I am most frequently asked three questions: Do I need a lawyer? How do I choose a lawyer? and What are my chances of success? I thought it would be helpful to write out my answers:
a) Do I need a lawyer?
Not everyone needs a lawyer. The first step is to find out what your free resources are and whether you can use it to resolve matters. For example, in Edmonton, the Resolution Support Services Centre can assist in answering procedural questions, in providing various Court forms as well as refer you to the free resources which can help you complete the Court forms. A lot of individuals have completed their own divorce or Family Law Act application without a lawyer. Or alternatively, individuals have consulted with a lawyer for one or two appointments rather than retaining that lawyer to complete the whole application.
If the other party will not agree to use the free resource or you are referred to a lawyer due to the complicated nature of your issue, then you must see a lawyer.
b) How do I choose a lawyer?
The best way to choose a lawyer is to ask questions about their practice areas, how long they have been a lawyer and what communication strategies they use to keep in contact with their clients.
Many Law Societies have a lawyer directory that allows you to search for information. The lawyer directory will tell you when the lawyer was called to the bar meaning when he or she started out as a lawyer. It tells you how many years a lawyer has been practicing.
Then you should ask if they specialize in Family Law. Family Law is a very busy practice area and a lot of lawyers practice in it, from time to time. For straight forward divorces, this may not to be an issue but for more complicated matters it may become a hinderance or even worse, cause you a lot of difficulties. Family Law has special rules and procedures that are different from other areas of law.
It is also important that a lawyer communicates consistently and effectively with their clients. Ask if the lawyer writes reporting letters, keeps a diary of important Court dates or filing deadlines and how often he or she communicates with their clients.
Be sure to ask your questions and gauge your comfort level with the lawyer during your initial consultation. If you are uneasy, you and the lawyer may not be a “good fit” and it may be best to consult with a different lawyer.
c) What are my chances of success?
If a Court is making the decision about your situation, a lawyer cannot answer this question as the decision is out of his or her hands. The lawyer can tell you what a Court may consider and how it applies to your life’s circumstances but that is it.
I tell my clients that the better question is: what evidence do I have that the Court would favor over the other party’s evidence? Are there any factors in my situation that the Court would consider negatively? How can I address the negative factors?
Let’s look at a favourite baking analogy of mine. The Court is an oven. The legislation and case law are the recipe. The facts of your life are the recipe’s ingredients.
Anyone whose baked knows that each oven is a little different and that if you do not have the proper ingredients for the recipe, you may not get what you want. This is why it is important to ask what cases and legislation the Court considers and how will the Court apply it to my life’s circumstances. If you do not have the proper ingredients for the recipe, the oven will most likely not cook up what you were hoping for.
Be informed and ask questions….