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Comment on divorce & family law 

Will divorce lawyers survive continuing changes in the legal landscape?

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Will divorce lawyers survive continuing changes in the legal landscape?.

Law firms and barristers are bemoaning the changes in the profession – but firms should have adapted to this some time ago if they want to survive in the new legal landscape.

We have mentioned many times in these blogs the effect Legal Aid changes are having on the industry. Very few divorces are now eligible for Legal Aid which has led to more people attempting to do their own divorce, more people looking at mediation and a change in the way many law firms practice. Some firms have fallen by the wayside as they failed to rise to the challenge and the changing landscape.

I was interested to read an article in the media last week looking at these challenges and how barristers are increasingly being used by those going through divorce, bypassing divorce lawyers altogether. Barristers certainly seem to be more active in looking for direct access work and some clients will choose to go that route, but a specialist law firm should not be losing significant ground in this area if they are offering a modern service which fits around the needs and resources of the client. 

This is interesting for a number of reasons. Firstly, that the barristers quoted are suggesting their fees are lower than solicitors fees. That’s not my experience. Secondly, that barristers seem to be positioning themselves as a ‘better option’ than solicitors in all divorce cases.  It’s horses for courses – barristers are trained for litigation. Most divorces are kept away from the courts by well-trained family lawyers who focus on finding solutions through negotiation. 

If law firms are suffering now, it is because they didn’t see this coming. And for some it is already too late. At Woolley & Co, we are doing well. I think this is to do with the way we try to operate as a business (and a law firm for that matter):

  • Keep away from court - We are great believers in avoiding court if possible. This keeps down costs for clients and lower costs means more satisfied clients, and satisfied clients make referrals.
  • Be clear on costs - We are totally open and clear about how much it will cost from the outset. There should be no nasty surprises.
  • Tell it like it is - We tell clients the hard truth even if they don’t like it. If we don’t believe they should be fighting a case we will tell them so. If they are being unreasonable and we believe a judge will find against them if the case goes to court, we will point this out. Surely that is what a professional should do?
  • Help to DIY - We help clients do their own divorce when they wish to, providing advice on the relevant stages rather than a fully managed divorce service. It’s true we are also often approached by people who have tried the DIY route and realise it isn’t as easy as it can seem and there are many traps for the unwary. 

The landscape has changed and we in the legal profession have had to change with it. And you know what? I bet very few people will be losing sleep over solicitors or barristers losing out. Why should they? Lawyers would do far better listening to their clients, than listening to what barristers think or bemoaning the way the sector has changed. 

Suggestions that lawyers are “suffering” under this new regime are relative really. My Dad stood at a machine in a noisy car factory every day for 40 years until he was made redundant – I don’t think lawyers have had it that bad over that time!

Andrew Woolley
Family solicitor

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