If you find yourself needing the services of a lawyer, you might feel a sense overwhelm around. Where do you even start the process? Finding, interviewing, and hiring someone to represent you takes a bit of forethought. After all, there are a large number of Ontario-qualified lawyers out there. Some of whom specialize in Family Law matters, some of whom do not. We have written before about some of the steps you may want to take, once you’ve narrowed down the candidates. But there are some of the things you may want to think about even earlier in the process. This article will help you decide between a generalist law firm (or individual lawyer who is a generalist), and a firm that specializes in Family Law.
What’s the Key Difference?
While it may be self-explanatory, there is a key practical distinction between a generalist firm and one that specializes in a particular area of law. In this case, Family Law.
As the name suggests, a generalist firm may have lawyers who each dabble in numerous areas. Or it may have only one lawyer who deals in Family Law while the others focus on other complementary areas. These could be areas like Real Estate and Wills, or on unrelated areas entirely such as Personal Injury.
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When viewed collectively, the generalist individual or firm will serviceably cover several distinct areas of the broader Canadian law. They will not necessarily have an in-depth or expert-level proficiency in any of them.
In contrast, a specialist firm will usually have its lawyers practice almost exclusively in the area of Family Law. These lawyers will have in-depth experience on the full range of issues. Marital and cohabitation agreements, separation, divorce, division of assets, and child parenting arrangements. They will provide full-service coverage in this relatively niche area.
Focus vs Specialist
Note there is a difference between a lawyer who happens to “specialize” or focus on a particular area of law, versus one that is a Certified Specialist in that area. The latter designation is awarded by the Law Society of Ontario upon application by the lawyer. They must meet certain strict requirements and demonstrate longtime experience and proficiency in that field of legal specialization.
Whether the lawyer is a Certified Specialist in Family Law or merely specializes, his or her area of practice will tend to be narrow. If the legal substance of the client’s matter goes beyond that defined realm, then the lawyer will usually outsource those matters to another trusted firm. Or a lawyer within a network of law firms with whom the original lawyer has a longstanding professional association or referral arrangement.
Generalists Can Help with Straightforward Matters
If you are an average Family Law client who requires only the very basics – such as a simple standard marriage contract or an uncontested divorce – a generalist firm might be perfectly adequate. A lawyer with a good working knowledge of the basics of the Ontario and federal laws around these matters should be able to do a perfectly good job on the straightforward tasks that you need.
It’s a very reasonable assumption, provided your matter has no unanticipated issues that crop up. The problem is, as someone not familiar with the law, you will not be able to assess for yourself what the legal issues are. Whether or not they are simple and straightforward. Family law is complicated, nuanced, and can involve many unanticipated issues. That’s one of the reasons you need to consult with a lawyer in the first place.
Specialization is a Plus
That’s why a specialist Family Law firm is likely to be the better choice for most people. It’s the same with seeking medical attention. You would not stick to your Family Doctor if you came down with some rare disease needing expert opinion and treatment. Likewise, you might find yourself better served by a lawyer who specializes in legal issues that affect you.
That’s because the lawyers in a specialist firm will have more direct skill in both the letter of the law, and in its practical aspects. This includes in-the-trenches experience and knowledge gained through representing clients in nothing but Family Law over the years (and sometimes decades). As colleagues, they will tend to have a good professional dynamic with each other. Any challenges with your matter can be fully explored with collective mutual input by other firm members.
Finally, you may also benefit from the enhanced reputation the members of a specialist firm might have. When it comes to advocating on your behalf against other members of the Ontario Family Law bar.
What About Non-Family Issues?
In some situations your matter might go beyond the simplest of Family Law issues. For example, you may have sought out the services of a lawyer to help you with having a pre-nuptial agreement drafted. Only to realize that it might be a good time to review your Will and Estate-planning arrangements. Or, your divorce proceedings might involve the valuation of a family-run small business or corporation. This might lead in turn to the strategic decision by you and your soon-to-be Ex to sell the business…Together with its assets and real property.
How things unfold from there, might depend on the type of firm you select in the first place. If you are already with a generalist firm, some of the individual members may luckily have specific expertise in these related areas already.
On the other hand, a specialist firm might not have the expertise themselves. But they will have established an extensive specialist network, consisting of top-tier firms with legal experts in various areas. They will be able to refer you to another trusted firm that specializes in these adjunct areas of the law.
Making the Choice That’s Right for You
Of course, as a client the decision on whether to choose a generalist lawyer or a lawyer who specializes in Family Law will also depend on a number of factors that are unique to you, and what you are looking for. In terms of deciding between law firms, these can include the reputation, geographical location, fees, and professionalism. They might even include the personality of the lawyer under consideration.
If you are considering a specialist firm like Shulman & Partners LLP, give us a call. We can help you explore your options.