Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Legal ombudsman gives good advice to divorcing couples - shock horror!

A week or so ago, the Legal Services Ombudsman published a report on complaints against lawyers.  Sadly, family law is a major contributor to his case load.  Am I surprised?  Not greatly.  I encounter a good number of indifferent family lawyers.  I have the privilege of presenting training courses for BPP, one of the leading national training organisations, which gives me the opportunity of discussing and passing on to other family lawyers my main concerns.  As is clear from the report, clients are deeply concerned about costsand this is a major source of complaint.  I believe that is all too often insufficient focus by both solicitor and client on managing cases to keep cost to a minimum.

The great news for professional and client alike is that the Ombudsman has published a highly sensible guide to getting the most out of a professional relationship between solicitor and client.  You can find it at this link:

Using a divorce lawyer - ten helpful tips

So I thought I'd have a look at the tips the Ombudsman gives, one at a time, of course.

Tip one.
Consider what you want from the legal process - AND BE REALISTIC!
Sorry to shout but this is important.  The biggest single dispute in divorce usually concerns money.  Your money.  The more of your money you spend in legal fees, the less you get to keep.  Very often a solicitor will be telling a client something the client doesn't want to hear.  The law does not punish one spouse for being bad, nor does it set out to reward the other for being good.  The purpose which the court sets out to accomplish is simply to enable the couple to live separately from each other.  It's a matter of arithmetic and it's a matter of practicalities.  For those who are deeply hurt, this is not what they want to hear.

And that's where problems can arise.  A client can put a lawyer under severe pressure to try to obtain an outcome which is just not achievable.  When costs get racked up and that outcome is dismissed as unrealistic, the client complains.  Both client and solicitor may have to share the blame.  The client has not been prepared to accept good advice.  The solicitor may have been intimidated by the client and persuaded into presenting a case which is just not viable.  Solicitors must have the courage to withstand pressure and be the bearer of bad news if need be.

Where I become decidedly irritated is when I am faced with a solicitor who is doing work which cannot benefit their client but for which someone - quite often the taxpayer, under a legal aid certificate - is paying.  The classic example for me is the lengthy and purposeless questionnaire.  For instance, if the only asset of a marriage is a house and neither spouse can realistically be ordered to pay maintenance to the other, questions about how either of them spends their income are entirely irrelevant.  You can spend hours crafting such a questionnaire but it has no value to the client.  It can be decidedly embarrassing when a judge looks at your questionnaire and simply dismisses it out of hand.

Fighting for what you can't get is emotionally draining, ultimately devastating and a waste of money.  If that's your position, your solicitor is doing you the biggest and most altruistic favour by telling you early on, before the damage is too great.

Blog Disclaimer: Nothing in blog should be construed as legal advice. If you require legal advice upon any family law related matter then you should instruct a solicitor. Any links to other blogs or web sites are provided for convenience only and Austin Kemp Solicitors cannot accept any responsibility for the contents of such linked blogs/sites.