What Keeps Family Lawyers Up at Night? Providing Effective Service While Managing Expectations

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, LAWPRO invited a sampling of lawyers from across the province to answer the question “What keeps you up at night?”

Mary M.S. Fox is a partner in the Windsor firm of Ducharme, Fox LLP. She practises family law with emphasis on financial issues involving business owners and professionals.

The problem
What keeps me up at night is ensuring that I remain an effective problem-solver given factual, legal and procedural challenges in the complex area of family law. The nightmares occur when I envision complaints to the Law Society, assessment of accounts or a requirement to defend a statement of claim.

What helps
I try to remain current on the law and procedure, to manage client expectations, and to be considerate, courteous and a good listener. The real challenge is to do so in a timely and cost-effective manner given the complexities of today’s families and our duties and responsibilities. Navigating the long and winding road and minimizing professional risk and liability force me to stay focused, work hard, be realistic and find effective ways of dealing with stress while maintaining a balance in life.

The broader challenge
The most significant practical challenge the family law bar faces is maintaining its relevancy. The expectations of our clients, our roles as lawyers and the skills required to remain effective problem-solvers are changing at a rapid pace. The well-off are buying “private justice” with mediation and arbitration. Others are supported by the taxpayer: legal aid, self-represented and unrepresented. Our courthouses are akin to hospital emergency rooms: expected to serve all who enter.

The obligations on lawyers mean that the cost of legal services is prohibitive for most people. How do we deliver a quality service at an affordable price when client expectations, no matter how well managed, often remain unrealistic? When a client does not like the result, his or her first step is to complain about everyone involved, including the lawyer. Lawyers must nevertheless rise to the occasion, tackle the challenges and justify how we bring real value to the way in which we resolve complex family problems.

Advice for new lawyers
Speak to those who have done it successfully. Establish a network of individuals known for modelling best practices, and seek their guidance and advice. Most lawyers are willing to help if asked. Do not assume you can do this alone if you intend to do it well.

The full article can be found in the August 2012 issue of LAWPRO Magazine. All past LAWPRO Magazine articles can be found at www.lawpro.ca/magazinearchives

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