Not all lawyers and law firms are equal. If you regard yourself as a high-net-worth party who is about to go through a divorce, there are specific qualities you'd want high net worth divorce lawyers to have.
Not only that, but there are also certain characteristics you don't want your high net worth divorce lawyer to have.
If you regard yourself as a person with high net worth and live in British Columbia, this article is for you.
If you are going through a high net-worth divorce, you want to hire the right kind of lawyer for your case. Family law in British Columbia is based upon two things, the BC Family Law Act, which came into effect in 2013, and the common law.
What is the common law you might ask?
It is how judges have interpreted the provisions of the Family Law Act, that is, the legislation.
Your high-net-worth divorce lawyer will have extensive experience not only in terms of knowing the legislation but will have extensive experience in understanding how the legislation will be interpreted in relation to you and your family’s unique situation.
Even if you resolve your matter out of court (and we hope you do), all of the legal professionals involved in your matter will still be guided by the BC Family Act and the common law.
If you are looking for a high-asset divorce lawyer, you will want to ask them about their experience in dealing with high-net-worth and even ultra-high-net-worth divorce cases.
A high-asset divorce lawyer will understand complex financial matters.
What do we mean by that?
Because high-net-worth divorce cases often involve significant assets, such as corporations, partnerships, investments, and real estate, all with their own particular tax considerations, your divorce lawyer must have a strong understanding of financial matters.
This means that besides family law, they must also know some accounting concepts, tax considerations, and asset valuation.
If they do not know the tax treatment of a specific asset, they should know someone who will.
For example, as we write this article, at Pathway Legal, we are assisting someone who has ultra-high net worth and they have assets both personally and corporately held. The net value of these assets and the tax treatment of those assets is particularly important. For example, a property held by one party’s incorporated company has a value of $12,400,000; however, if they sold that property for $12,400,000 and put the sale proceeds into their personal bank account or investment, then the net proceeds after tax will be $5,965,640.
In the property division, we are dealing with where we have both personally held and corporate assets, this distinction is highly important. There is a big difference between $12,400,000 and $5,965,64 when dividing assets.
If you consider yourself someone with high-net-worth or ultra-high-net-worth, ask your lawyer how familiar they are with your kind of matter. We suggest you dive even deeper and ask about their familiarity with financial statements and accounting principles.
Good high-net-worth divorce lawyers know what to do if there is an impasse. If you and your spouse cannot agree on dividing assets in your divorce, for example, your lawyer needs to know what to do to move your matter forward. Time and again, we have seen cases stall with no resolution because the parties have reached an impasse and the lawyers have not moved the matter to arbitration or court, thus causing their clients ongoing stress and turmoil.
Getting divorced is hard enough, you want to move on with your life and resolve your matter. Your lawyer needs to know what to do if there is an impasse.
When interviewing your potential divorce lawyer, ask them this question:
“If we are at an impasse in our negotiations, what will you do as a next step to get my matter resolved?”
If they cannot answer your question right away, they are not the high net worth divorce lawyer for you.
There is a right way for lawyers to communicate with clients and a wrong way. You want your lawyer to communicate the right way.
Believe it or not, most lawyers in private practice get so overwhelmed that they do not know how to keep on top of their workload, keep their clients happy, and move their client matters forward. Mostly they are buried in their own stress and overwhelm, so much so that their clients get angry with them for not seeing their cases move forward.
This entire problem stems from how your lawyer communicates with you, the client.
From the very beginning of your case, you want your lawyer to be very clear with you about how they will be communicating with you, and how they expect you to communicate with them.
At Pathway Legal, we let our clients know right from the outset, that we work with you on your matter. What we mean is that we expect you to be with us for most of the work we are doing. We want you with us either on the phone, on a Zoom call or in the office.
We do this because it ensures our clients see the progress that is being made on their case.
It inspires our clients’ confidence in us because our clients see what is happening with their matter, and see their matter progressing. We don’t do work in secret.
Regardless of your level of wealth, you want to ensure your case is moving forward and that you are kept up to speed with what is happening.
We recently learned of a case (not a case at Pathway Legal, thank goodness) where the client had no idea what was happening in their case.
Although their lawyer was working on their matter, the lawyer was not sharing information and documentation. The lawyer was working very hard, but behind the scenes and the client didn’t see the work that was being done.
Don’t let your lawyer do all the work behind your back!
When interviewing your potential high net worth divorce lawyer, ask them how they communicate with you, and share information. When your lawyer keeps you up to date with what is happening, it reduces the additional and unnecessary anxiety you might have. Getting a divorce is stressful enough, you don’t want your lawyer adding to your stress by not letting you know what is going on.
Getting a divorce is almost always stressful, and if you have a high net worth, the financial issue can be complex and the emotions highly charged. Those highly charged emotions can affect your divorce lawyer too. Because, well, divorce lawyers are humans, just like you.
Your high-asset divorce lawyer must be able to manage their own emotions, but also effectively communicate with you while considering your emotional state when doing so.
Let me share a story of a lawyer that does not have the ability to keep their emotions in check. I will call him Derisive Dean:
Derisive Dean is the opposing lawyer on a very high-conflict matter I am involved in. I am the lawyer for the ex-spouse of Derisive Dean’s client. Derisive Dean has acted scornfully not only towards me but towards my client.
He has acted mockingly and disrespectfully. Just recently, he flipped me “the finger” and did so in front of his client, court staff and other parties at the courthouse.
I felt that Derisive Dean had gone too far and I wrote him an email:
Your communication remains hostile and combative. It may be personal to me for some reason, or if you are under the belief that you are advocating for your client. Either way, your manner towards me and this situation must change if this child is going to be kept out of conflict.
Last week, you gave me "the finger" in front of your client, other parties, and court staff. I invite your apology.
Your aggressive behaviour is unnecessary and remains unhelpful to this family. Why do you not see that?
This is about a young child entitled to positive relationships with the adults in his life. The relationship between counsel is thwarting that opportunity rather than making it possible.
As lawyers who work within the family law context, it is our duty to maintain respectful communication, this is for the benefit of our respective clients and their children in particular. What can we do to move forward and get out of the way of having these clients resolve this matter on an amicable and respectful basis?
I have given you numerous proposals to resolve matters and you have yet to respond to the proposals.
This is all occurring with the background to family violence. Your client acknowledged that he attended anger management training to resolve some of the challenges he had with his behaviour during his relationship with my client. I am wondering how your client will have his behaviour improve going forward when he sees his lawyer behaving in a fashion as you did last week.
Please advise me as to how we can put this situation right for the benefit of this four-year-old boy. My client remains open to solutions and moving forward.
Derisive Dean responded with:
Quit whining and send me a filed copy of your latest affidavit.
So, yes, that is a very good example of a lawyer who has not kept his emotions in check. You want your high-net-worth divorce lawyer to recognize, understand, and manage their own emotions. Derisive Dean does not appear to be able to recognize, understand, or manage his own emotions at all.
Unfortunately, this way of behaving is costing both parties a lot of emotional stress and financial expense that is highly unnecessary.
It is a must that your high-net-worth divorce lawyer has strong relationships with you, their other clients, their colleagues, their support staff, and others in the legal profession. When your divorce lawyer connects with others on an emotional level, they build rapport with everyone, including the judge. This often results in better and more efficiently obtained outcomes for you, the client.
I am thinking of this one lawyer I know. I will call him Litigation Larry:
Although Litigation Larry goes to trials much more often than I do and frequently fails to settle his cases outside of the court system, I still think Litigation Larry does great work for his clients. I have acted “against” Litigation Larry many times. Although I do not always agree with his legal analysis (and the judge agreed), I appreciate that he is always respectful both inside and outside the courtroom. Because he always behaves like a “gentleman,” Litigation Larry benefits his clients because he does not waste time having petty disputes with other lawyers.
Good high-net-worth divorce lawyers not only have intelligent and skilled support staff, they also know how to delegate to them. Recently I was involved in a case involving two very wealthy parties. The opposing lawyer is someone I have a ton of respect for. He is solution-focused, has a high degree of emotional intelligence, and does great work for clients. He has loads of legal experience and understands complex financial matters.
He was unable to complete the matter, however, because he is a “one-man show.”
Because this particular matter has hundreds of financial documents literally, he was unable to keep up with the sheer volume of financial materials being exchanged between the parties. As a result, he stepped down as the lawyer for his client, and his client retained another high-net-worth divorce lawyer.
When you are interviewing your potential high-net-worth divorce lawyer, ask them about the administrative support they have.
If you have a high net worth, it is likely that the financial aspects of your matter will result in a lot of material to wade through. You want your high net worth divorce material to have assistance with ensuring that material is well-organized and easy to locate.
You don’t want to spend money paying your lawyer to file and manage documents when a legal assistant or paralegal can do the job for a fraction of the cost, and also, at the same time, free up your lawyer to focus upon the substantive financial issues associated with your case.
Good high net worth divorce lawyers have a very well-organized legal practice. Many such lawyers have worked with a business coach, or a consultant relating specifically to their law practice. Such an investment has allowed them to increase their law practice efficiency. This means that they will keep track of communications, keep track of documents, and be efficient with their time, all of which keep their clients happy and well-looked after.
One way to figure out how well-organized your lawyer is, is to take a look around their office. If it is messy with files piled up everywhere and messy papers sticking out all over the place, get out of there. They are living in chaos. You don’t want the chaos of your lawyer’s lack of organization impacting your family law matter.
Good high net worth divorce lawyers have strong negotiation skills. This means that they have done dispute resolution training that goes well beyond what they were taught in law school.
When a lawyer has dispute resolution training, they are more likely to reach settlements that are fair and that keep their clients very happy.
When your high-net-worth divorce lawyer gets you to a legally binding settlement in an efficient manner, you will be able to get on with your future sooner than if you hire a combative and hostile lawyer who has no such skills. As you can already see, the most significant qualities of a high-net-worth divorce lawyer are about much more than understanding how to read a financial statement and understanding wealth. High net worth divorce lawyers typically possess legal expertise, emotional intelligence, and specialized knowledge.
Oh, and before you take off, please take a quick look at what high net worth divorce lawyers are not . . .
Now that you know the top 9 qualities of high net worth divorce lawyers, let us share with you what a good high-net-worth divorce lawyer is not.
Let’s start with the fact that they are not anyone’s puppet.
Because contrary to popular belief, many lawyers are not wealthy themselves, some high-net-worth clients may believe that their high-net-worth divorce lawyer will allow them to control or manipulate them. All lawyers have a duty to their clients, including them putting their client’s interests before their own. However, that does not mean that their clients’ expectations will drive the outcome.
A lot of times, the BC Family Law Act contains provisions that separating and divorcing parties do not like.
For example, you might not like how much of your wealth you will have to share with your spouse, or how much support you will have to pay.
All lawyers must be clear that their clients stay within the bounds of the law. This is regardless of the wealth of their clients.
We are thinking, at the moment, of a case we are dealing with at Pathway Legal. The parties are in a high net worth divorce. Yet, the opposing lawyer, I will call him Testy Tony (you may have heard me talk of him before), spends much of his time simply parroting what his client says rather than moving towards making offers or responding to offers to get the matter settled and finalized.
Because his client is highly combative and hostile, Testy Tony is combative and hostile. He appears to be his client’s puppet rather than a lawyer doing his job, that is, moving to resolution.
Really great lawyers, high net worth divorce lawyers being no exception, will tell their clients the “bad” news and the good.
Making guarantees or false promises as to the outcome of your legal matter is the wrong thing to do. As a client, you need to know the likelihood of whether or not a particular outcome will be achieved.
The law must be applied to determine the outcome, not your opinion, even if you qualify as someone with a high net worth.
Just recently, I met with a client and told him he would lose his case if he took it to court. He had a very bad case and was taking a very unreasonable position. He had committed to paying a certain interest rate in an agreement and then decided against paying it. His stance was unreasonable, and the written agreement stated he had to pay the rate being asked of him. He was very upset with me for telling him he would lose if the matter went to court.
He said, “I thought you were supposed to be on my side.”
I responded that being on his side meant I could not make false promises.
Also, taking his case to court, causing him great expense and emotional turmoil while knowing he would lose, would be the wrong thing to do.
Just like any lawyer, a high-net-worth divorce lawyer is entitled to be compensated for their expertise, knowledge, and skill.
At the same time, just because you have a high net worth, your lawyer should not charge you excessive fees.
At Pathway Legal, we are compensated for our time and expertise but do not charge clients “more” because they have a high net worth. When our clients work with us, it is important that they see our billing practices as transparent and clear. Much of our work is referral based from previously very satisfied clients.
Great high-net-worth divorce lawyers are not puppets, don’t take stupid positions on behalf of their clients, and do not take advantage of them.