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The First Appointment

January 24, 2011

With the beginning of a new year, I have been getting a number of enquiries from people wanting to come for a first appointment so my firm can help them resolve their family law matters. If you are looking to engage the services of a family lawyer, what can you do to make sure you get the most out of your first appointment?

Doing a bit of preparation is the best thing you can do to ensure you get the most from your first appointment with your family lawyer. Take some time to write down a brief summary of the key facts about your situation, what you hope to achieve and the main questions you have for your lawyer. Emailing this to the lawyer ahead of the appointment is often a good idea and allows the lawyer to get “a head start” before the appointment.

Bring to the appointment as much of the following information as possible.  In all cases:

  • Your full name, contact details and date of birth
  • The full name, contact details and date of birth of the other party
  • The full names and dates of birth of all the children who are involved in your matter
  • Copies of any Court documents or letters from other lawyers that you may have received about your matter.

If you want to apply for a paternity order, bring along the birth certificate for the child you want the order for.

If you need help with sorting out property matters with your ex partner or spouse:

  • Prepare up a list of all the assets and all the debts you have, either together or individually
  • Include things like real estate, vehicles, life insurance policies, superannuation, bank accounts, company shares, trusts.
  • Any valuations you may have of your assets together with copies of documents about your assets and debts such as bank statements at the date you separated (or currently, if you are not separated), superannuation statements, life insurance policies, credit card statements, trust deeds, financial statements for any businesses or trusts either of you may have.

 If you have trouble accessing this information, don’t worry – bring what you can. Your lawyer will be able to identify what further information is needed and ways in which to obtain this information.

If you want to apply for legal aid:

  • A copy of your most recent payslip, if you are working
  • A copy of a rates notice showing the rating value of your home, if you own one
  • Details of your earnings in the last 12 months – where has your income come from? About how much do you receive?
  • Details of your assets and debts
  • Your Community Services Card or WINZ customer number

Some of the questions you come prepared with should include questions about the likely costs:

  • Will you be eligible for legal aid? If so, will you need to pay your costs back to the Legal Services Agency?
  • How does the lawyer charge?
  • When is payment expected?
  • What are the lawyer’s terms of engagement – the lawyer should give you a copy of these before any work is undertaken for you.
  • What is the likely cost for your matter?

You can expect that at the first appointment the lawyer will ask you a lot of questions in order to get the background information they need in order to be able to paint a picture for herself or himself of the legal issues in your situation.

Once your lawyer has all the information you can provide at the meeting, he or she will spend time talking with you about the different legal issues your case raises, what the law says about those issues and what options you have to resolve these issues. If your case is particularly complex, your lawyer may want to take some time to do some further research before giving their opinion to you.

Before the appointment ends, you should be clear with your lawyer about:

  • what further information he or she needs from you;
  • what he or she is going to do next (if anything);
  • what you should do (or not do) next (if anything); and
  • you should’ve discussed costs with your lawyer.

Most of all, don’t feel you are committed to engage the services of the lawyer you see at the first appointment. If you don’t feel comfortable about the service or advice you received at the appointment or you feel uneasy about how well you may work with the lawyer, then it may pay to “shop around” and find one that you feel happier with.

If you want  help with a family law issue, go to

  1. David permalink

    HI I was wondering what is more powerful in a court of law. A valuation on a house by a registered valuer or 3 separate valuations by real estate agents in determining the value of a house? Banks only accept registered valuations so is this the same in property disputes?

    • thefamilylawyer permalink

      Hi David, I always advise to get a registered valuation rather than real estate agents appraisals. You are correct – Banks will only accept registered valuations. Thanks for dropping by my site, Selina.

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