Showcasing the barrister–solicitor relationship

Showcasing the barrister–solicitor relationship

Tuesday, 21 August 2018

A close working relationship between an instructing solicitor and barrister is vital to best serve the needs of our priority clients.

Read about the productive working relationship between our Senior Family Lawyer Bernadette Grandinetti and Barrister Daphne Foong. 

Bernadette Grandinetti, Senior Family Lawyer, Victoria Legal Aid

Why did you decide to pursue a legal career representing legally aided clients?

I am passionate about assisting clients who are unlikely to otherwise be able to receive assistance elsewhere with their legal issues. I also enjoy engaging with the community via community legal education, which I am able to do as an employee of Victoria Legal Aid. The values for which VLA stand are strongly aligned with my own, and I am passionate about social justice.

I also have great appreciation for our mandate to effect societal and policy change, and I value working for an organisation which allows me to engage in that process.

What is the most rewarding aspect of your career?

Achieving a positive outcome for clients, whether meeting them for the first time as a duty lawyer or on an ongoing file, is one of the most rewarding aspects of my career. I also enjoy the challenge that comes with doing duty lawyer work and working with particularly vulnerable clients to help them achieve a positive outcome where possible.

What advice would you give to barristers representing Victoria Legal Aid’s priority clients?

Having an awareness of the factors which make our clients a priority client is critical in representing them. For example, if they have cultural and language barriers, disabilities, mental health issues or are victims or perpetrators of family violence, this can have an impact on the client’s presentation and life experiences. This in turn affects how you advocate for and liaise with each client. Our priority clients often require more time and more repetition when advising them, particularly when it comes to complex matters. Being compassionate and patient with clients is also important.

Do you brief Daphne often?

Obviously it depends on her availability, but I enjoy working with Daphne, and brief her when I can.

What do you like about working with Daphne?

Attention to detail and the support I receive from Daphne are two of the things I most like about working with her. Daphne is very thorough and prepares for matters in great detail. She will make herself available to discuss the matter prior to the court date, and to provide guidance on how to proceed both before and after Court. Her memoranda of appearance are very detailed, which is incredibly helpful from an instructing solicitor’s perspective to know how the matter has proceeded at Court on the day.

How does Daphne interact with your clients?

Daphne is very compassionate and empathetic towards clients. She is patient and takes the time to advise clients in detail, and to ensure that they have understood the advice she’s provided. When it comes to complex matters or clients with complex needs, this is invaluable. I have regularly received positive feedback from clients about their experiences with Daphne, and the results they’ve been able to achieve.

Above (L-R): Victoria Legal Aid Senior Family Lawyer Bernadette Grandinetti and Barrister Daphne Foong
Above (L–R): Victoria Legal Aid Senior Family Lawyer Bernadette Grandinetti and Barrister Daphne Foong

Daphne Foong, Barrister

Why did you decide to go to the Bar?

I decided to go to the Bar because of my passion for advocating for clients and the independence of running my own practice.

What advice would you give to instructing solicitors when preparing a brief for trial?

When preparing a brief for trial, I suggest having a brief that is well organised, which comprises:

  1. Court documents including Court Orders in one section of the brief – chronological order based on the date on which each document was filed with the Court or when each Court Order was made. Each counsel has their own preference, but this is my preference.
  2. Correspondences in one section of the brief and in chronological date order
  3. In a Memorandum to Counsel – a brief background to the proceeding (including why the proceeding started, were there any pre-litigation negotiations and why didn't the matter settle), what occurred at the last court date, client’s most recent instructions, whether there are specific issues you wish to draw to counsel’s attention.

Two things that I find very useful, which do not appear in briefs too often, and which require additional investigation with my instructing solicitor, are:

  • The demeanour of the client – many counsel often meet with their clients on the morning of Court and have not previously met the client prior to the court date (unless of course counsel has appeared at a previous court date for the same client). A usual ‘heads up’ about an instructing solicitor’s experience with dealing with the client can be helpful, especially alerting counsel to things like mental health issues or language barriers.
  • What the client has been advised. This background information is very helpful. Although my role would be to advise the client, knowing what the client has or has not been advised, assists me with managing clients’ expectations. Sometimes, I get the odd, ‘I don’t remember’ or ‘I don’t know’ response from the client when I ask them a question as broad as, ‘Do you understand why you are at court today?’
  1. Presentation of documents in a brief – preferably all documents are printed one-sided, unstapled and unmarked.
  1. Timing – for trial, the earlier the brief can be delivered to counsel, the better. In an ideal world, a brief for trial should be delivered two weeks before trial. However, realistically, this is not always possible.

I really do appreciate getting my briefs early as it gives me time to address any issues with my instructing solicitor or the client.

For example, counsel and their instructing solicitor may decide to put a witness on notice that they are required to attend court to be cross-examined. Throughout the course of the proceeding, this witness’ evidence may not have been too contentious, but it may subsequently become contentious for trial.

Another example may be that counsel would like to have a conference with the client and instructing solicitor prior to the trial. An early delivery of briefs can facilitate making this possible.

What area did you practice in as a solicitor?

I practised as a solicitor in private practice, and also in community legal centres.

My main areas of practice were family law, civil disputes and employment.

What do you like about working with me?

Your in-depth knowledge of the file and client’s case was really impressive and the brief was well organised.

You also responded promptly to my queries about the matter.

What skills do you think are required when representing Victoria Legal Aid’s priority clients?

  • Awareness of personal and socio-economic factors, and the impact these factors have on clients – language barriers, mental health, disabilities, family violence background
  • Compassion and empathy – taking the time to understand a client’s case and their background really well (which may often have some challenges or complexity)
  • Patience – I take a lot of time advising a client – which can often involve repetition – so that the client can understand the advice given to them on complex legal issues.

It goes without saying that it’s important to have knowledge of the client’s case, and understanding of why the case has reached a certain point eg final hearing, without resolving.

What is the most rewarding aspect of your career?

I really enjoy the challenge, accountability and responsibility of advocating for clients to the best of my ability.

I also enjoy meeting other members of the legal profession, and people in general.

More information

Read more about Careers at Victoria Legal Aid.

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