Educational Resources

You Know You Have a Bad Family Lawyer When… (Part II)

Written by Russell Alexander / (905) 655-6335

There are good Family Lawyers, and not-so-good Family Lawyers. For Ontario litigants takings steps towards a divorce, staying away from the less effective ones should naturally be the first item on their “To Do” list.  That’s because having a good lawyer can make a huge difference in how well the clients’ respective legal interests are served, and how satisfied they are with the outcome of their case.

In Part I, we covered some of the missing elements that ineffective Family Lawyers often have.  These include poor communication, and a lack of flexibility.  It also includes an unwillingness to fully embrace technology, and to exploit its efficiencies and cost-effectiveness so that everyone benefits.

Here in Part II, we will cover some of the “softer skills” that bad Family Lawyers often lack.

Emotional Empathy

One major oversight is a failure to attend to and empathize with some of the emotional aspects of a client’s matter.

The best Family Lawyers not only tackle to the meat-and-potatoes of the legal aspects, but they are also sensitive to the emotional toll that divorce proceedings can take on everyone involved.  In contrast, ineffective lawyers will often fail to address things like:

  • The need for sensitivity and compassion – Family law involves deeply personal and emotional issues. Some lawyers might focus too much on the legal aspects and neglect the emotional well-being of their clients.
  • Failing to keep up with the times – Society and family structures are continually evolving.  Shortsighted lawyers will fail to stay updated with those kinds of changes, and will not accommodate for unique issues arising in non-traditional families, or those arising from evolving views on marriage and parenthood.
  • Rapidly changing circumstances – The circumstances of a family case, like a child’s needs or a parent’s employment status, can change unexpectedly.  An ill-prepared lawyer might not adequately account for the need to rapidly adjust the legal strategy of their client’s case.

Sensitivity to Individual Factors

Next, ineffective lawyers can also overlook some of the personal features or influences of their individual clients, for example:

  • Cultural and social influences – A client’s cultural background or societal norms can have unforeseen impacts on their decision-making, and on the expectations around a case’s outcome. It may also impact the client’s desired approach to the litigation, or the ultimate resolution that they expect.  Some lawyers will not be attuned to these influences.
  • Mental health concerns – Issues related to mental health, addiction, or other personal challenges can arise unexpectedly and affect the proceedings or outcomes.  Lawyers may overlook the fact that a client’s need for assistance in these areas might be impacting their ability to receive and fully understand the legal advice the lawyer is giving.  It may even impinge on their legal capacity to make decisions.

Strategy Shortcomings

Next, some Family Lawyers have real shortcomings when it comes to the practical and strategic approaches they take to a client’s matter. This can result in their clients failing to get the best possible outcome.  In particular:

  • Alternative Dispute Resolution – Not every Family dispute needs to go to court.  Rigid and ineffective Lawyers might overlook the benefits of mediation or collaborative law, even though they can be less adversarial and more cost-effective.
  • Anticipating opponent strategy – A bad or inexperienced lawyer can fall short on serving his or her client’s needs by not anticipating unexpected tactics or strategies of the parties on the other side. This can increase costs and delay the matter.
  • Not knowing where to look – In divorce proceedings, one party might have undisclosed assets or information that can significantly change the outcome if discovered.  Ineffective lawyers might leave many stones uncovered, much to the detriment of their clients.
  • Holistic approach – A Family law issue might require the input of various professionals. These can include financial experts and business valuators, child assessors, social workers, and therapists. Inexperienced lawyers might not be well-connected with these resources.

Transparency and Integrity

Finally, there is the issue of lawyer integrity and transparency.

Historically, lawyers have endured disparaging comments from the public, and have been the butt of many jokes. As a whole, Ontario lawyers have a good reputation (and are carefully governed and overseen by the Law Society of Ontario). But there can always be some bad applies in the bunch.  These are the ones who can fall short in the following areas:

  • Cost transparency – Clients value knowing upfront what their potential financial commitment will be. Some lawyers might not be clear about their billing practices, or may not offer flexible payment options.
  • Overpromising, underdelivering – Most clients arrive at a Family Lawyer’s doorstep with little prior experience with the justice system.  Most will not know what to expect.  A bad lawyer will inflate client expectations, minimize the true time and cost involved, and make ill-advised and over-optimistic promises about the future outcome.
  • Churning – Some self-serving lawyers might concentrate on keeping the litigation going at all costs, rather than focusing on what’s best for his or her client in the situation.  These lawyers will not explore the most cost-effective solution for their client.
  • Ethical considerations – Finally, most Ontario lawyers uphold the highest ethical standards, but some have been known to slip up by engaging in unethical behaviour. By definition, this means they will not be acting in the best interests of their clients.

As this list shows, there are many ways for Family Lawyers to falls short in attending to their client’s needs.

On the flip-side, the most effective ones use a combination of experience, empathy, intuition, ongoing education, and thorough preparation to navigate challenges on their clients’ behalf.  It’s also these really good ones who are always prepared to give their clients a little “something extra”.

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About the author

Russell Alexander

Russell Alexander is the Founder & Senior Partner of Russell Alexander Collaborative Family Lawyers.