13 Tips for Choosing a Family Law Solicitor
There are lots of Solicitors who undertake Family Law work. How do you choose who will be best for you? You need to know how they will work and what they will charge. You need to know what their style is, and their ability to build a relationship with you? What is their legal knowledge? Perhaps most importantly, what is their ability to resolve your dispute?
Questions to ask
1. When did they qualify as a Solicitor? Someone who is recently qualified could do a better job than someone who has been practicing for 30 years, but generally experience should bring a better sense of how to steer you to a successful outcome by the best route. What you want to know is; are they experienced in resolving problems like yours? Are they actually qualified?
2. Who will do the work? You have a great Solicitor, but will they delegate all the work to a trainee or to someone who is junior or with no qualifications? Who will be your main contact? You have (in theory) a great Solicitor, but will you ever be able to get hold of them? (This is not to say work cannot be delegated. You need to understand how your case will be looked after)
3. When did they specialise in Family Law? A similar but subtly different question to no 1. Sometimes a breadth of experience can be helpful, other times you can spread yourself too thinly. Family Law is not the same as other types of litigation. If it were, there would have been no need for the founding of the Solicitors Family Law Association (now Resolution)(see number 4)
4. Are they a member of Resolution? Why would anyone not want to commit themselves to Resolution’s Code of Practice? (http://www.resolution.org.uk) which ask members to; Conduct matters in a constructive and non-confrontational way; Avoid use of inflammatory language both written and spoken; Retain professional objectivity and respect for everyone involved; Encourage clients to put the best interests of the children first; Take into account the long term consequences of actions and communications as well as the short term implications; Emphasise to clients the importance of being open and honest in all dealings; Make clients aware of the benefits of behaving in a civilised way; Ensure that consideration is given to balancing the benefits of any steps against the likely costs – financial or emotional; Keep financial and children issues separate; Inform clients of the options e.g. counselling, family therapy, round table negotiations, mediation, collaborative law and court proceedings; Abide by the Resolution Guides to Good Practice. Names of all members can be found on the Resolution Website
5. Are they accredited? (If so, by whom, and with what specialities? When did they gain accreditation?) Resolution and the Law Society both run accreditation schemes which require experience and demonstrable skill and knowledge. Why instruct someone who is not accredited?
6. Are they a Collaborative Lawyer? This is an out of court process to resolve divorce related issues. Training does not bring an accreditation; however it demonstrates an openness and commitment to progressive practice.
7. Are they a Mediator? Mediation is a different process to legal representation. However any Solicitor-Mediator will tell you that they believe that they are a better Solicitor because they are a Mediator and vice versa. What it means is that they are more likely to identify if your case is suitable for mediation, and refer you to a good mediator, and equip you to make the most out of the mediation process.
8. Are they respected on a national level? There are various national committees/subcommittees (E.g. the Law Society Family Law Committee, Resolution, Family Mediators Association) which promote best practice and Law reform. That someone is willing to volunteer to play a role, says something of their commitment to progressive values. Other examples could include writing books etc.
9. Are they respected locally? Do they participate in local committees, e.g., the local Resolution Region or the Local Law Society branch? They may have been elected by their peers to a post? Would local Solicitors recommend them?
10. What is the ethos of the Firm? (Huh?!) Put it another way; do they see themselves as a big commercial law firm, where the family law team barely gets a mention on the website? Is there a billing, billing, billing, culture? Are they going to charge for photocopies? Or are they a niche practice, where they only do family work? Does the firm encourage participation in Resolution etc., Do you sense the Solicitor is happy at work? (If they leave, will you follow them, or have your case transferred to someone else?)(disruption, stress and cost)
11. Do they give the cheapest quote? How can anyone know what the final costs will be? Beware of a tendency to quote low and unrealistic in order to gain work (The report of the Legal Ombudsman from February 2013 “The price of separation: Divorce related legal complaints and their causes” is a good read) . If you are comparing price, look instead for the Solicitors hourly charging rate; £250 p/h or £ 150 p/h? This takes you back to who is actually going to do the work?
12. What are you going to do? Your Solicitor may give you lots of good advice and recommend you enter into a Collaborative Law process, however at the end of the day it is the client who gives instructions. If you don’t follow advice, be obstructive, hide money, mess the other person around, be on the phone or email to your Solicitor all the time; you will end up with a more stressful, expensive and longer process!
13. How does the Solicitor propose to resolve your case? Going to Court should be the last resort. It is expensive and uncertain, albeit sometimes there really is no alternative. Their starting point should be to be looking at how to assist you to achieve a realistic negotiated solution to the problem.
Having chosen the best Solicitor for you, follow their advice! And be open and honest and respectful in your dealings with them and the other person.
There is a problem to be solved, not a battle to be won. The sooner it is solved, the sooner everyone can move forward
So how did I do?
Also worth a look is: http://familylawandmediation.co.uk/family-law/splitting-up-2/splitting-up/ which takes you through the different ways in which you could resolve divorce/separation issues and their financial and emotional cost.