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You have a woman in distress in front of you- let's call her Anna. Anna has been a client of yours for years and your families socialize together. She sees you regularly for advice in relation to her successful multi-partner business and investments. She is entrepreneurial and has a complex business structure. You work closely with her accountant. Her father is a wealthy businessman. She is close to him and has a role in some of his business interests. Anna tells you she is separating from her husband. She needs advice.
Anna tells you she is feeling overwhelmed and needs to know her rights. Digging deeper she tells you she needs to ensure her business partners are not dragged into 'the fight', that her father's assets are kept out of it and that her reputation is not affected. Privacy is important. She feels sick about what this all means for her children. Not only the separation but the fall-out, the gossip, the things kids can say in the playground, the extended families.
You don't know a lot about family law, but you are aware of all the noise in the media about the chronic delays, the underfunding of the Court system, the recent legislative changes causing the Family Court to disappear as a specialist court.
You are acutely aware of the plight of a good friend stuck in the Family Court system two years after he separated from his wife, all the family members are struggling, and tens of thousands of dollars have been spent with no end in sight. He is represented by a prominent local firm who specialises in family law litigation.
Maybe you should send her to a Sydney lawyer? That might protect her privacy and give the business partners some comfort. But what about their legendary litigiousness- do you really want to risk her embarking on that path? And what will that mean for her business plans over the next two years given her business partners are talking about a potential float? This is terrible timing.
What do you do? How do you help Anna avoid this divorce turning into a disaster emotionally and financially for her family, causing distress for her elderly father and chaos for her poor business partners? You need to think carefully and get this right. The last thing she and her husband need is a distressing and expensive litigious approach.
You remember seeing an announcement that Olivia Gesini has returned to practice as a family lawyer but not at her previous firm and that Farrar Gesini Dunn have welcomed her back into practice, vocally supporting her decision to join Phelps Reid Foster Johnson. This is because Gesini and her former business partner Juliette Ford can offer collaborative family law settlement processes opposing each other but crucially, with a level of respect, cooperation and trust which is unsurpassed.
How is this better for clients? Collaborative law avoids Court and litigation by setting up an alternative process in which the parties retain full control but still have individual expert advocacy. The established relationship between Gesini and Ford is an excellent foundation for the success of collaborative settlements, especially in difficult family law matters which require sophisticated handling, tenacious effort, and creative solutions.
You have heard of collaborative law but were under the impression it was pretty 'soft', suitable only for low conflict relatively 'friendly' separating spouses and wouldn't protect against dishonest disputants. That it is simply a 'marketing exercise'. But that does not sit with what you remember of Olivia Gesini or know of Juliette Ford.
They are both tough and principled advocates for their clients. Gesini has a reputation as a clever and careful technical lawyer as well as a tough litigator with a good appreciation of other areas of practice who forms strong trusting relationships with clients. Ford is a very talented and creative lateral thinker who is known for skilfully handling difficult and complex matters working closely with her clients forging relationships of trust and respect - whether that be across the negotiating table or in litigation.
Gesini and Ford, working together
Together Gesini and Ford will advocate and guide their clients to outcomes which are mutually acceptable and are consistent with each client's legal rights. This is achieved with creativity and resourcefulness, unfettered by the delays and uncertainty implicit in traditional litigation including negotiations in the shadow of the Court. Experts such as business valuers, tax lawyers and child psychologists can be brought into the process as required. Collaboration is suitable for hard cases. It can be as bespoke as a couple agree. It is not a 'fringe', hippy process. It is mainstream, and in the right hands, a powerful and very effective settlement process.
Olivia has over 34 years' legal experience, primarily in private practice as a family lawyer in Canberra. For the first nine years she practised at Macphillamy Cummins & Gibson. In 1995 Olivia co-founded Farrar Gesini Dunn, Canberra's first boutique family law. It was immediately successful and grew in profile. Olivia had a busy practice, conducting complex and demanding litigation in relation to property and parenting matters as well as helping clients with Binding Financial Agreements. Apart from her strong advocacy skills, Olivia was a strong proponent of negotiated and collaborative settlements.
She taught family law at ANU (2013-2018) and was the Deputy Registrar of the High Court of Australia in Canberra (2016-2019).
Olivia has now returned to where her real passion lies: working with individual clients in a non-litigious, collaborative setting to settle their family law disputes. With this focus she was drawn to Phelps Reid Foster Johnson Lawyers, where the owners Brooke Johnson and Averil Foster are well-known and respected advocates and collaborative practitioners. Olivia brings with her the extra skills, experience, and networks she has gained from her recent diverse roles.
Juliette has nearly 30 years' legal experience in the area of family law. She began practising law in Melbourne specialising in commercial and family law until she moved to WA in 1993 to lead the family law section at the Aboriginal Legal Service. In 1996 she returned to private practice at one of the leading private law firms in Perth.
After Juliette moved to Canberra, in 1999 she was appointed a Registrar of the Family Court working closely with the Judges of the Family Court and Federal Circuit Court. She was invited to join FGD in 2001. As a director of FGD she has been integral to its growth and established reputation as a modern law firm with offices also in Sydney and Melbourne. She has taught family law at ANU and long been involved in the community legal sector in Canberra -in particular, at the Women's Legal Centre.
Her career in the law has been multi-faceted and varied - giving her a breadth of experience and knowledge across all substantive areas of family law which she brings to the table each time she meets a new client. Juliette is known as a leader in out-of-court solutions, she is a nationally accredited Mediator and continues to drive the debate about how the legal profession can lead the way to find different and equally rigorous processes to assist clients to reach a resolution without the recourse to the formal litigation pathway.
Those who can, do; those who can do better, collaborate (with apologies to George Bernard Shaw).
For more information contact Juliette Ford on (02) 6181 2052, email her: email@example.com, or visit www.fgd.com.au. Contact Olivia Gesini on (02) 6248 8477, email her: firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit http://www.phelpsreid.com.au
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