Updated: Nov 10
David Gale believes in solving problems and not creating them when engaging his clients, especially the ones that come to him with highly litigious matters. As Director and Accredited Specialist in Family Law at Gale Family Law, David’s vision has been to create a firm where clients receive a highly personalised, responsive, and solutions-focused legal service to de-mystify an often confusing and jargon-laden family law process. Using technology and client friendly practices David has successfully built a thriving boutique law firm from the ground-up.
We spoke to David recently to chat about what drives his career in family law, his take on how technological advancement will enhance the practice of law, and why FamilyProperty is a must-have in every family law professional’s arsenal of tech tools.
Tell us a little bit about your career in family law. What is your “why”?
I started working in family law in 2014 and became an Accredited Specialist in 2021. I have experience working at both Legal Aid, and, for the past 6 years in private practice. In 2022 I launched my own specialist practice, Gale Family Law. My motto is “Lawyers should solve problems, not create them”.
Family law is the most “people-centric” area of law, and what I enjoy most is helping my clients navigate one of the most challenging periods in their lives. For many of my clients, divorce and separation is the “rock bottom” of their life personally, emotionally, and/or financially. Although my job is not an easy one at times, helping my clients “entangle the mess” so that they are able to move on with their lives is deeply rewarding.
Family law is also a fascinating area to work in. It is a very broad field, covering children’s matters, financial matters, and family violence, and it intersects with many other areas of law as well along with various non-legal fields. For example, one day I might be dissecting an expert family report from a forensic psychologist dealing with children’s arrangements in the context of parental mental health issues and family violence. The next day I might be meeting with another client and their accountant to analyse a business valuation report and discuss the restructuring of the associated trusts and companies as part of the family law financial settlement. Family law is also a constantly changing area, and it would be rare for a year to pass without amendments being made to the governing legislation, significant case law emerging, and the Court updating its practices and procedures.
Basically, it is a field that requires continuously learning, which I thrive on!
What has been your most memorable matter to date?
One case that had an impact on my development as a lawyer and which I still think about often is a matter where I helped my client through long and at times complex financial proceedings involving. The husband and wife each had very strong personalities and the level of acrimony between them was amongst the worst I have seen. At the commencement of the matter, the husband was removed from the home after the wife and an adult child obtained intervention orders against him, after which we needed to obtain a freezing order to prevent the husband transferring several million dollars overseas. Subsequently, the dispute took all kinds of twists and turns, ranging from complex to trivial. The parties were seemingly unable to agree that the sky was blue, and everything seemed to be in dispute, from the value of the former matrimonial home right down to the division of the pots, pans, and tea towels (I kid you not that such items were itemised and disputed at length!).
However, notwithstanding the case being extremely “hard fought” between the husband and wife, the solicitor for the husband and I maintained very productive communication, which at times felt like a bizarre juxtaposition to the acrimony between our clients.
For example, we both worked out early in the case that whilst our respective clients expected us each to each write long and forceful letters, once those letters were sent it was usually then a matter of getting on the phone and having an honest discussion to progress things forward more sensibly. I recall that one meeting even occurred between solicitors over coffee, where significant progress was made about intricacies that would have taken months to discuss by letter. I often wonder whether our respective clients realised that it was these civil discussions that progressed the case, not the long letters. This approach ultimately led (after several years of hard work) to the resolution of the case by consent, despite the high level of acrimony between the parties and a plethora of “twists and turns”.
This case occurred relatively early in my career, and it was a real lesson in a more nuanced approach to negotiations and what can be achieved when there is a productive rapport between the lawyers for both parties. Over time, I have noticed that professional courtesy is the hallmark of all the practitioners who I regard as being at the top of their game.
What has been the most rewarding and testing aspect of being a family lawyer?
The most rewarding aspect of family law is helping my clients through to the end of their case and seeing them move on with their life. I have had several long-running cases where, after the case is completed, I have caught up with my client for a coffee, a lunch, or even a drink to celebrate the end of a journey. Without exception, once their case is over, the change to my client is palpable. They are more refreshed, more energised, and much happier. It often feels like talking to a completely different person!
The most testing aspect of being a family lawyer is managing competing priorities. On any given day, there will be dozens of uncompleted tasks awaiting action, ranging from non-urgent to critically urgent, and any given task could require anything from 1-minute to multiple days of sustained attention to complete. And that’s before the phone starts ringing!
What do you think the most common challenge is for family law clients at the moment? What is the underlying theme?
In the age of “information overload”, one of the biggest challenges is trying to find accurate and high-quality information about family law and sorting “fact from fiction”. Although there are many legal websites containing quality information, it is still usually general in nature and not clear how it applies to any given person’s specific circumstances. On top of that, people going through divorce and separation are often receiving “advice” from well-meaning friends and family members which may be inaccurate, undated, exaggerated, or at the very least not applicable to their own circumstances. In addition, we have a plethora of men’s rights groups, women’s rights groups, politicians, think tanks and other advocacy groups all giving their own “take” on “why the family law system is broken”. And don’t get me started on social media! Taken together, it is surely enough to give anyone a head-spin.
What do you think everyone involved in family law matters can do better?
In any given case, I think that we as lawyers and our clients both need to think more deeply about what we are trying to achieve. There is a tendency for family law matters to proceed in a “reactive” manner without any underlying strategy. And there is also a tendency to focus on narrow legal outcomes such as percentage division (in property matters) and nights in care (for parenting cases), whilst losing sight of the bigger picture.
When we move beyond simply formulating our client’s legal “position” to understanding our client’s (and the other party’s) real interests and values, this opens new possibilities. This helps us formulate a coherent strategy to take control of the process rather than just waiting for the next step to happen.
As a practical example, let’s take a client who sees a family lawyer and walks out of the appointment with the primary understanding that they are entitled to “60%” in their property settlement. From that point on, the client’s expectations of outcome and fairness are tied to an abstract (and perhaps also arbitrary) figure, which in turn drives a very unsophisticated strategy – to get as close to “60%” by whatever means necessary.
Imagine instead that the lawyer identifies that the client’s real goal is to retain the family home as part of the settlement. The lawyer helps the client explore their interests underlying that goal, which are sound – the home is in a great location for the client’s work, the client is very involved in the local community, and the client values the idea of their children staying in the same home and not having the disruption of having to move. The lawyer reality tests the scenario from a legal perspective, and it appears potentially viable. The client is recommended to see a finance broker as early as possible, who confirms that the client can afford to borrow to retain the property but only if they close their credit cards and pay out their car finance.
This then sets various aspects of the strategy moving forwards. For example, the client knows their maximum borrowing capacity and that that they do not want to retain the Mercedes with the large finance loan. The client also knows that if the matter becomes protracted, that there are risks to them. Let’s assume for example that the property market is expected to rise in the next 6 months (which will increase the expected payout to the other party) and the broker has warned that interest rates could also change (which will make it more difficult to refinance). Additionally, if the case ends up in court, the additional legal costs will jeopardise the client’s ability to refinance, even if they get a “best case” outcome and retain a higher “percentage” outcome than what is likely to be achieved in an out-of-court negotiation. And if the home needs to be sold, there will be real estate agent’s fees to sell the home as well as stamp duty to purchase a new home, both of which will reduce the client’s equity position.
With all of this in mind, the “legal analysis” that the client might get about 60% if the case went to Court remains a relevant but not overriding consideration. For example, if the other party offers to do a deal for the client to retain the home on a 54% split, the client then has a solid value & interests’ framework in place to weigh up whether that is a good value deal for them. In contrast, if a narrow legal framework is adopted, the client may be outraged and offended by the “low” offer and their lawyer might threaten to issue court proceedings, perhaps without the client even realising that this approach is not likely to be a viable pathway to retaining the home. And I haven’t even begun to discuss how going to court threatens to undermine any chance that the parties will ever be able to talk civilly to each other again or co-parent children effectively.
In short, we need to keep the “big picture” in mind, be more sophisticated with our case strategy, and remember that our decisions and advice may deeply impact the personal lives of real human beings (and their children).
In a financial settlement matter, the typical family lawyer maintains the information about the property pool and the parties’ financial circumstances in Word or Excel tables, and the information has to be manually copied over every time a new document (such as a settlement offer, client advice, or court document) is prepared. This manual process not only takes time but increases the risk of a copying error. It is a particularly tedious approach when producing balance sheets or settlement offer tables, which need to be manually calculated (and double-checked) each time they are amended.
FamilyProperty allows the information to be input into the software (either by the lawyer or directly by the client) which can then be used in an interactive balance sheet and can also auto-generate a variety of different documents, including family law court forms. Although there are a number of other functionalities, I use the FamilyProperty balance sheet and auto-generated documents on an almost daily basis which saves me time, increases accuracy, and gives my work a more consistent style. Playing around with the interactive Balance Sheet is also a great way to impress clients!
I also use the FamilyProperty client intake questionnaire for new clients. It is very difficult to design a client questionnaire for family law cases that is detailed enough yet not too overwhelming, and I think the FamilyProperty questionnaire strikes a good balance.
The online form can be completed by clients on their computer or mobile which is very straightforward. Having a questionnaire report completed before the first advice conference saves significant time in obtaining background information, which means that we can focus the appointment on deeper strategy and advice. It also helps give my clients a better idea of what information they will need to obtain so that they are not coming to the appointment unprepared.
What other technology do you use in your business?
The hardware I could not live without is: Macbook Pro, Mac Studio Display monitor, iPhone 14 Pro, iPhone SE (second phone), EPOS/Sennheiser Impact SC headset, AirPods Pro, Belkin Wireless Magsafe charger, and an AirTag in my laptop bag (in case it gets stolen).
My go-to software is: Microsoft 365, Outlook iCloud, Adobe Acrobat Pro, Calendly, Zoom, TextExpander, Notes (Apple), Asana, LastPass, a multi-factor authentication app, Microsoft Edge, and…most importantly… drumroll…Spotify! (Just joking – I mean Family Property! Although Spotify does help me get through many long days...).
As for why I spent nearly $10,000 on hardware and a not insignificant amount on software subscriptions – I have “tradie” clients who invest much more than that in their “tools of the trade”. As a lawyer, what are our “tools of the trade”? The answer is computers and software! A lawyer with a cheap out-of-date laptop and inadequate software is like a builder using a hammer when they could be using a nail gun.
How do you think technology will continue to revolutionise the practice of family law in the next five years?
There are two kinds of technological advances. The first are those that automate, augment, or optimise a process that is part of the established system. In family law, I expect to see the emergence of more software (like FamilyProperty) that automates manual processes, such as obtaining, collating, and analysing disclosure documents; preparing draft correspondence and court documents; and completing the back-end administrative work. Generative AI will certainly play a large role in these technologies.
Within 5 years, I also expect to see some firms offering virtual client meetings through VR headsets, particularly once online meeting spaces become more interactive.
The second kind of technological advance are those that “think outside the box” and truly revolutionise how an industry works. Think of Spotify, Netflix Uber, Facebook, etc. Will there be a family law equivalent in the next 5 years? For example, will we get AI family lawyers that make me obsolete? I think not (in the next 5 years, at least), although I believe this is less about technological limitations and more about the regulatory issues that “Robo-Lawyers” present, plus the fact that the “human touch” that a family lawyer brings in helping to manage the process, negotiate and advocate (rather than simple “advising”) will always remain highly valuable to clients. However, I do think we will certainly start seeing more sophisticated iterations of the Robo-Lawyer and that the level of accuracy and nuance that will be achieved will come as a shock to many lawyers.
As has occurred other industries facing disruption, I think that small-minded lawyers will complain about and resist change, whereas savvy lawyers will look to identify and leverage the opportunities that technological revolution brings.
What are you most looking forward to in the next year? Professionally and personally?
Professionally, I am most looking forward to undertaking training as a family law mediator this year and adding mediation to my service offerings. I believe that mediation is the “gold standard” for resolving family law matters and am looking forward to having this additional “string in my bow” to help couples resolve their separation.
In terms of my personal life, a few months ago I re-commenced Judo after an 18-year hiatus. I am looking forward to improving my skills and getting back into competition. My two boys are also training with me, and it is lovely to see them enjoying it and being keen to start competing. I am also very much looking forward to a 3-week holiday to my home state of Tasmania over the Christmas break!
David Gale is an Accredited Specialist in Family Law and Director at Gale Family Law.
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