When parties enter into a mediation process, one of the first things that I usually hear is, “We don’t want to use lawyers, we’ve heard horror stories…”
There is no doubt that the legal profession has a bad reputation when it comes to family law. However, many lawyers do work well to support clients who are going through mediation. And it can be very helpful for parties to receive advice so that they have the legal context for the discussions in mediation.
Although I am a lawyer and I can provide general legal information, I can’t provide legal advice, because that would be a conflict of interest, given my role as a neutral. I recommend that parties going through mediation to obtain independent legal advice as a support to the mediation process.
Let’s look at helpful attributes and business practices for lawyers supporting clients in the mediation process:
Helpful family lawyers:
- provide their clients with the advice that they need, so that the clients can negotiate the financial and parenting issues in the mediation sessions.
- are available on a timely basis.
- do not make the decisions for the clients.
- charge reasonable fees for their time and advice (no large retainers).
- talk with the mediator if they have any questions about the process or the decisions made.
- recognize that parties are free to look at solutions other than what a court might order and that court-ordered solutions come with significant litigation costs and uncertainty.
Some clients refuse to use lawyers. However, if parties do not obtain legal advice before signing an agreement, there is a greater likelihood that the agreement may be set aside at a later date.
The key for most people is to obtain the advice that they need, at a reasonable cost, in a manner that respects their rights to decide their own future.
I maintain a network of lawyers who work well with clients going through mediation, and am happy to provide referrals to these lawyers if requested. I am also eager to hear of clients’ experiences with their lawyers, both positive and negative, so that I can continue to provide the best referrals possible.