Simic & Norton  FamCA 1007
If you’ve ever watched an episode of Suits or any other legal drama, you’ve probably thought to yourself one of three things:
- “Wow, it seems so rewarding to be a lawyer.”
- “Wow, they definitely charge reasonably for how challenging it is!”
- “Wow, lawyers are really only in it for the money.”
Unfortunately for the legal profession a popular misconception that has plagued the industry is the perception that lawyers are aggressively greedy and untrustworthy professionals draining their client’s wallets to fund their lavish and luxurious lifestyles. “Wow, lawyers are really only in it for the money” is an unsurprising response to costly legal fees and finds itself at the centre of proceedings before the Family Court of Australia in Simic & Norton  FamCA 2007.
Like most family law proceedings, the parties appeared before the Family Court over disagreements in relation to parenting, property and child support arrangements. It was not these substantive issues however that drew the criticism of Justice Benjamin, but the seemingly exorbitant legal fees accrued by the parties described by the court as an “eye-watering” $860,000.
Unique to the family law arena is the distressing and emotional nature of litigation for partners, parents and children involved. It is their emotions, often in a fragile or anxious state, that must be carefully balanced by their legal representative’s duty to provide a “fair, reasonable, competent and proportionate” service. Justice Benjamin stressed the importance of this duty as embedded clearly in the Family Law Rules stating that “solicitors are not employed as ‘postman’” to vent the anger and vitriol of their clients’ reminding their legal representatives that their duty, first and foremost, is to provide their clients with a fair and just outcome that “promotes savings of costs.” The court stressed the importance of this balancing act to preserve the integrity and overriding purpose of the family law system to resolve disputes between partners and parents and prevent family violence amidst this context.
The court granted leave for the Legal Services Commission of NSW to investigate and consider whether the costing and approaches adopted by the parties’ legal team could amount to professional misconduct and is ongoing. The findings of this investigation will be integral to ensuring the family law system remains focussed on providing just and equitable outcomes for all parties and remaining an accessible resource regardless of parties’ socioeconomic backgrounds.
Justice Benjamin’s criticism of the increasingly costly nature of family law proceedings is not lost to our family law team at Turner Freeman. We know the importance of balancing our duty to achieve just outcomes for our clients with the duty to minimise costs as per the Family Law Rules and Federal Circuit Court Rules to achieve the best outcome possible. If you have any concerns about a family law matter, call our Parramatta office to speak to a Family Law Accredited Specialist on (02) 8833 2500.