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