Why should your lawyer be an accredited family law specialist?
Why get advice from an accredited family law specialist?
By Stephen Page
I have to ‘fess up. I’m an Accredited Family Law Specialist. You’ve got me. So what I’m saying is from self-interest.
Why I wrote this article was because I was reflecting over the weekend namely why should a client go to an accredited family law specialist.
Why are there accredited specialists? The whole reason is consumer driven. It came from complaints from clients, particularly family law clients who wanted to have some kind of assurance that the lawyer they were dealing with actually knew what they were doing and had some level of competence in family law. It seemed that everyone used to do family law, many lawyers doing it badly and, complaints were rife.
Starting in New South Wales and Victoria, the various law society’s started up a process of accreditation. Family law was the first area to be accredited and has been so successful it has spread to other areas, such as criminal law, wills and estates, mediation and migration, for example.
So it seems that being an accredited family law specialist at least from the law society’s point of view has been successful.
But why have accreditation? Well the answer is obvious. It’s an assurance that the lawyer involved knows what they are doing. Accredited specialists aren’t god. They can’t always achieve miracles, although some clients expect that they can!
Not everyone can hand up their shingle to say that they are an accredited family law specialist. The process is tough. The current pass rate, at least in Queensland, for those seeking to become accredited specialists, is about 30 per cent. When I became an accredited specialist way back in 1996 as one of Queensland’s first accredited Family Law Specialists, the pass rate was 70 per cent. This doesn’t reflect that the exam process became tougher. At that time, the pass rate in Victoria (which had a scheme for few years) was 30 per cent. The 70 per cent pass rate in Queensland reflected the longevity of those who were undertaking family law. It was well above the minimum of 5 years. In my case for example, I’d been undertaking family law for 11 years, 9 of which were post-admission.
The process of becoming an Accredited Family Law Specialist
The first step is to apply to the Law Society in the State or Territory. At the time of applying the solicitor must have undertaken the equivalent of 5 years full time practice in which a minimum of 25 per cent of their practice was devoted to their area of speciality.
The solicitor would put forward two referees. The solicitor consents to their complaints file being accessed (if there is such a file in existence). Assuming that the solicitor is of food character and experience, then the accreditation process can commence.
The first substantive step is to undertake a comprehensive assignment, without collaboration with anyone else and to provide examples of drafting of certain specified documents the solicitor has previously undertaken. There is an expectation that documents may well need to be drafted for the assignment in addition to the assignment itself.
The next step is a three and a half hour exam.
The final step is a mock client interview where the solicitor interviews an actor purporting to be a client under a particular scenario. The mock client interview is videoed.
So as to avoid favouritism, the assignment, drafting and exam are marked according to a coded number, not with the applicant’s name attached. The video is typically marked by an interstate practitioner who will not know the applicant.
If, and only if the applicant passes all steps can the applicant become accredited.
In order to maintain accreditation, the accredited specialist must keep Continuing Professional Development at a minimum of 15 hours per year (as opposed to other solicitors at 10 hours) and of a sufficiently high standard to include that ongoing recognition as an accredited specialist.
The process that involves becoming an accredited specialist makes a solicitor focus on the law and how to apply the law for the benefit of clients. It is a tough process but is the best guide for good quality family law representation that exists. Nevertheless, some accredited family law specialists have practiced primarily in property matters and others primarily in parenting disputes. If contacting an accredited family law specialist it’s still wise to check out their area of expertise to make sure that the person is the right fit for you.
Stephen Page is an Accredited Family Law Specialist and is a partner of Harrington Family Lawyers, Brisbane.