I am not presently practicing family law. So, I am not a “divorce lawyer.” I did practice family law and divorce for over 20 years, and as such I may be in a unique position to answer this question.
If you need family law advice, and you have a lawyer, who is not in conflict of interest as between you and the other party, which might be your spouse, your boyfriend or girlfriend, your child, and in some rare cases, your parent, then ask them up front if they “do” or “practice” family law.
Your first right is to pick the lawyer of your choice, that is, to get your legal advice from someone you choose to represent you. Lawyers are professionals for whose services you pay directly. When that is possible, you and only you choose the lawyer. In a legal aid scenario, Legal Aid Ontario will put its stamp on any and all lawyer changes, and spending limits.
After you call a law office, if you think they might be someone you can work with, ask about a preliminary consultation fee. Remember you can turn the lawyer down, and the lawyer can turn you down as a client, if he or she thinks you cannot work together, that you cannot or will not pay, or that your philosophy or tactics clash too much to make a working relationship possible. If the lawyer does not think you will follow his or her advice, and that your plan of attack will lead to a compromise of the lawyer’s duty to client, the court, the public or to other lawyers, it wise for the lawyer to terminate the relationship early, before it will lead to duplications in your expenses. The lawyer will also search his or her firm records for any conflict, and should always withdraw if there is any possible conflict, not waived by the other party.
Communication with a family law lawyer can be challenging. They, like criminal law lawyers spend more time in court and more time away from their phones than the lawyers in most other fields of law. Clients have to expect a busy lawyer may not be able to call back the same day. Texting, voice mail and Email, great as they are, lack the capacity for communication of much of subtleties needed in the detailed, high level, professional communication necessary when advising a client about complex and textured family law problems.
Interview your proposed lawyer. I think good legal advice requires that a detailed legal history to be taken and recorded by the lawyer. Without it, I doubt he or she can give you good advice. If you are not satisfied that the lawyer heard and recorded the facts you think are crucial to understanding your concerns or wishes, move on. Asked to be copied on everything, even memos to the file, and you will know what information your lawyer absorbed. Expect to pay for this high level service. Also, be prepared for the lawyer to devalue certain facts you feel crucial to your understanding of your position. Family law has been evolved to “no-fault” system, ruling that rights arise from status: i.e “I am a separated married person”, rather from conduct, such as” I was brutalized, cheated on or abandoned.” Status is the same if you were left, or you did the leaving.
Try to get a lawyer for whom someone you know and respect is prepared to endorse or recommend. Word of mouth means a lot.
If your not comfortable that the lawyer has your best interest at heart after one or two meetings, trust your own observations, and consider a change. Book a consult, or second opinion with someone else. Listen to the advice you get, open mindedly, because the lawyer probably has much more experience in this area than you. Listen and ask questions, but make sure to listen. You will know if your lawyer is a good one, very soon.
Remember, in the lawyer-client relationship, you are the boss, and the lawyer is the advice giver, and that relationship never changes. Lawyers are highly educated and have varying degrees of experience. Some excel in one tactic, while others excel at another. Like all advice givers, they want you to strongly consider the advice they give you. The lawyer will follow your instructions, as long as what you request is neither illegal nor requires conduct outside of the professional code of conduct that governs lawyer’s relationships with the clients, the courts and other lawyer’s. Do not be surprised if you insist or choose a tactic, position or target that your lawyer does not recommend, if the lawyer insists you pay in advance. Don’t be surprised if your lawyer will not jeopardize his or her career to do what you want, when they have advised you to do something else.
The lawyer knows that good family law advice gets you to a new starting point in your life, and that divorce might set your relationships and financial situation back as much as ten years at a time. Even when you are hurt and angry, they are trying to use the limited tools of family law and the limited resources of the court system, to get you to a new starting point where you know who you owe money to, what you own, the details of your relationship with your kids, and that when you acquire a new home, car or pension what you have to do so your ex can’t take it from you.