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23/03/2012 By: Katherine Kennedy
Family law has changed over recent years and, while there may still be “Rottweiler” divorce lawyers out there, there is a clear – and welcome – cultural shift towards a much more holistic approach to family breakdown.
There is renewed criticism of family lawyers following a recent advert by a Birmingham law firm saying, “Unhappy with your partner? Speak to us in confidence to discuss your options.”
Advertising legal services is not unusual in today’s competitive environment, nor is there, in my view, any reason why law firms should not advertise their services – they are after all commercial organisations like any other business. Advertising is just a small part of raising a firm’s profile.
The difficulty arises in this case as the advert for family law services is seen as an attack on family values, a pre-emptive strike on a relationship that may not yet be beyond repair. The implication is that a visit to a lawyer is a step taken fairly lightly at a time when you may be feeling unhappy in your relationship or marriage. Any criticism relies on a further inference being drawn by the reader – that a lawyer will push them towards legal action. Family law has changed over recent years and, while there may still be “Rottweiler” divorce lawyers out there, there is a clear – and welcome – cultural shift towards a much more holistic approach to family breakdown.
Anecdotally, a client does not visit a family lawyer without first giving it a great deal of thought. No one wants to visit us to discuss the intimacies of their unhappy marriage or relationship – we are very much a last resort, stress purchase. Family breakdown ranks high amongst the most stressful life events and has an impact on more than the two adults directly concerned – on children, wider family members, friends and society.
Consequently, at any initial meeting, much thought is likely to be given to the alternatives available to the client – in the first instance to reconciliation and counselling; thereafter to approaches such as mediation, negotiation or a collaborative approach. Litigation is a last resort, and rightly so – it is a costly process, emotionally and financially, with often an uncertain outcome given the discretionary nature of family law.
Many practitioners now recognise the benefit to the client of alternative dispute resolution, being members of Resolution – an organisation of family lawyers committed to a non confrontational approach to resolving family law disputes; many being trained mediators, collaborative practitioners and arbitrators. Many firms are now offering fixed price packages for services, designed to help families feeling the economic squeeze access advice whilst keeping costs to a minimum, resolving disputes out of court and litigating only where necessary.
Firms are embracing technology. For example, our own Divorce UK iPhone app was listed in The Sunday Times Top 500 Apps in the World. This app is free to use and offers information in an easily accessible way. It works alongside our family law website, www.divorce.co.uk, which was launched in 1998 to provide the general public with free advice and guidance on dealing with the emotional, financial and legal implications of divorce and separation.
The decision to separate or divorce is not a decision made by or encouraged by a lawyer; it is a decision made by an individual or a couple. Once made, the advice of a good family lawyer should be of great help at a very difficult time.