Monday, February 21, 2011

Is there a future for family lawyers?

This is a subject that I have been toying with for some time, but never seem to have gotten around to dealing with properly, so I thought I would post some initial thoughts.

It seems that the work of the family lawyer under threat like never before, and this took me to the question posed by the title to this post: Is there a future for family lawyers?

The threats include:

Mediation
The Government has made it quite clear that it considers that mediation should play a far greater role in the resolution of family disputes, and Justice Minister Jonathan Djanogly regularly repeats the message. I think it is accepted by all that mediation is not a panacea, but obviously any significant increase in cases settling through mediation will reduce the work available to family lawyers.

Mediation has been a 'threat' for a long time. Of course, lawyers can train to be mediators themselves ('if you can't beat 'em, join 'em!) - I signed up for mediation training myself many years ago, long before it was fashionable to do so, but didn't proceed as there didn't seem to be sufficient money in it at that time to justify the cost of qualifying. I'm sure that has changed, and it certainly seems to be prudent for firms to position themselves to do more mediation work.

Cheap online services
Again, these have been around for a long time. I don't know that their 'threat' is any greater now than previously, although the Law Society recently issued a warning about using them, which suggests a heightened level of concern.

These sites deal primarily with uncontested divorce and agreed settlements (i.e. consent orders), so their 'threat' will always be limited, but nevertheless they can cut into the 'bread and butter' work that most firms do (at a considerably higher cost).

Divorce as an administrative process
Andrew Woolley indicated in a blog post back in October that the Government is considering bringing in the "no court divorce", whereby the 'petitioner' simply registers for a divorce, which automatically comes through after a set period. This would not only do away with uncontested divorce work but also the rarer (but more lucrative) contested divorce work.

Lawyer-free tribunals to resolve disputes
Another idea that has been mooted as part of the Family Justice Review, and possibly the biggest threat of all. I really have no idea of the likelihood of this coming to fruition - I suppose it depends upon whether it could create significant costs savings (as against whether it is actually a good idea). Obviously, if lawyers were to be removed from most disputes, then the future would look very bleak indeed (save, perhaps, for those dealing with public law matters, which I can't see being taken away from the courts), with lawyers being limited to an advisory role only.

* * * * *

OK, those are some initial thoughts. I may pursue the question further at a later date, and maybe even try to draw some conclusions.

10 comments:

  1. I for one am delighted that the family deconstruction industry is so scared!

    How dare people be encouraged or obliged to find less adversarial ways of settling matters.

    How dare people agree to things.

    How dare the law change to militate against those who live to litigate; how dare the taxpayer stop opening its' chequebook to encourage them.

    I noted the presence of a number of worried lawyers at the Family Justice APPG at Westminster last week, and my ex-wife's firm has just shed a load of jobs in their family department.

    Happy days! That's what I call the 'Big Society'.

    Children will benefit from family lawyers on the dole. One day, making a living out of stripping children from their parents through family courts will be no more socially acceptable than human trafficking. Get out whilst the going's good!

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  2. :-) I wondered how long it would be before I got a comment like that!

    Thank you for your view.

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  3. I put the case for the lawyers as best I could to my father the other day (also divorced against his will for no good reason to bad effect all round) and his comment was that his heart bleeds for them (quite sarcastically.

    Then again I never was a barrister.

    There was another point you missed, that there is a record low number of divorces since 1974.

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  4. Oh dear. I can see how and why "Daddy" lost his family.

    Some people are just not honest or brave enough, to see that they are the one at fault. That they caused such a thing to happen and instead, blame it on everyone else.

    "Daddy", please say sorry to your child/children and mean it.

    Be honest, be brave and put as much of this as right as you can, then you can really call yourself, a Man.

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  5. OK, let's keep comments on topic.

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  6. Just to make it clear: The question is: Is there a future for family lawyers? not: Do I care whether there is a future for family lawyers? or even: Are family lawyers a good/bad thing?

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  7. i think the more family lawyers (indeed counsel as a whole) get involved in the mediation process the better. counsel's skills are what can make the difference between reaching agreement and not. mind you, chambers do a lot of mediation so i would say that wouldn't i... in a different area a number of the civil cases i see should have been forced to mediate at gunpoint. you know the ones: arguing over 10K, costs of 25K each. the sort that would rightly make the lay person's head spin at the futility of it all. i can't imagine a more useful skill for counsel than the ability to dig parties out of their trenches and get them advancing across no man's land for a friendly game of footy. ok maybe i stretched that analogy a bit far.

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  8. i also apologise if by using a first world war analogy i gave the impression that relationship breakup will take four years and millions of deaths to sort out. if only it were that easy...

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