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Family Law Blog

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Welcome emails to speed divorce

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I touched last week (Courts slowing the divorce process) on the court systems unwillingness to accept emailed documents and electronic payments. After finishing that blog, I felt this was worth a longer mention. It seems to me that such simple steps as these, commonplace in every other industry for years, could go some way to cutting back on the delays I was talking about – or at least avoid any additional processing delays. There is lots of talk about the Government wanting to simplify the divorce process, and this type of “innovation” could help – but there appears to be an unwillingness to go with this, not just from the courts but also many law firms themselves. Consequently, I am not confident that things will change any time soon. And this is holding back the legal sector.

The simple fact is that courts do not like using email. Some, I have been told, are even threatening to begin charging solicitors who fax or email them because they say they then have to use their own paper to print out the messages. They obviously haven’t read anything on the Government’s green agenda.

It is not just courts who prefer a forest-threatening paper trail. It is not uncommon to hear lawyers say: “Well I still like paper.” This is an emotional decision and not a practical business one, akin to “I like wearing white clothes so I am going to do so while I dig the garden”. I guess this reflects the fact that many firms are run by senior lawyers who have progressed through the firm, not necessarily people with instincts for running a business. That is the structure of the industry but it is a bad business structure. This is one of the positive changes that I think Alternative Business Structures(ABD) can bring but which so many firms are afraid of.

Some law firms use paper as a tactic. For instance, there are those who will not accept email correspondence. This can give them a tactical advantage if they want to delay a process. They can blame it on Royal Mail when they post out documents. Then there is the argument that paper is necessary because documents must be signed. The reality is that land and stocks and shares are the only things in law that actually have to be paper signed – and the Land Registry is now changing to no paper. Signatures were introduced in England in the 17th Century as a good way of confirming identity. Is that still the case and is that the best we can do after more than 300 years of progress? In a divorce, there is not actually much signing now anyway.

As highlighted last week, the divorce process is getting slower. This is for a number of reasons, but it gives a bad image of solicitors and courts, frustrates clients and drags out a highly difficult and emotional time for all those involved. Anything we can do to speed it up should be explored, whether that is electronic or credit card payments being accepted by courts and law firms, or succumbing to what every other sector of business cottoned on to some time back – emails save time and money.

Andrew Woolley
Family solicitor

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