Choosing a lawyer to assist you with any aspect of your life can be a daunting process. For many, the cost is a key and often primary consideration. But once you have established your financial parameters, other factors then come into play. Those living in the so called ‘Divorce Capital of the World’ can have their pick but narrowing down your options is no mean feat. Top lawyers are certainly not confined to the capital but there will naturally be a concentration in the bigger cities. The most important thing is to find the right fit, someone you can trust, feel comfortable talking to and who has your interests at heart.
In this blog, Professional Support Lawyer, Carla Ditz talks about the important decision to instruct a family lawyer and factors which you may wish to take into account.
Instructing a solicitor vs going it alone
Finding a solicitor is just the first step in the process. Guidance and support is what will get you through the rest of the process. Your legal support may also be complimented by the assistance of a family therapist or counsellor. Both these services can also provide you with the ‘tools’ you need once the process is over – for example, tips and guidance on co-parenting going forwards.
Some cases may be so straightforward that they can progress without the need for legal representation. In certain situations however, not instructing a solicitor to manage the process can sometimes prove to be a false economy. What you save on legal fees, you may lose in negotiating a potentially unfavourable settlement or litigating your own case simply through lack of knowledge of the law and your rights. Whether the consequences are felt in the short or long term, it could leave you with a feeling of regret. At worse, there may be financial hardship suffered as a result. Where there are children concerned, a bad outcome might be a dysfunctional or damaged relationship with your former partner.
Resolving a dispute with the assistance of an experienced solicitor can, for example, pave the way for successful parenting by setting out what is important to you both, shared values and importantly, how to communicate with each other. Any outcome in a dispute concerning children is often not worth the paper it is written on if it is (i) not workable and (ii) where the parenting relationship is not intact.
Even a one-off meeting at the outset can give you the perspective, the legal advice and understanding of what a ‘good’ outcome might look like. Knowing what a court would consider and what factors are taken into consideration is valuable information which would underpin and justify your case. Going in ‘blind’ can leave you vulnerable and often unprepared for what lies ahead.
Assertive vs aggressive
For some, the decision about who to instruct is easy. For others, the choice is more nuanced. The objective is less about cost but more about how negotiations and possible litigation will be handled.
- They want an ethical, client-focussed, sensible and empathetic solicitor who can help them make well informed, intelligent decisions without compromising on what matters most to them.
- Finding that solicitor who can help you to choose your battles, someone who can help you establish what is important and focus on the bigger picture becomes the priority.
- Equally, someone who will fight the fight when need be but not fight for the sake of it.
These factors become the barometers.
The negotiation process and litigation process is, to an extent transparent in that it is apparent if one party (whether legally represented or not) is hindering progress by being overly aggressive, unrealistic in their proposals for settlement and uncompromising. Even the most skilled and experienced lawyer would find it a hard day in the office when faced with this opponent. Such characteristics rarely generate the best, long term results and in any event, will probably make a settlement less likely forcing the matter into the hands of a judge.
Perception vs reality
Those who choose not to instruct a lawyer are almost always doing so (and understandably so) because of the associated costs. But instructing a solicitor who represents your own core beliefs and who negotiates effectively for you is money well spent. It may seem like an obvious point for a family lawyer to make but as professionals, day in day out we see first hand how costs can escalate as a result of unnecessary litigation or long, drawn-out negotiations. Sensible negotiating and intelligent litigation in both divorce cases and children matters can help to contain costs whilst achieving the best possible outcome for the client.
The face of legal services has been undergoing change for some time. What we have been seeing for a while is a development of alternative services which are now being offered. ‘Online divorce packs’ are emerging as well as services such as divorce coaches, both of which are aimed at those who question whether instructing a divorce lawyer is really necessary.
Indeed, some services such as the divorce coach can complement the services of a divorce lawyer. They can provide valuable support and guidance which may result from a personal experience of family breakdown or even professional experience, having worked in the field in the past for example. They will therefore have a good understanding of the process itself including the legal paperwork and help the client to complete and explain the relevance of it, at a lower cost than a lawyer.
Adopting an alternative service in isolation may however prove problematic. As with any non-legal service, it is important to remember that the ‘adviser’ is unlikely to be covered by any insurance, should things go wrong. A solicitor’s advice is covered by Professional Indemnity Insurance and the legal service itself is regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority. Employing an unregulated and uninsured service is something not to be taken lightly particularly when we look at the subject matter at hand. A bad result in a divorce process can have long lasting and potentially devastating consequences and this is not a position anyone would wish to find themselves in. It makes it all the more important that you are happy with your decision whether or not to instruct a lawyer.
Many family lawyers are also members of Resolution, a national organisation of family lawyers and other professionals committed to the constructive resolution of family disputes. Members sign up to a Code of Practice that promotes a non-confrontational approach to family problems. It is this Code of Practice that underpins how we work both with our clients and with other professionals. A useful way of illustrating this point can be found in our Divorce Diaries website which has given clients the opportunity to communicate their experience of the divorce process and instructing a lawyer.
A means to an end?
We should remember that the divorce process is just that – a process. Whilst a lawyer will ultimately help to achieve an end result, equally important is how you get to that point and your overall experience of divorce. As best as you can, you should not be swayed by others’ experiences of divorce as this may taint your own decision-making process. Divorce is a very personal experience. Every marriage is different and therefore every divorce is different. The same can be said in relation to disputes concerning children – every family, every child and everyone’s circumstances are different.
The message is clear. But the decision is still hard to make. The divorce process is not always as straightforward as you might think. It can be easy to be tempted by cheaper options and swayed by negative experiences of others. But there is no replacement for a good divorce lawyer. Which is why it is so important to find the right match for you, someone you can trust and with whom you have the confidence to guide you through the process to achieve the right outcome for your family.