When you think of a lawyer what springs to mind?  Someone aggressive?  Someone who would argue over “two flies going up a wall”?  Someone with bags of money and a lifestyle to go with it?  Someone capable of great charm when needed but without much sincerity behind it?  Someone who may not tell outright lies but who can put a great spin on things?  All of the above?  So, when you pick a lawyer, how do you make the choice?    

As a practising lawyer what do I think are the most important qualities of a family law solicitor and who would I look for if I was going through the system? For me the most important quality in a solicitor is honesty.  I am not talking about fiscal rectitude necessarily but of course that too, but someone who will tell you the truth whether you want to hear it or not, someone candid without being brutal.  It does not have to be communicated harshly but you do have to hear it.  The truth about possible outcomes in your case, the truth about costs and the truth about how Judges look at these matters.  If you go into a solicitor’s office and he or she tells you everything you want to hear, run a mile, you are not being told the truth.  What the solicitor is doing is telling you what you want to hear so that you will become a client of their office and by the time you find out that things are not going to turn out this way, it will be too late.  The first thing to understand is that the best interests of the children are the paramount consideration for an Irish Judge.   Secondly, in Ireland, the family court judge has to make “proper provision” for both parties.  The best interests of the children may not match exactly with the interests of one or other parent.  For example, the Judge will always want to ensure that the children are housed and this does not always work with one of the parent’s interests.  Where possible the Judge will try and ensure minimal disruption for the children particularly in relation to their schools, however, minimal disruption is not a rule and where it makes sense the Judge will permit property to be sold thereby causing some disruption. The proper provision means providing for both parties from the available resources having regard to the children’s best interests. 

The second quality is an expertise in the field of family law.  Knowing how Judges react to situations and having experience of having run many cases before various courts and Judges is vital in ensuring that you have someone who will help you strategise and navigate your way through the system and who also knows the other practitioners in the field. This quality presents you with an excellent opportunity to settle your case and settling is always in your interests.

A good settlor.   Keeping legal costs to a minimum is a priority for most clients and nothing will contribute more to ensuring that than a solicitor who prioritises settling your case.  A good settlor, however, is more than someone who wants to settle, it is also someone who works hard to create conditions conducive to settling.  A good settlor is also someone who doesn’t wait until the last minute to see if a case can be settled.  Settling on the steps of the court will not keep legal costs to a minimum since most of the work is already done. 

Time.  Your solicitor is prepared to give you the time you need, knows who you are when you come in to see him or her and has read your file in preparation for the consultation.  He or she does not take calls when you are with them except in very rare circumstances.  For the most part they take your calls or answer your emails and only occasionally are not available but will get back to you as quickly as possible. 

If you are seeking a mediator, a collaborator or some other form of expertise in Alternative Dispute Resolution, you need to be sure that your solicitor has that expertise and they are specially trained.  In addition to the actual qualification, your solicitor should have experience of working in this area. Do not be afraid to ask the hard questions.  A solicitor without experience or qualifications in the area you seek is unlikely to encourage you to try this way of resolving your case.  So, knowing what you want and picking the person who meets all of your criteria or most of them is key.    There is no doubt that mediation and collaboration are the most cost-effective ways of resolving your matrimonial or relationship disputes and so do not be put off.  Of course, remember that it takes two to collaborate or wish to mediate and your solicitor does not have control of that. 

Your solicitor should be someone who is recommended to you and who is highly thought of in their field.  They should be informative so that when you leave their office, you feel your questions were answered and you know more than when you came in.  For the most part they should be kind and patient with you and where some impatience comes into the picture it should be the exception rather than the rule.

While you did not need your solicitor to be your buddy, it helps if you and they share an approach to the issues of your case.  Studying their website may give you a good indication of the values of your solicitor and their approach to things.   

People often think that having a solicitor close to where they live is a must.  Provided you can make the odd appointment it is not as important as it might seem.  Technology allows for interconnections as we are all finding out now in this time of COVID 19.  It is also a mistake to think that aggressiveness is an essential quality in a solicitor.  In fact, the last thing you want is an aggressive solicitor since he or she is likely to ratchet up costs.  What you want from a solicitor is assertiveness, good communication skills, and friendliness.  Anne O’Neill – Principle of Anne O’Neill Solicitors