_MG_5336What is a fair price to pay for family law legal services?

We are a practice that is very open about how much we charge for our services. Unlike most practices we publish our charge out rates on our website. Most solicitors do not publish their charge rates. Clients only find out how much they will be charged if they ask when making an initial appointment or at that  initial appointment.

The promise of a free initial meeting can be used to get new clients into the solicitors office. They can then find themselves putting a foot on a conveyor belt of charging which they haven’t necessarily contemplated or have researched alternatives.

We will talk about “free interviews” below, but first of all we will talk about hourly charging rates.

How much do senior solicitors charge in Exeter and Taunton?

We carried out some discreet research this summer and found that the “going rate” for senior solicitors in Exeter and Taunton (mostly at partner level, but not all) is currently around £250 + VAT per hour. The highest hourly rate we were quoted was £295 + VAT per hour. There were several in between.

These were all experienced solicitors, but we also found that other senior solicitors who were charging less. Some of these would in our view be equally competent, the difference being that they worked for smaller practices or were based outside of Exeter or Taunton.

For the record, I currently charge £200 plus VAT per hour. I am a solicitor who has been qualified for 24 years. I am a member of various accreditation panels and have also served as a member of the national Law Society Family Law Committee which represents the solicitors profession in consultations on law reform. I am the current chair of the Devon region of the family solicitors organisation Resolution. My team charge less than me.

Why the difference?

Reasons to justifying/ explaining higher charges could be:

  • Particular expertise
  • Large city centre offices and firm infrastructure is expensive and this needs to be funded.
  • Firms may charge the time of family lawyers at a comparable level to those undertaking commercial work.
  • The owners of the practices may have a greater expectation of making profits to smaller firms and will set their lawyers fee targets each year which can more easily be met with higher charge rates.
  • They believe that their clients are willing to pay more for their prestige.

Having worked in larger city centre practices I know full well the pressure within firms to make billing targets.

However there are other factors.

We subscribe to a family law legal library and practice support service which contains around 40 books and periodicals and also gives us access to practice support including case law updates, precedents,webinars,  library research and helpful materials for clients. As a service it is not cheap, but as it is charged on a firm rather than user basis, it is the sort of thing that larger specialist teams will have, but smaller and more general practices will not have. For a lawyer, this type of thing is invaluable, but it is part of the firms overheads, which needs to be paid for, one way or another.

Good lawyers can prefer the comfort and security of working in bigger practices and can demand higher salaries as well. Although it is definitely not the case that all good lawyers work in large city centre practices. Indeed, many smaller niche practices (like us) have been founded by lawyers fed up with the demands of working for larger practices and set up by themselves so that they can offer their services to clients in a more flexible and less expensive way.

Keeping our charges down

We aim to offer city centre excellence, but in a more accessible and less expensive way

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_MG_5336As a family law arbitrator, I am also a member of the Forum of Family Arbitrators As Well as being a member of IFLA (Institute of family Law arbitrators).

The forum hosts regular meetings of fellow family Law arbitrators. Attached to this posting is a video of a lecture about arbitration given by HHJ Donald Cryan at the City Law School on 30 March 2017. The lecture itself lasts just over an hour with discussion of 20 minutes afterwards. It is well worth watching.

Arbitration is gaining momentum

The message is that arbitration is a very good option in family cases and that its use is (slowly) gaining momentum. Family Law Arbitration is a process which has the support of the senior judiciary including the most senior family judge – The President of the Family Division His Honour Sir James Munby – who I had the privilege to hear speak about arbitration at the launch of the IFLA  child law arbitration scheme last year.

Essentially arbitration involves instructing a private judge (a senior very experienced lawyer who is qualified as an arbitrator) who will make a legally binding decision after a tailored process – which can include paper submissions or a private hearing.

For more information about arbitration please see the arbitration pages on our website.

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_MG_5336In the next couple of weeks the Legal Aid Agency will finally be launching the tender process for new Legal Aid contracts to run from 2018. Those providers wishing to offer/ continue to offer a legally aided service for both family law and for family mediation from May 2018 will need to tender for new contracts.

This tender process has been much delayed and we are pleased that it will finally be happening.

From what we understand, we should meet the expected criteria for family law and family mediation:

  • We hold the specialist quality mark of the Legal Aid Agency
  • We have 2 Children Panel Members and 2 Resolution Accredited Specialists
  • Ian is accredited as a mediator with the Law Society and Family Mediation Council

This is the third tender process and the previous one was the trigger for the foundation of Ian Walker Family Law and Mediation Solicitors.

That there is a broad and accessible supplier base is important to allow clients to access justice.

Training for members of Devon Resolution

Together with the Committee of Devon Resolution (of which I am Chair), we have organised some training to assist members of Devon Resolution to get their tenders right.

We are fortunate to have arranged the training with Matt Howgate who is a Legal Aid expert and is the main trainer for the Legal Aid Practitioners Group (LAPG).

The training will be on 13 October in Exeter. Devon Resolution members should already have received notice. If you are a Devon Resolution member and didn’t get my email about the training, please let me know asap.

The training is particularly aimed at those and their deputies who will be responsible for preparing, checking and submitting their firms tenders

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I first achieved membership of the Law Society Children Panel in 1996. The scheme is now called the Law Society Child Law Accreditation Scheme.

Membership of the Children Panel used to be for 5 year terms. It is now 3 years at a time. The accreditation and reaccreditation process is rigorous and the current reaccreditation process is perhaps the most stringent yet. This is important because Children Panel Membership means that I am able to represent vulnerable children in court proceedings.

Child Law Expert

Membership means that I can genuinely call myself a child law expert.

I was therefore very pleased to receive my latest accreditation certificate today. (below)

That’s 21 years continuous membership, which will be 24 years when panel membership is up for renewal again.

I am also a Child Law Arbitrator and am qualified to make legally binding decisions in disputes between parents.

With Kim Stradling, we have two children panel members in our team. If all goes to plan Carrie Meikle should hopefully be able to gain membership by the end of 2018.

Children Panel Certificate

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_MG_5336I founded my own practice with a mission statement to practice family law in a progressive and innovative way.

We are committed to family law and the use of mediation and the principles of Resolution. We are genuine team: Personality is very important.

We all need to work together and enjoy each others company. We have a flat structure and make good use of IT and cloud based technology. This means that we are adaptable and flexible.

Home working and smart working is encouraged. As specialists we know our area of work and can innovate. We are not competing against other departments or inertia in a multi discipline practice.

But we are serious lawyers who want to be the best at what we do. We have access to a premium law library and practice support. Gaining and maintaining panel memberships is encouraged.

There are definite partnership opportunities.

We have been successful in generating a good flow of both Legal Work and Mediation Work and there are clearly opportunities to generate more. We are receive referrals from satisfied clients and by word of mouth.

In the last four and half years we have come a long way and there is clearly room for further growth.

We have the following opportunities:

Solicitor: divorce and finance specialist

We are looking for a solicitor with:

  • Good academic background.
  • Good grounding in divorce/finance law (ideally within a larger practice/team)
  • Good IT skills
  • A team player with sense of humour
  • Passion for family law

Genuine long term opportunities.

Solicitor: Experienced – Fee Share

We are looking for solicitors with:

  • Good and experienced family law specialists with a track record
  • Probably with partnership experience but fed up with glass ceilings, partnership politics, management – who just want to do the work they enjoyed doing in the first place without having to put up with the nonsense.
  • A desire to work flexibly and willingness to fee share
  • Good IT skills
  • A team player
  • Passion for family law

Genuine partnership opportunity if wanted.

Flexible working -including homeworking – but you will need to come into the office in Honiton for a day each week. You will be based in Devon or Somerset.

Help me grow the business and have greater control of your future.

Accredited Mediator /Mediator working towards accreditation

We would also be pleased to hear from MIAMs approved and accredited Mediators or mediators working toward this.

You would able to help grow our mediation service.

Ian is a Resolution PPC and Law Society Accredited Mediator who has assisted other mediators with their portfolio and to gain accreditation. We have co-working opportunities.

Small and Relaxed

We are looking for the right personalities, who are able to work hard and effectively but can have a laugh at the same time.

Ideally we will have a team of around 8 lawyers. We want to be a team, working for each other, with the ability to adapt to changes in the market. Neither too big or too small, but just right!

Realistic Targets

We like fee sharing: the advantage of fee sharing is the we are not going to pressure you to earn fees of £150,000 or more. We will work together for our mutual long term advantage.

Be part of our journey?

Please send your CV and covering letter to Ian at ianwalker@familylawandmediation.co.uk

Being open minded and creative (see our values); we are certainly very willing to consider any opportunities which may arise. We are recruiting for long term growth.

Committed to Legal Aid

Our Legal Aid Mediation Contract allows us to work from locations in; Exeter, Honiton, Exmouth, Cullumpton, Taunton, Okehampton, Torquay, Totnes and Plymouth. To do this we had to identify inexpensive offices/rooms which are similar to our headquarters in Honiton.

Our full Legal Aid contract for family services is from our office in Honiton, in the East Devon catchment area. Our SQM was renewed in 2016 and we are all set for the new round of tendering in 2017 for 2018 legal aid contracts.

Non-legally aided work is not limited to any geographic location.

No agencies

No consultants

Thanks

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We are very pleased to welcome Hannah Elliott to our team. Hannah

Hannah started with us on 31 July 2017. She will be supporting our team with case management.

Hannah graduated from Exeter University this year with a good 2:1 Law Degree. She had a particular aptitude for Family Law and one of her tutors was David Tyzack QC, who was for many years the senior family Judge in Exeter. We know that Exeter University has a strong reputation for family law and members of the academic team are also members of Devon Resolution.

To qualify as a solicitor Hannah needs to next pass the Legal Practice Course (LPC) which she will be studying part time from September at the University of Law in Bristol. She will then have 2 years on the job training: (a training contract), although we would hope to have this time reduced for the knowledge she gains in the next 2 years.

Educated in East Devon

Hannah was educated in East Devon and attended Axe Valley Community College.

Hannah has good principles

We have been impressed that Hannah is a compassionate person who likes helping others. Hannah’s volunteering has included helping with a soup preparing and serving food to the homeless people in Exeter  and which has also included volunteering with the Human Rights Brigade in Panama in June 2015. Hannah says: 

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_MG_5336The Ministry of Justice’s statistics bulletin for legal aid between January to March, published on 30 June 2017, shows that the number of Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting has fallen fell sharply since The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012, (LASPO) which was introduced in April 2013.

Four years on, the number of Mediation Information and Assessment Meetings (MIAM) carried out under legal aid stands at around half of pre-LASPO levels.

Before LASPO, clients could not receive a legal aid certificate to cover the cost of their representation at court unless they had first considered mediation, subject to certain exceptions.

LASPO saw significant changes to the scope of family legal aid – with it being withdrawn from many family cases (unless there was independent evidence of domestic abuse or risk to a child from the other party)

The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012

The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012, which was introduced in April 2013, made no changes to the scope of legal aid for facilitating mediation. Legal aid was also kept for facilitating mediation information and assessment meetings (MIAMs). At the time, the expectation was that the volume of mediation would increase.

Mediators with legal aid contracts have been saying for a long time that the volume of legally aided mediation has fallen and that far from encouraging families to mediate – the effect of LASPO has been to cause a significant reduction in the volume of legally aided mediation.

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_MG_5336On Monday, 8 May 2017 I attended the resolution PPC forum in London. A PPC is a Professional Practice Consultant. Essentially this is a mediators supervisor. I am a PPC and supervise other mediators. I also have my own PPC.

Every year the family solicitors organisation: Resolution hold a meeting in London – the PPC forum – to update Resolution PPC’s on developments in the mediation world. It is also a good opportunity to catch up with some old friends.

The world of mediation is quite small. There are only 1000 mediators registered with The Family Mediation Council – there were around 1200 last year. There are only 707 accredited mediators.

This year we heard a presentation from Robert This year we heard a presentation from Robert Creighton of the Family Mediation Standards Board. We also discussed the possibility of a new code of conduct for PPC’s.

Another topic of interest was legal aid contracts. The tendering process for legal aid contracts for mediation from 2018 has been delayed by the general election. However, during the session devoted to legal aid a number of mediation services confirmed that they have given up their legal aid contracts already or have no intention of bidding for new legal aid contracts. It was also noted that the amount of legally aided mediation has reduced because of changes and sometimes lack of changes to the legal aid means test.

We have noticed an increase in the number of mediation referrals that we have received this year – but less there are less clients who get through the means test to qualify for legal aid than there would have been a couple of years ago.

It is our intention to continue to offer a legally aided mediation service. We are the only mediation service that is based in East Devon – in Honiton and we are regularly seeing mediation clients in Taunton.

If you are interested in finding out about family mediation then please let us know. We also offer an innovative scheme which combines mediation with arbitration

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_MG_5336Current contracts with the Legal Aid Agency will come to an and in 2018

The Legal Aid Agency – LAA will shortly be launching a Procurement Process – to decide who can offer Legal Aid from 2018.

The last procurement process was the trigger for me to decide to set up my own practice.

Firms which wish to continue to offer legal aid will apply  through procurement process for new civil legal advice and civil face to face legal aid  and family mediation contracts which will now open in May 2017.

We remain committed to offering a legally aided service and renewed our quality standard – the SQM or Specialist Quality Mark in 2016 to ensure that we are ready for the tendering process.

It will be interesting to see which firms do/do not apply to renew their legal aid contracts.

Sadly, a number of Devon/Somerset firms have ceased offering Family Legal Aid in the last 5 years – including Ashfords, Clarke Willmott, Foot Anstey, Michelmores, and even smaller firms such as Butler and Co and Risdon Hosegood.

We fully expect more firms to drop their legal aid offering this time around – which will be a shame, but given that legal aid pay rates have not risen for over a decade, and have even been cut, and given also the level of bureaucracy surrounding legal aid, it is hardly surprising.

 

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_MG_53362016 has been a really exciting year for us so far. We have been joined by child law expert Kim Stradling (previously head of the family law department at Devon solicitors – Everys) and by office administrator Beth Hazeltine (whose background is the provision of outstanding customer service).

We are still recruiting.

We are immediately looking for a paralegal. For the right candidate this could lead to a training contract. Alternatively we will consider candidates who have good experience working as a paralegal in an established family law team. See below.

We also on the lookout for further practitioners to help us grow our team. Details also below. In all cases apply in confidence to ianwalker@familylawandmediation.co.uk with C.V. and covering letter

We have been successful in generating a good flow of both family law work and mediation work and there are clearly opportunities to generate more. We are receive referrals from satisfied clients and by word of mouth.

Trainee Legal Executive/ Paralegal /Potential Training Contract

You will need a strong academic background and clean driving licence.

You have successfully completed your LPC (Or will very shortly do so) and possess excellent organizational, communication and IT skills.

Alternatively you will be undertaking your LPC part-time and available to work four days per week. You will already have gained some relevant practical experience.

Alternatively you will have a sound track record of working successfully as a paralegal in a respected family law practice

The successful candidate must demonstrate a knowledge of and passion for this area of law and be a team player with good sense of humour.

Where the successful candidate has gained or is working towards an LPC then the paralegal position will be with a view to a training contract becoming available after a successful paralegal placement(subject to SRA approval), or an alternative route to qualification. Excellent long term prospects. We can arrange a secondment to an alternative practice for the third seat of a training contract. We will provide seats for family law and for child law. This is an opportunity to gain a training contract with two very respected and senior Devon solicitors.

Based in Honiton

Solicitor – Experienced – Fee Share – Genuine Partnership Opportunity

Businesses’ are at their most effective when everyone has a genuine stake in their success. They also need to have good long term succession plans.

In 2016 we were joined by Solicitor Carrie Meikle. In April 2017 we were be joined by Solicitor Kim Stradling who has a wealth of experience and expertise. I would like to grow the practice a little further.

I would like to recruit another experienced Solicitor, possibly with a view to them becoming a partner sooner rather than later(If they wish).

Fee share

Flexible working -including homeworking – but you will need to come into the office in Honiton for a day each week. You will be based in Devon or Somerset.

Our organised and professional – we have no desire to be anything other than an outstanding family law practice – we are not intending to become “corporate”

Help me grow the business and have greater control of your future.

Accredited Mediator

We would also be pleased to hear MIAMs approved and accredited Mediators. You would able to help grow our mediation service, particularly in Exeter and Taunton.

Small and Relaxed

We are looking for the right personalities, who are able to work hard and effectively but can have a laugh at the same time.

Ideally we will have a team of around 6 lawyers. We want to be a team, working for each other, with the ability to adapt to changes in the market. Neither too big or too small, but just right!

Realistic Targets

We like fee sharing – the advantage of fee sharing is the we are not going to pressure you to earn fees of £100,000 or more. We will work together for our mutual long term advantage.

Can you help us to grow?

Please send your CV and covering letter to Ian at ianwalker@familylawandmediation.co.uk

Being open minded and creative (see our values); we are certainly very willing to consider any opportunities which may arise. We are recruiting for long term growth.

Committed to Legal Aid

Our Legal Aid Mediation Contract allows us to work from locations in; Exeter, Honiton, Exmouth, Cullumpton, Taunton, Okehampton, Torquay, Totnes and Plymouth. To do this we had to identify inexpensive offices/rooms which are similar to our headquarters in Honiton.

Our full Legal Aid contract for family services is from our office in Honiton, in the East Devon catchment area. Our SQM was renewed in 2016 and we are all set for the new round of tendering in 2017 for 2018 legal aid contracts.

Non-legally aided work is not limited to any geographic location.

No agencies

No consultants

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