Court orders
Family lawyers are beginning to say that they no longer see a future in the profession due to burnout, and the stress of dealing with a system that requires them to charge vulnerable people thousands in fees. Some lawyers said in an interview with the Guardian this week that they had already left the system, or may not be able to continue in the long-term. They also commented that it was becoming more common for veteran lawyers to warn juniors not to go into family law at all, due to the broken nature of the system. 
 
The Guardian interview comes as part of a series investigating access to the legal system for survivors of abuse. It has found that the system can often be used by perpetrators to continue the abuse of their former partners, aiming to land that former partner with large legal bills, as only a very small fraction of people are eligible for free legal assistance. 
 
Cate Banks, a professor of law at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, has worked in family law for over three decades. She told the Guardian that she left private practice in family law because of burnout, and now practices exclusively in the community sector. 
“It’s a stressful environment to work in…You’re right in the guts of somebody’s life and then you’re also billing them $20,000, and the person is on the other end of the phone hysterical because of incidents that have occurred.” 
 
Billing clients was one of the most common reasons lawyers gave when asked why they left the job. Another lawyer, who wished to remain anonymous, commented that, “As a lawyer you’ve got to bill, and every minute of your time is pretty accounted for…Particularly these women that I have in my mind who had abusive partners - they’re not rich women. And I knew each time they got their monthly bill that they were sobbing. They would tell me that their anxiety on billing day was so high and each bill would be in the thousands…I couldn’t do it anymore. I couldn’t bill people who I just knew couldn’t afford to pay it.” 
Others said their experience billing vulnerable women was part of their motivation to move into the public system, which is made up of Legal Aid and community legal centres. 
 
Another lawyer who spoke to the Guardian, who also wished to remain anonymous, said, “Just the rates of what you’re exposed to and the awful stories and the workload and the stress, it doesn’t feel sustainable…It’s tricky because I can’t see myself doing it forever and yet in the same breath I really find the work incredibly rewarding and I can’t see myself doing anything else.” 
She estimates that 80% of the lawyers she started with at her first practice less than a decade ago have now left family law. “You do have those really rewarding stories of getting a good outcome for a client, but I think for me, and most of my peers in the area, we often comment on how unsustainable it is.” 
 
The growing disillusionment among family lawyers highlights a critical issue within the legal profession. The emotional toll, coupled with the ethical dilemma of billing vulnerable clients exorbitant fees, has led many seasoned lawyers to exit the field or warn newcomers against entering it. This trend not only threatens the sustainability of the profession but also exacerbates access to justice issues for those most in need, particularly survivors of abuse. 
Without significant changes to address these stressors and financial burdens, the future of family law remains uncertain, jeopardising the support system for some of society’s most vulnerable individuals. There is the view, however, that this could cause those going through the family court to look elsewhere at other options, perhaps McKenzie Friends, for example. 
 
Tagged as: Court, Support, Vulnerable
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