Family cases – Winning at all costs?
As I was writing this article, it got me thinking about how family lawyers are generally perceived by the public. I was reminded of an episode of the Simpsons when one of the characters has a meeting with a divorce lawyer who dances on his desk in contemplation of the fees he may receive when he learns of the facts of the case.
Whilst I appreciate that this was done for effect to reinforce a stereotype; I think the public generally still have a fear that family lawyers will want to push individuals into contested court proceedings and encourage a ‘win at all costs’ mentality so as to generate fees.
Although I am not naïve enough to think that this does not happen in some situations, this has never been an approach I have taken as I have always been conscious that my duty is to act in my client’s best interests at all times. I accept that there will be times when a formal application to the Court has to be made but for my cases this normally only occurs when there is an urgent issue that needs to be addressed or all other options to resolve the matter have been exhausted and there is no other option available to resolve matters.
However, I then started to think about what a client may consider to actually be a ‘win’ when it comes to dealing with their case. Being blunt, in my opinion there are no actual ‘winners’ when it comes to dealing with a family matter. From the outset, a relationship has broken down and the individuals involved have been placed in a situation that they would prefer not to be in.
I have always been conscious that turning up for an initial meeting with a family solicitor will involve an individual telling a stranger personal details about the breakdown of their relationship and this will be nerve wracking and uncomfortable for them. As glittering as my personality is, I have come to terms with the fact that no one really wants to be sitting in front of me in a professional capacity.
It is for this reason I have always sought to provide new family clients with an initial free meeting so that they can set out their position to me without them having an addition concern about costs being incurred. Furthermore, by dealing with matters in this way, I can get a better understanding of that individual’s case and this then allows me to set out the various options available to them and tell them what they need to hear to resolve matters as opposed to what they may think they want to hear.
Whilst not every client would wish me to adopt this approach, I believe that when it comes to acting in my client’s best interests, this involves protecting them as fully as possible and includes saving them from themselves if necessary.
I am also aware that, at the time of the initial meeting taking place, emotions are likely to be running high and some individuals will be looking to regain some control over the situation and may have an initial view that they need to ‘win at all costs’.
However, from experience, I feel that getting a ‘win’ for a client actually involves them taking a step back, allowing them time to come to terms with the relationship breaking down and then ensuring the necessary arrangements are put in place where they will be able to move on with their lives as soon as possible with minimal disruption.