Just like divorcing couples, Family Lawyers come in all shapes and sizes. Some are better than others. Most of them are highly dedicated to their work, and to serving clients to the best of their ability. The majority possess a deep understanding of the Canadian legal system.
But even the best lawyers can overlook certain important areas of their law practices, and in the way they deal with clients and handle their matters. These overlooked areas can stack up to a pretty long list, and one or two areas for improvement might be tolerable. But when an individual Family Lawyer displays many of them, it’s time to reflect on whether a client’s needs are really being well-served.
Here’ in Part I of a two-part series, we explore some of those areas where some Family Lawyers can fall short.
Communication and Adaptability
Flexibility and effective communication with clients are both a big pitfall for some lawyers. The key concerns in this area include:
- Keeping clients in the loop – Ineffective lawyers will fail to fully educate clients on the legal processes, potential outcomes, and possible costs involved in their case. They will also neglect to keep their clients updated on the progress of their matter. In particular, Family litigation often takes longer than expected due to backlogs, delays, or unforeseen complications – and it’s something that ineffective lawyers will neglect to clearly explain.
- Emotional intensity – Family Law cases often take a huge toll on its participants, the depth of which is often underestimated. Clients might have unexpected reactions, or may even prompt disputes with or challenge their own lawyer. An inexperienced lawyer may fail to plan for this possibility, and may even show their frustration to the client. This in turn can breed ill-will between client and lawyer, which can be a distraction from the mutual goal of getting the best legal outcome.
- Client feedback – Ineffective lawyers will overlook the simple act of soliciting ongoing client feedback as the matter unfolds. They miss out on opportunities to improve the individual client’s satisfaction with the process and the services provided.
- Flexibility around external factors – Sometimes, external entities like Child Protective Services, police, or other organizations may become unexpectedly involved in a client’s matter. Ill-equipped lawyers will fail to anticipate or accommodate for these third-party elements, and will often be caught blind-sided.
The use of technology can be a real blind spot for many Family Lawyers, especially the for the older members of the Ontario Bar. Some might be slow – or even downright resistant – to adapt. This can impact numerous areas that directly or indirectly affect the client experience:
- Communication – The “good old days” of mailed letters and faxed communications are long gone. Some long-established and traditional lawyers still cling to older methods, even though their clients deserve and expect efficient and speedy communication by the most current electronic methods.
- Office organization – Lawyers have many digital platforms to choose from, that allow them to optimize their case management and document sharing. An ineffective lawyer may be reluctant to upgrade to the latest technologies, even though this can save them (and their clients) money in the long run.
- Office administration – Likewise, with advancements in technology arriving at breakneck speeds, some lawyers fall behind on keeping on top of developments that might improve their internal administrative processes – and save the client money, to boot.
- File security – Now more than ever, the secure sharing of documents is a key issue for law firms and their clients. Lawyers who are not savvy in this area can only do their clients a disservice, they can potentially jeopardize their interests.
- Evidentiary concerns – The rise of social media and digital evidence can bring unexpected evidence or challenges into a case. Ineffective lawyers fail to anticipate and address these.
Continuing Legal Education
Finally, another area where some Family Lawyers fall short – especially the too-busy ones – is continuing legal education. This involves not giving due attention to their own learning and growth in their chosen field. Specifically:
- Staying abreast of developments – Although every Ontario lawyer is mandated by the Law Society to undergo a set number of educational hours per year, there are many incremental changes to the law. New court rulings and legislative changes in Family Law can change the landscape, and potentially impact the client’s case. Bad lawyers neglect to keep on top of these.
- Specialization, mentoring and community involvement – Although there is nothing to prevent an Ontario lawyer from practicing in multiple areas of the law, an overconfident lawyer who lacks passion or dedication to Family Law may not have the true expertise to optimally serve their client’s interests. Focused lawyers often demonstrate their dedication by restricting their practices to Family Law. (And while the designation is current being reconsidered by the Law Society, some even have a “Specialist Certification” in Family Law). They may also mentor other lawyers in their field, and volunteer their services to the community. In contrast, an unfocused lawyer may “dabble” in many different areas of the law, never properly investing in any one of them. It can be the ill-served client who ultimately pays the price.
Every Family Lawyer’s job involves giving the best service possible, when championing the client’s legal interests. Any lawyer who falls short in several of these vital areas is simply not doing justice to his or her clients.
Next, in Part II, we will take a look at some of the “softer skills” that some ineffective Family Lawyers might lack. Subscribe to FamilyLLB.com so you don’t miss it.
Disclaimer: This article was first published in Law360.