I recently attended the Family Court in relation to a dispute between 2 parents over their two children. My client had been prevented from seeing his two children by his wife for some months. He was distraught.
When I arrived at the Canberra Family Court I was greeted by a young solicitor from a leading local family law firm who had been asked to appear as an agent for the wife’s solicitors, who presumably were too busy to travel to Canberra themselves. This bright and very confident young solicitor breezed up to me and said “What is your client willing to offer?”.
I replied to her that my client wanted to spend time with his children, and given that her client was refusing to allow this, I thought that if anybody should be making “offers”, it was the mother. The bright young solicitor then told me that she didn’t have any “offers” because she hadn’t even met her client yet. On that basis I wondered why she was even asking me to “make a deal”, when she didn’t even know if her own client was interested in making compromises.
I then watched as this bright young solicitor walked over and introduced herself to the mother, 2 minutes before the matter was due to go into court.
Perhaps what disturbed me about this exchange so much is not capable of being clearly understood when it is recounted in this form. But what truly appalled me was the “sausage mill” approach that this young lawyer was taking to this dispute. What she wanted to do was simply get an offer, (“because that’s what we do”) resolve the case on some basis – any basis-, and move on to the next most pressing thing in her doubtless busy day. There was no consideration that these were real people involved, dealing with two young children’s lives. But what troubled me most was that behind the immaculate facade of this bright young lawyer was no real care for what was to happen to her client. Her client was but a number, to be thrown into the “let’s make a deal” basket, and disposed of, with doubtless never another thought, but only an invoice.
What’s this article all about? It’s not really a criticism of any particular lawyer. What this young lawyer did was what I have witnessed countless times, by more senior practitioners than her. But that doesn’t make it right. What is wrong is trying to apply the modern phenomenon of efficiency and de-humanisation to real people dealing with their children. Its a criticism of a legal system where lawyers pick up a file and meet their client for the first occasion when they walk into court. I believe that is simply unacceptable when dealing with an important dispute over the client’s children. It is a criticism of a way of thinking that deals with people’s relationships with their children as bargaining chips. It is a very disturbing thing to witness. If you are the client, it must be an even more disturbing thing to have happen to you.