Australia's largest family law practice says legislative and procedural court changes have paved the way for national practice expansion
The co-practice group lead of Australia's largest family and relationship law practice and recent Lawyers Weekly 2022 Family Law Partner of the Year, Mark Parker, says legislative and procedural court changes in recent years have paved the way for the future of family law practices.
Twelve months on from the structural reforms of the federal family law courts to a unified administrative structure, jurisdictional barriers have been dissolved and improved efficiencies are driving demand for specialised legal services, according to Mr Parker.
"The changes enable disputes to be resolved faster, effectively reducing the backlog of matters while improving the quality and cost of service to clients", said Mr Parker, who recently celebrated 30 years since becoming an accredited family law specialist.
Other changes such as reforms to Australia's superannuation legislation since 2017 and the conferral of jurisdiction over de-facto partners from 2008 have also driven an increase in demand, according to Mr Parker.
Established in Melbourne in 1989, Lander & Rogers' family law practice has grown rapidly in recent years; launching in Sydney in 2016 and Brisbane in January 2020, expanding along the Eastern Seaboard to cater to both local and international clientele.
Despite operational pressures on the legal system brought about by the pandemic, last financial year the practice welcomed nine new lawyers and promoted six in its largest promotions round ever.
"Our Sydney team grew by 40% last financial year while our Brisbane team welcomed three lawyers in the past 12 months. Our most recent recruit was expert family lawyer and two-times Lawyers Weekly Family Law Partner of the Year, Malcolm Gittoes-Caesar."
The practice now comprises almost 100 legal and support staff and the highest number of accredited family law specialists, qualified mediators and arbitrators of any family law practice, making it the largest of its kind in Australia.
"Uniquely, we're one firm, rather than an affiliation of firms, and we conduct our practice nationally and internationally," said Mr Parker. "We also benefit from being able to tap into the expertise of our employment law, corporate and other commercial law colleagues, which means we can offer clients truly holistic advice."
While the firm has physical bases in Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney, its hybrid working policy, together with the unification of the Federal Circuit Court and Family Court, means Lander & Rogers' lawyers can operate from anywhere in Australia, paving the way for a truly national model.
"With the nationalisation of the system, our talent strategy is no longer jurisdictionally bound, and the pandemic has shown that remote workforces can and do work with the right processes in place."
In continuing to support its expanding national model, the practice plans to offer interstate placements for staff to familiarise its lawyers with different state-based registries. According to Mr Parker, "we understand the importance of investing in our leaders of tomorrow, today. We offer training in many areas including arbitration and mediation to enable our lawyers to resolve disputes outside of the court and avoid the additional costs, stress and uncertainty of protracted litigation".
Now, more than ever, Mr Parker says, "clients are seeking specialised family law advice to guide them through a negotiated outcome rather than litigation. This shift is not only supported by the Federal Circuit Court of Australia and Family Court of Australia, but actively encouraged to relieve pressure on the system and litigants.
The team has also appointed two innovation managers, who work in partnership with Lander & Rogers' internal optimisation team, to explore new tools and technologies to drive efficiency and creativity in legal service delivery, and develop strategic initiatives to benefit clients ─ such as exploring fixed-fee pricing for certain matter types.
"Our field is becoming more technical, specialised and complex than ever before, so it's important we stay ahead of where our profession is going," said Mr Parker.
"Alongside the growing complexity of asset portfolios, driven by increased inbound and outbound investment, family lawyers must have a working knowledge of taxation issues, structuring complexities and evolving law around the use of trusts."
According to Mr Parker, dealing with assets, including property, in multiple jurisdictions adds considerable complexity to a matter. "It requires family lawyers to understand the differing family law principles operating in other countries, which can inform quite specific strategic decisions to protect the interests of clients."
"Adding to this, practices must be sensitive to cultural complexities including language differences and customs to ensure a robust outcome for clients. Our geographical location lends to servicing Asia Pacific, so we have lawyers fluent in Cantonese, Mandarin and Hokkien to assist clients with interests in those jurisdictions," said Mr Parker.