I don’t do family violence court matters”
When she was telling him about the history of family violence. He advised her no to and didn’t let her put it in the affidavit claiming that judges don’t like to see that. It looks like you’re trying to take advantage of the system.
How can family lawyers who say that they don’t do children’s matters or family violence issues claim to be family lawyers?
Family Violence is not OK and it is up to all professionals in this field to help people to build resilience, accept the fact that their relationships are over and stop using family violence to coerce, control and punish former partners who no longer want to be in a relationship with them.
Most family court judges are very aware of the issues and would not penalize an applicant or respondent in the family court for telling the truth about family violence.
Most lawyers who are true family lawyers understand this and work with their clients to help them to be safe and to stop being a threat to their former partners and children. Anything less than that means the lawyer is being paid for doing a half job.
Separation and Divorce Consultation
Interact Support runs a Separation and Divorce Consultation which in part involves helping you to understand the family law system, how lawyers work and charge for their work and how to get a more accurate indication of the costs and time associated with going to court.
Too many people are satisfied by being given an hourly rate and don’t ask further questions about what fees they can expect to pay.
There are a number of more proactive and client focused lawyers who are moving to fixed fee billing. That puts the onus of efficiency on the lawyer.
Fixed fee billing means that there is not that inherent tension with time costing where it is in the lawyers absolute personal financial benefit to be inefficient, waste time, delay and do unnecessary work. Your paying for all of that whether it needs to be one or not.
If you are feeling confused, think you might be working with an unscrupulous lawyer or law firm or don’t have a goal and goal plan for your Separation and Divorce book in for a Separation and Divorce Consultation. They only cost $198 and are done by phone or video meeting. Separation and Divorce Consultation