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Being ready when family law changes (from the Advocate Daily Post)

No two days are ever the same in family law, where many clients share similar stories, but each has their own unique and personal perspective, Toronto family lawyer Jennifer Samara Shuber tells Canadian Lawyer.

In an article featuring eight lawyers discussing the pros and cons of working in their respective cities and practice areas, Shuber, partner with Basman Smith LLP, says family law is constantly changing.

Family law clients are a diverse group, with a wide range of cultural experiences and coming from different socio-economic backgrounds, she says in the article. There is a lot of variety when it comes to what makes up the practice of family law: client meetings; drafting; preparing financial statements; attending in court, on a mediation, or an arbitration; communicating with opposing counsel; negotiating; participating in a disclosure meeting following a custody and access assessment . . . the list is endless.

New social structures and relationships, such as same-sex marriage, and new technology forces family lawyers to stay on their toes, says Shuber.

“Family law touches many other practice areas, including wills and estates, real estate, immigration, business law, tax, and many more. The practice of family law also intersects with mental health (social work, psychiatry, and psychology), business valuation, medicine, and myriad other interesting areas,” she says. “Family lawyers, therefore, have the opportunity to always be learning and expanding their knowledge of the law and much more.”

Shuber says family lawyers “can’t be afraid of unchartered territory,” as the practice area is always evolving.

While family law comes with many upsides, Shuber tells Canadian Lawyer there are also challenges.

“Family lawyers are typically contacted by clients who are at a crisis point. This means family law clients are usually emotional, sometimes irrational, and frequently demanding,” she says.

“Since the practice deals with intimate and personal aspects of a client’s life, a family lawyer has to empathize and sympathize without being drawn into issues and conflict. Retaining professional distance is key to properly advising clients.”

The general public does not typically know how family law works, and what individuals do know is often incorrect and inaccurate, which can be problematic, says Shuber.

“Clients are often unhappy when they learn of the impact of the law on their rights and entitlements from a family lawyer,” she says.

“No one plans or puts money away for a divorce. This means the high cost of legal services is of great concern to clients. When combined with the fact family lawyers are often not great business people, it means getting paid can be an issue.”

In its existing form, the family law system is “the best we have, not the best it could be,” says Shuber.

“Working in the current system can be frustrating — for lawyers and clients,” she adds.