August 2013 Issue 85

DDCS: Getting a lawyer for life

B2B Editor 7 August 2013
Imagine if you had access to a trusted advisor: someone who knew everything about your personal situation; who could advise you on significant crossroads in your life, from entering into a marriage to starting a new business venture, and then advocate on your behalf.
Leading Canberra family law firm, Dobinson Davey Clifford Simpson (DDCS), has responded to the growing need for life-long legal services by moving beyond the traditional role of lawyers to provide advice and services in a range of legal areas.
The move was a natural progression according to DDCS Directors: Julie Dobinson, Phil Davey, Lois Clifford and Di Imagine if you had access to a trusted advisor: someone who knew everything about your personal situation; who could advise you on significant crossroads in your life, from entering into a marriage to starting a new business venture, and then advocate on your behalf. Simpson, who founded the firm in 2007.
“Essentially we are returning to the concept of what legal professionals were in the past – trusted advisors throughout major turning points in life,” says Lois. “By gaining a thorough understanding of our clients, they feel comfortable to turn to us for on-going advice.”
“Our big point of difference has always been that we genuinely understand and care about our client’s situations,” agrees Di. “You can’t fake that. So when other things happen in their lives, we are the solicitors they turn to when they need help.”
“Over time we recognised the growing need amongst our clients for advice, information and expertise in areas beyond Family Law, and so we developed these areas of our practice,” adds Phil.
Clients now turn to DDCS for specialised advice and negotiations skills in all areas that affect their personal, business and financial relationships including
Family Law; Wills and Estate Planning; Estate litigation; Mediation and Alternate Dispute Resolution; Business Law; Business Succession; Taxation; Trusts; and Superannuation. They even offer specialised advice in the relatively new area of Assisted Reproduction.
Whilst other law firms offer these services separately or combined, the DDCS point of difference is their unique understanding of the nuances and complexities of relationships – whether personal, financial or business related. This understanding allows them to get to the bottom of the family and business dynamics at play, whether working with a family law client, a business owner creating a business succession plan or developing an estate plan for an individual or a couple.
“We listen carefully to our clients and take into account things such as power imbalances, personality types, the nature of the issues and many other factors before helping them identify what type of resolution process best suits them,” explains Phil. “We have many tools in our toolbox, and offer our clients a broad range of holistic processes. We do not believe it is in the best interest to steer them to one preferred resolution process, as there are many options.”
“We definitely don’t see ourselves as traditional lawyers, who are often needlessly adversarial,” agrees Lois. “Instead we help our clients continuously assess and re-assess their needs and wants, in light of what is possible and the likely costs, and then advocate on their behalf to advance that goal.”
“Only by truly understanding our client’s needs and issues can we provide them with the advice and assistance they need in order to make wise decisions,” Julie adds. She goes on to provide an example of how DDCS was able to advise a client on a range of possibilities that were not outlined to him by his previous lawyers.
“We were contacted by a client who had been represented by another lawyer, since his sister had died five years prior, leaving him as the executor of her will,” explains Julie.
“The estate was approximately $10M, but the will failed to deal with the most significant assets which were held in a family trust. Consequently his deceased sister’s benefactors, including her two children and nieces and nephews, had commenced court proceedings against our client. It became apparent during our initial meeting that our client had little or no idea of the issues at hand; no understanding of the Court proceedings that had been commenced against him; and no real understanding of the deficiencies in the will. Most importantly, no one had ever asked him what he wanted and when we asked, he replied, ‘No one has ever asked me that!’ and put his head in his hands and cried. We have since been able to advise him on a range of resolution processes, without the need for a court.”
When you combine this unique understanding of relationships with specialised technical competencies, tenacious negotiating skills, extensive experience and a genuine commitment to your best interests, you have a powerful advocate on your side.
“Parents see us to assist in advising them “Parents see us to assist in advising them in areas such as an adult child on the brink of taking a relationship to a more serious level: planning estate management around the complex challenges of blended families or managing meeting the expectations of older children against the obligations of caring for a new partner and younger children. Our clients also engage us to help them understand risk and planning options when they are on the cusp of moving into a new relationship,” Di explains.
DDCS also advises family companies on business structures, succession planning and governance issues. This could include: preparing family constitutions which govern procedures for voting, meetings, exposure to risk, requirements for personal insurance, and limitations on borrowings on behalf of the relevant family group. DDCS can also scrutinize trust deeds, company constitutions, buy or sell agreements and life insurance cover, to ensure they reflect how the family wish to structure their business interests and to minimise business risks going forward.
“Our skills are invaluable in such contexts because we have a good understanding of wider family relationships and work effectively as the trusted advisor to assist the group members achieve their desired planning goals,” Julie says.
There may also be personal risks for directors of businesses when a company gets legal advice from a corporate lawyer.
“We provide individual directors with legal advice as to how company advice will impact their personal circumstances,” Phil explains. “This includes looking at areas such as company and trust structures, superannuation and tax.”
Underpinning everything that DDCS does is the understanding that they are dealing with people experiencing significant change or difficult decisions in their lives.
“When you are dealing with people’s intimate moments and choices in life, it is about earning their trust to be involved in assisting them to make these decisions,” Di emphasises.
“People that come to us, know they will be listened to and be accorded dignity, privacy and quality of service,” agrees Phil. “You can’t commoditise trust, it has to be earned.”
The new DDCS brand and positioning statement, “Your life, your lawyers” reflects its range of lifelong services and commitment to clients.
“With our new name “DDCS Lawyers – Private Client Advisory”, we are stating that we are not just transactional lawyers. We are interested in talking to people about how they structure their arrangements and the risks that are involved,” Julie explains.
Located in the stylish precinct of New Acton, DDCS has grown to a practice of 12 lawyers and 12 support staff it opened its doors in 2007. Led by the four Directors, who all grew up in country towns, the culture at DDCS has been established out of their shared passion, values and ethical approach to family law. It’s this culture that ensures the team is constantly undergoing rigorous skills assessments and further training to achieve the highest-level in negotiation and dispute resolution skills.
And despite being one of the largest family law firms in Canberra, attracting clients throughout Australia and overseas and being peer assessed as the leading family law firm in the ACT, the DDCS philosophy remains the same: that of building life-long relationships with clients founded on understanding and trust.
“The connections that we forge through a process of intimate sharing and trust, forms a solid foundation for continuing care,” explains Di. “Understanding our role and the privilege associated with it informs our approach to client service. In other words, it’s not about us, it’s about you.”
“We have a fabulous team of professionals and support staff and are ready to continue providing our legal services to those that need them – and to be trusted advisors and lawyers for life,” Julie adds proudly.
Julie Dobinson is the Managing Partner at DDCS. Julie studied law at Macquarie University long distance from Armidale after raising three children. She was admitted to practice in 1991, moved to Canberra on graduation and worked for large establishment law firms in family law. Julie opened her own practice in October 2000. Julie is an Accredited Family Law Specialist and Mediator and also has a Masters in Law majoring in Dispute Resolution. She is also currently the president of the Canberra Region Family Law Professionals Association.
In October 2013 Julie becomes the President of Law Australasia, a national association of independent law firms developed to focus on law firm management and the collaborative ongoing development of practice areas including family law and wills and estates.
“Our clients are not ‘legal transactions’, they are real people facing important life moments in their lives, such as beginning and ending relationships, providing for their loved ones through estate planning and wills and, where they have family business we can help them navigate through family succession,” Julie explains.
Phil Davey began his legal career as a clerk in 1976 and was admitted to practice in 1981. He worked in Sydney in the areas of commercial litigation and banking and finance, initially for Westgarth Baldick and then in his own practice until 1997. He then consulted for number of business enterprises, including a film production company, a joint venture with Brambles Industries and a building and development company.
In 2000, Phil moved to Canberra and joined Julie in her family law practice. In 2007 he and Julie joined Lois and Di to establish DDCS.
Phil is a member of the ACT law Society where he serves on the Practice Management Committee and presents regular seminars on Trust Accounts. He is a member of the Family Law Section of the Law Council of Australia and a member of the Law Council of Australia Collaborative Law Committee. He is Deputy Chair of the Australian Institute of Family Law Arbitrators and Mediators (AIFLAM). He holds a Master of Laws, majoring in Dispute Resolution. He is an Accredited Family Law Specialist and a Nationally Accredited Mediator.
Phil continues to practice in Family Law specialising in complex property and financial matters. He also heads up the Estate and Business Succession Planning section of DDCS.
“Having the commercial law background I can apply this to complex financial matters,” Phil adds
Lois Clifford has practised in Family Law for over 30 years after having graduated from the ANU with degrees in Arts and Law. In 1994 she was one of the first practitioners to attain accreditation as a Family Law Specialist. Lois commenced her legal career in the Riverina, and while specialising in family law, also practiced in other areas including commercial and equity litigation, estate litigation, and victim’s compensation claims.
After practicing for 16 years in the Riverina, Lois moved to Canberra and worked initially as an Associate in the family law division of a national firm and then as a partner in a family law firm before joining with her fellow directors to found Dobinson Davey Clifford Simpson. She is a member of the Family Law Section of the Law Council, has served on the Law Society Family Law Committee and Complaints committee and is a panel solicitor of the ACT Law Society advising and appearing in professional disciplinary matters. Lois has also been a long term volunteer solicitor with the ACT Women’s Legal Centre.
“I have a strong interest in complex property matters which involve detailed financial analysis and advice. I particularly enjoy working with accountants and financial planners to achieve the best outcomes for my clients. Many of my client’s matters involve multiple corporate structures, trusts, and self managed superannuation funds. I am tenacious in the pursuit of my client’s interests.”
Di Simpson is an Accredited Family Law Specialist with the NSW Law Society. Di has practised exclusively in family law since 1992, after graduating in Law and Arts from the University of Melbourne. She practised in country Victoria then in Melbourne with a specialist family law firm, then moved to Canberra in 1998 with a national law firm. It was in that practice that Di met Lois and they have worked together since. Di has been practising in family law for 20 years.
Di has undertaken training as an Independent Children’s Lawyer, in Collaborative Practice and specialist negotiation skills training with Professor John Wade; serves on the Family Law Committee of the ACT Law Society; is on the Board of the National Foundation for Australian Women (a feminist organisation founded to recognise the achievements of Australian women), is a member of the Family Law Section of the Law Council, a member of the Women Lawyers’ Association of the ACT and is a long standing volunteer at and supporter of the ACT Women’s Legal Centre.
“I feel blessed and privileged to work in a field where people share with me their personal and often surprising stories,” says Di. “Building understanding and trust and actually doing something to help is so extremely satisfying; and I find the challenges of complex children’s cases particularly rewarding.”
Tel: (02) 6212 7600
18 Kendall Lane, New Acton

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