Like many areas of practice, family law is going through a period of change. Both clients and their lawyers are questioning traditional modes of practice. Economic woes both cause legal problems, and leave clients with limited resources with which to resolve them. Stress – for both families in crisis and for their lawyers – is a constant reality. Still, within this challenging climate, family lawyers are expected to work diligently and professionally in the service of their clients’ interests.
To understand how the bar is coping with the demands of modern family law practice, we invited a sampling of lawyers from across the province to answer the question “What keeps you up at night?”
Rachel E. Baron is a sole practitioner in Toronto, practising family law with particular emphasis on marriage contracts and cohabitation agreements, custody, support and property disputes.
High conflict cases can cause a lawyer to lose sleep. In a family law crisis, clients are often overwhelmed with emotional and financial issues. Unreasonable and difficult counsel can also cause further conflict, increasing stress on the lawyer and costs for the clients.
It is important to refer clients to the appropriate resources so that they can obtain the emotional help that they require due to their situations. It is critical for the lawyer to remain objective and professional. However, one must also be aware of the client’s social problems and deal with clients effectively and with empathy at an extremely difficult time in their lives – all without losing one’s objectivity.
A trusting relationship between opposing lawyers can help the parties work towards a resolution. When other lawyers see you as cooperative, it is easier to create an environment in which constructive solutions are possible, even in circumstances where the clients cannot solve the problem themselves.
The broader challenge
I believe the most significant practical challenge for the family bar in the next decade is the diversity of our population and cultural differences in Canada. Language barriers and cultural issues and differences will become more prevalent. It will be critical that lawyers understand and communicate effectively with their clients.
Advice for new lawyers
Learn to negotiate amicably with other counsel and deal with matters with honesty and integrity. The lawyer must be cooperative and respectful of other counsel and clients, and must remain organized, conscientious, meticulous and diligent in meeting all deadlines.