When Divorce-Online announced recently that they now handle 5% of all divorces in England every divorce lawyer in the country should have sat up and taken notice. There are about 150,000 divorces in England and Wales each year, so I make it that they handle about 7,500 divorces a year, an incredible figure for one business. What is responsible for this success?
Divorce-Online was founded in 1999 by Mark Keenan, and was the first online divorce service in the UK. Their business model is that they only deal with agreed matters, essentially offering two levels of service: 'DIY Divorce' and 'Managed Divorce'. With DIY Divorce, the clients will deal with the divorce themselves, with the company completing all documents for them, at a cost of £65, or £150 if a consent order is also required. With Managed Divorce, the company will also file the documents with the court and deal with correspondence, with their fees starting at £175. The company has a staff of 7 with additional work, such as drafting consent orders, outsourced to solicitors.
It seems to me that there are two primary reasons why clients are attracted to the service: cost and convenience. With fewer people entitled to legal aid and money now becoming tighter, the appeal of a service that seriously undercuts solicitors is obvious. The only problem, of course, is that you have to have agreed a financial/property settlement with your spouse in order to take full advantage of the service. As to convenience, the public is expecting to be able to do more and more from the comfort of their own homes - if you can order your grocery without going to the supermarket, why not deal with your divorce without having to go to see a solicitor?
The other reason for the success of Divorce-Online is the drive of Keenan, and his willingness to innovate. He was not afraid to set up the business at the time of the dot.com crash, and initially ran it from his home in his spare time, until he found an investor. He often appears in the media, and the company was famously the first to advertise cut-price divorce services on television.
Not dealing with contested matters, services like Divorce-Online will never replace solicitors, but they are certainly having a serious effect upon the profession, and I can see many in the profession having to quickly reconsider their business model in order to survive. The title to this post is incorrect: it is not the way of the future, it is the way of now.