By Kate James
The limited number of law firms specialising in family law can lead to potential conflicts of interest when a family matter comes to trial. Even in such a large state as Western Australia, this problem was demonstrated in two recent cases.
One case involved a multimillion dollar parenting and property dispute. The legal team for the wife included a law clerk who worked 351 billable hours on the case. When she moved to the law firm who acted for the husband, the wife attempted to have the law firm removed from the case, claiming that the clerk would have ‘confidential information’ on her ‘emotional state’. However the Judge ruled that the chance of the clerk passing on confidential information was “remote” as the wife and clerk had only met briefly once, and the clerk had mostly been involved in sorting through boxes of potential disclosure documents.
This finding reflects the fact that it is important in such matters to balance the needs as well as the rights of both parties in any family dispute. While there was a remote possibility that the clerk had the opportunity to pass on information harmful to the wife in the custody dispute, the Judge was satisfied by the confidentiality practises at the husband’s law firm. The risk of the clerk accidentally disclosing information was also mitigated by the lead solicitor on the case promising to never talk to the clerk and a warning to all staff not to discuss the case with her.
Here in the ACT the small size of the territory and small number of family law firms may sometimes lead to similar problems. At Alliance we attempt at all times to mitigate this risk by conducting conflict of interest checks and have experience dealing with matters that require high degrees of confidentiality. However the small number of family law firms in the ACT also creates a close community of lawyers. Alliance has developed strong relationships with many local law firms and earned the respect of the family law community. If you need representation in a family law matter, talk to Alliance to hear how we can deal with your matter professionally and confidentially.
Read more about recent confidentiality cases here: