- I will make better use of checklists and reporting letters: Family law involves complex documents that deal with complicated issues involving emotional clients. There are many risks of errors by the lawyer, and misunderstandings by the client. LAWPRO’s new Domestic Contracts Matter Toolkit has checklists and forms that contain points and questions lawyers should systematically consider as they conduct the initial interview on a domestic contract matter and when they meet with the client to review and sign the document. And a final reporting letter detailing what you did and what advice you gave can be a lifesaver in the event of a claim, which may arise long after you’ve forgotten the details of a particular file.
- I will be aware of the limitations of my legal knowledge: Family law is one of the most complex practice areas, with dozens of federal and provincial statutes and a huge amount of case law to keep track of. No lawyer can hope to be an expert in all aspects of this field, so it’s important to know when to seek advice from more specialized counsel (for estate planning, for example) or third party experts such as tax advisors, accountants or actuaries.
- I will proactively direct and control client expectations: Given the stress and emotions involved in their cases, many family law clients can be difficult to deal with. They may have unrealistic expectations as to the process, timing, costs, and potential outcomes of their matters. This makes it especially important that you manage their expectations from the outset to avoid disappointment and surprises later that might result in a claim. It’s also very important, in this area of law, to carefully explain the terms of domestic contracts so that clients cannot later allege that they did not understand the effects of these agreements.
- I will learn to say “no” and not take on a potentially difficult client: Further to the resolution above, there may be cases where the client will never be satisfied and it might be best to not take on the case at all. Lawyers involved in claims often tell LAWPRO that their instincts told them a client was going to be trouble. Have they changed lawyers several times? Do their demands seem unreasonable? Ask yourself if it’s worth accepting the retainer.
These resolutions were taken from "New Year's resolutions for a better practice and a new you" which can be found in the December edition of LAWPRO Magazine.