Family law is an area that requires careful handling, not just in terms of dealing sensitively with our clients’ needs and emotions but also in dealing with the issue of billing. Unlike other areas of law, such as commercial law, conveyancing, wills and probate (for which funding is usually not a problem), clients who need access to family law can come from all walks of life and may be of very limited means.
Some clients are entitled to legal aid if their case meets the guidelines set down by the state and federal governments and if they qualify for legal aid once their means have been assessed. Legal aid cases are paid at a lower rate than privately-funded cases and it is important to monitor and keep costs to a minimum, not just to protect the state purse but also to maximize the profit to be made for the time spent.
Then there are clients who are not eligible for legal aid, either because their case does not merit it or because they have too much income or capital to qualify for it. Some of those clients may be financially secure and willing to pay on an hourly rate. Others may find the hourly rate simply unaffordable and seek to agree a fixed fee (for example, to cover the costs of a straightforward divorce).
If you are working for a fixed fee or on a lower hourly rate than your colleagues in other departments may be billing, you can find yourself under pressure to maximize your efficiency without cutting corners and doing your client a disservice. Investing in a good online research resource like that provided by LexisNexis can greatly reduce the amount of time you would otherwise spend researching for a case. If you have access to a smart phone, you can also use their online version of Australian Family Law to make good use of the time you often have to spend waiting outside court, to research other cases or just keep up to date with developments in your chosen field.
Family law is an area of law that is either dealt with through mediation and negotiation or is fought to the bitter end through courts. Those clients with the funds to do so may end up in a higher court and set precedent with their cases, and it is vital that lawyers are kept informed of any such developments in case it affects one of their own cases. As a busy family practitioner, it can be difficult to find the time to do all but the bare minimum to keep up to date by attending occasional conferences or flicking through the Law Society Gazette.
But having online legal resources available instantly at any time makes it easy to keep up to date and well-informed. This will not only help your clients but also give you the confidence to argue your clients’ cases. Wider reading around the subject at hand, through articles written by a variety of professionals across several fields of expertise (e.g. psychologists, academics and behavioral scientists) can also broaden your knowledge and the gravitas of your arguments.