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VIC Self Representing in Family Court - Engaging Firms on Ad-Hoc Basis?

Discussion in 'Family Law Forum' started by Mollis, 25 August 2015.

  1. Mollis

    Mollis Active Member

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    Hi...

    I am self-representing in the Family Court and am fighting an international relocation application to have my two children aged 15 and 11 sent to the UK.

    I was successful in having them both returned home to Australia from the UK in December/January via The Hague Convention and have managed to navigate things so far. The children have recently been assigned their own ICL and are both clear in their desire remain in Australia and I feel confident that it is very unlikely that the courts would allow the request for relocation.

    We have just been set a Case Management hearing for early Oct, a Family Report appointment for mid Oct and a trial date has been 'allocated to a judicial docket as third next case to be allocated' . (Not sure of exactly how this works if I'm honest.)

    This is a lot to keep up with whilst I am also working on the financial settlement and I think I now need to engage some legal advice but as I have both children living with me full time and am covering the costs of all mortgages etc, I don't have the funds to engage a firm full time.

    I was wondering if anyone has had any experience of engaging firms or individuals on an ad-hoc basis. Ideally I would like to have some kind of a 'pay as you go' arrangement whereby I could pay for a professional to review my situation at any given time and give some advice on what my next move should be. I'm fine in drafting my affidavits and the various documents but sometimes it's hard not knowing what legal options there actually are available to me.

    I'm hoping this is possible otherwise I'm a little short of options.

    Thanks in advance.
     
  2. beanie

    beanie Well-Known Member

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    Hi Mollis,

    Sorry to hear about your situation. What you are saying is quite possible.. From that point on, you keep he/her informed of your progress and see him/her as you need is, and they can charge you by the hour, usually $350 plus GST.

    When you are doing something like this, self representing, basically you'll be the one leading the case, whereas your lawyer acts somewhat like a advisor to you. I am still learning the 'robes' myself but I read up on things like, how to obtain a subpoena, how to file motions, what court orders are and various processes you need to do for your case and other technical aspects of the case. Write down a list of things you wish to clarify, stay focus on your question when you see a lawyer and ensure you get them all answered before you leave to make the best of your hour.

    The reality is, even when you engage a lawyer, a lot of work they do are administrative and more than likely organised by a paralegal or assistant. If you can take on all these work yourself, it'll save you huge amount of money as they bill hourly.

    If you look for a small firm where they do not have loads of paralegal and PAs do to the leg work, the lawyer will probably be more interested in helping you with the case alone and you can perform the rest, including researching on past cases. Each time you have a hearing, you organise a number of meetings with your lawyer to go through with him/her what you have and he/she will tell you, 'yes you need more work', or 'no what you have will be fine', and maybe give you some advise on how to approach.

    My biggest struggle is stage fright really - it's one thing to write your case, quite another to talk about it in court, especially when you tend to be loaded with emotion on both the case itself and facing a person whom you still feel strongly (whether positively or negatively) towards and it will always be a challenge to contain that in a situation that requires you to be calm, composed and logical. However, asking a lawyer to go to court is probably one of the costliest aspect as each time one goes to court, especially family court, there's a guaranteed half day of waiting - i.e. 3-4 hours of time you pay for more or less nothing. From the way you've written your story I'd say you are eloquent and cohesive enough to compile your own casework and present in court. My lawyer did advise me, and my own experience in court supports that - in family court, if you are not a lawyer and you are facing one, the magistrate tends to be more 'protective' towards you, and can be more patient as self representation is very common in family court.

    I hope this help - i'm happy to share my experience as I am fighting through my own battle.
     
  3. AllForHer

    AllForHer Well-Known Member

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    Agree with the above, though I will add that whether a judge is protective of a self-represented litigant really comes down to the judge. In our case, for example, the judge was described by a solicitor as follows: 'He hates stupid women and he loves an astute self-represented litigant'. Others I know get frustrated with SRLs, but generally, if you're clear about what you want and why you want it, you're in with a chance. This is especially true considering the kids' ages and what you're seeking in court.

    I definitely suggest using a firm ad hoc to check affidavits, provide guidance and tell you whether or not you're on the right track. I've consistently found family law specialists to be the best support for SRLs, and they are often more open to ad hoc options than general practitioners.

    You might also consider attending court to observe some cases as they are tried. This will give you an idea of what to expect in cross-examination, etc.

    Keep us updated. Being an SRL is very stressful and a lot of work - I always commend those willing to put in that kind of effort and spend money on their kids, rather than throw money away on solicitors.
     
    Nick Handson likes this.
  4. Tim W

    Tim W Lawyer

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    From a practitioner's perspective....
    • You don't perform surgery on yourself, and then go to a doctor, chosen at random, or chosen according to price,
      to see if you've got it right;

    • What you are asking is like when somebody tries to fix their computer, or fix their car,
      bungles it, and then expects a professional in the field to clean up the mess they made.
      That might be fine for motor mechanics, but the rules around lawyers and how they work
      make it more complex for us than that;

    • If a practitioner looks over your documents, but finds that they are technically correct but lacking in merit;
      then the client tends to blame the practitioner for the deficiencies, even when they are of the client's making,
      and the fixing of which are not part of the instructions;

    • Not every lawyer is happy to do half a job, only to have it second-guessed by another lawyer;

    • Not every lawyer is happy to second-guess the work of another lawyer;

    • It can take just as long to fix up a deficient document, or make good a poorly worded argument
      written by a lay person, as it does to just do it correctly and well from the get-go.
      I often say to people that things, into which they have put a lot of effort, need to be wholly re-worked.
      Mostly, they hate this, because they think I am just scamming for work. They are mistaken.

    • You won't save all that much money, because....
      • the lawyer's overheads are the same, no matter that you might want a half-weight job or a proper job.
        There will still be costs associated with creating the file (even if the lawyer waives some or all of it);

      • you will still have to sign a Costs Agreement and a Costs Disclosure - and some people (including me)
        charge a higher rate for (what you call) ad hoc work than they do for work on an agreed scale ; and

      • there's no such thing as "just have a quick look and tell me if it's OK". You will still get the same amount of
        attention and consideration that the lawyer gives to any client and any question; and

      • work is always done thoroughly and properly - because that's what you're paying for regardless; and

      • in any event, we are assuming the professional liability "tail" for the work;
    • Pay As You Go is certainly something you can negotiate with your lawyer. Lots of lawyers do it, but not everyone, and not for every case or kind of case. Don't confuse PAYG with contingent fees.

    DISCLOSURE:
    I do not work in the field of Family Law.
     
  5. Mollis

    Mollis Active Member

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    Thanks to you all for your responses. By way of an update Ii was recommended a lawyer and they are happy to proceed on an 'advisory' basis.

    They have reviewed my documents I have already submitted and we talked around some of the key points and what kind of support I would require. They understood my reasons for requesting it and agreed that there were a number of benefits of this approach.

    The only concern they expressed was that there may come a time when I ask for some guidance and they need to 'protect' themselves against a claim of professional negligence should I take their advice and not apply it correctly.

    This is totally understandable and I am happy to address that issue should it arise.

    This will make a huge difference to my ability to proceed with my case. I am a confident speaker and know my case better than anyone. Using an advisor to assist with the application of the law to it makes perfect sense and I am feeling a lot more confident now.

    Thanks again.
     
  6. Tim W

    Tim W Lawyer

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    You are fortunate indeed to find a lawyer willing to take that risk. I don't.
    Good luck.
     

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