How to ensure that you have direct contact with a family solicitor.
This article is designed to advise potential family clients with regard to the changing face of the legal market in Family Law.
The exclusion of private law matters from the scope of Legal Aid under the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (LASPO) which came into effect early in April 2013 has been largely responsible for changing the way a large number of Family Lawyers do business.
Hitherto, private law matters were often pursued with the benefit of a Legal Aid Certificate. After April 2013 anybody wishing to pursue a claim in the courts for private law children’s matters must pay privately for this unless in exceptional circumstances they meet the gateway provisions (briefly that they themselves are a victim of domestic violence or there is a safeguarding issue in relation to the children).
Consequently there are an increasing number of organisations chasing a limited amount of work.
This change has heralded a change in marketing initiatives and consequently it is important that some analysis of what a client is buying needs to be undertaken at the outset.
There are many websites nationally which effectively act as family litigation brokers. Taking the information from a potential client and farming that information out to geographically proximate organisations. There is no direct assessment of quality. Clients need to be aware that they might not be dealing with solicitors in the first instance.
There are clear advantages in interacting with a solicitor’s firm direct from the outset:
1. Clear and transparent client care procedures throughout together with the fact that the solicitor’s profession is heavily regulated.
2. No arrangement or administration fees due to the fact that you are dealing directly with the provider of the legal services.
3. An ability to procure an advocate of choice whether that bean in-house solicitor or barrister without the limitation of dealing with those barristers who are prepared to engage in direct access.
4. A clear complaints procedure and recourse should it go wrong.
5. The ability to instruct an individual solicitor and have continuity of representation throughout the life of the case.
6. The ability to identify the exact nature of qualification of the lawyer representing you and clear terms of engagement.
Interacting with Legal Services can be difficult but made more so by the offering of itemised services directly to the public via a wide range of providers with varying degrees of regulation and accountability.
There are some things to watch out for when considering interacting with advertised legal services:
1. An inability to spot an office address could mean that you are dealing with a broker in the first instance.
2. 0800 telephone numbers are often designed to disguise the location of those dealing with the calls.
3. Online divorce services are often advertising “lawyers”. This is a generic term and does not necessarily mean a qualified solicitor – often there is no lawyer involvement with regard to online divorce services.
4. It may be that agreed or amicable proceedings can be dealt with by less qualified staff. It is when things go wrong and there is a contest that strict regulation gives the best opportunity of quality representation.
There is a common conception of solicitors’ practices dealing with matters slowly and being court driven. The modern family practice engages in a wide range of services including alternatives to court proceedings, mediation and alternate dispute resolution.
Be assured that a solicitor’s practice that moves with the times gives clients the best opportunity to obtain a clear, professional and expeditious service in a regulated environment.
Bhatia Best Solicitors
Family Law Department