Why you don’t need a divorce lawyer. A reprise.

 

First: a confession…

I used to be one of those lawyers who felt distinctly nervous at the thought of changes in legal services that could impact upon my livelihood.  But then, as a person entering the law as a second career shackled with monstrous debt from my legal courses and young, hungry children, I was always likely to be of a nervous disposition. But as time has gone on I have learned to embrace change.  In fact, I positively welcome it.  I like to see the positives in change rather than the threat.  There is no greater agent of change than technology. Technology can deliver services in ways we could not have imagined some 15 years ago.  Legal services are not immune.  And I am not referring to the now commonplace changes introduced by innovations such as:

  • email
  • Skype
  • ‘Always on’ and synchronised services like Dropbox or Googledocs unleashing the full potential of mobile devices like the iPhone and iPad.

Lawyers are beginning to utilise these technologies to help their clients.  That’s the way it should be.  For too long, lawyers have thought of reasons why their established patterns of working should not change even though client pressures were building to demand greater flexibility in the delivery of legal services.  After all, why should the provision of legal services not be client-led?

This blog is aimed at that section of the public making one of the painful transitions called separation, divorce or dissolution of their civil partnerships. I am communicating directly with people who may need to access advice on matters like divorce.  I am precisely NOT writing this blog for the benefit of my professional colleagues specialising in family law.  They are very welcome to read my posts and take issue if they like but they are not my intended audience.  This is the reason I am not banging on about the profound changes to be wrought by the Legal Services Act: the public don’t give a toss and why should they?

So what are the interesting strands, now emerging, that are likely to shape the future of family law services delivery?

Unbundling

This simply means that the public may want to select from a menu of legal services: picking and choosing those bits they cannot do themselves with any confidence.  But, being prepared to roll up their sleeves and have a go at the aspects that look less daunting and may owe more to procedure than legal interpretation.  This has been going on for some time but the pace appears to have accelerated.  People having to deal with divorce have always been able to deal with the proceedings themselves but the availability of online services has allowed for the elements of the proceedings that can be process-driven to be offered directly to the public.  The divorce process (but not, in all cases, the financial aspects) can be broken down and delivered online.  Mark Keenan’s Divorce-Online has been doing this for years.  There have been other entrants into the online divorce services market but Divorce-Online, being the original, still appears to be the best.

Community

Online forums attracted to discrete issues are creating their own ‘demand agendas’ that bypass traditional professional services or dictate the terms of engagement with them.  If you have a look at Wikivorce you will see a strong element of self-help driven on the forum pages.  The members posting on the user forums will often use the term STBX (soon-to-be-ex [partner]) when referring to the other spouse.  The other members will provide sympathy, support and some direct suggestions for how to tackle a problem with a STBX. It is clear that there are some comments posted by forum users with legal experience, possibly solicitors or legal executives, but they are not allowed to ‘own’ the pages, or even, as far as I can tell, use the forum pages to profile their legal firms.

Another good example of community action is  Suzy Miller’s Starting Over Show (SOS). An online environment that supports and encourages divorcing and separating couples to explore ‘better’ ways of resolving disputes  with an emphasis on mediation and the collaborative process.  An example of Suzy’s bottom-up approach is Divorce in a Box which provides vouchers to a range of services, both legal, and therapeutic.

I also like Only Dads and Only Mums.  These sites offer support for single dads and mums and signpost resources for people who might initially be shell-shocked at single parent status.

Connection

Look at MyOffspring.  This is a relatively new offering and I spoke about it on my companion blog, Larkinslaw,when I said:

“…  the MyOffspring team want to offer separating parents an online environment that provides a suite of  tools and resources that will allow them to communicate with each other and even their children using the now familiar tropes of social networking.  There will be the ability to use a schedule manager, join forum debates, access advice from a range of experts on family matters (both legal and therapeutic), and even upload materials for sharing with your ex-partner that can be timestamped and even geo-tagged.

The emergence of online offerings like MyOffspring throws up some interesting questions.

  • Will the ability to communicate with your ex-partner in a secure online environment in real-time improve the prospects for constructive dialogue and therefore improve the outcomes for children?
  • Will the ability to upload materials to a secure server reduce the room for conflict between those parents where the common cry of the parent who is not the primary carer of the children is that they are kept in the dark despite enjoying parental responsibility for their children?
  • Will the ability to geo-stamp certain entries, through a supporting App on a smartphone, do away once and for all with the destructive allegation and counter-allegation that one parent has failed to turn up at the agreed time and location to have or to allow contact with their child?  I have seen the courts struggle with these cases where a decision has to be made as to who is telling the truth about specific incidents.   The court’s decision, a finding of fact, can impact directly on the ultimate decision as to which parent should have care of the children or how much contact there should be for a so-called absent parent.
  • Does the concept of the ‘absent parent’ lose definition and meaning in a virtual world where the channels of communication are in real-time and ‘always on’?
  • Most intriguingly, will the English courts, like their North American counterparts, embrace the reality of such online tools and begin to incorporate into their orders, a direction that the parents before the court must subscribe to such an electronic service in the hope that communication will improve but that , if it does not, the un-cooperative and obstructive parent may be found out.

The potential for improving the frequency and I would hope, the quality, of the communications between parents in respect of their children is there.  The STBX will be the person at the other end of the interactive tools in this vision of the future rather than the subject of anger or despair in the forum discussions.  If I am right – that the tropes of social networking are becoming ubiquitous – then the particular patterns of engagement between consumers of such services, even hostile parents, could be constructively channelled for the benefit of their children.

Finally: a freebie

My day job is with Family Law Partners (FLP)  The MyOffspring team have kindly offered my firm 200 free subscriptions for their premium service for 12 months. You do not have to be a client of FLP to use the subscription.  It will be first come, first served.  I will post the online code for the offer as I soon as I receive it.


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  1. Quickie Divorce’s avatar

    An excellent post which highlights the need for the legal sector to adapt to a market that is constantly in a state of flux.

    I would, however, disagree with your assessment of divorce online and would politely request evidence to substantiate your claim that they are the best online divorce provider currently operating within the UK.

    Quickie Divorce has dealt with over 30,000 more customers, boast an extremely high level of client satisfaction and not only employ solicitors and other legal professionals, but logistical experts as well.

    As a direct result, we are able to offer our clients courier collection for important documents (such as marriage certificates) in order to ensure that they arrive at our offices both promptly and safely. We are also the only online divorce provider that offers its clients telephonic consultations to ensure that they provide us with all of the information required at the first point of contact.

    Our services – unlike those offered by our competitors – are continuously changing to match the needs of our customers and no other online divorce provider is as adept at creating fluid systems that ensure that its clients receive the very best service available throughout the industry.

    Reply

    1. DivorceFT’s avatar

      Thank you Jay. I wonder whether your competitors would like to take up this particular gauntlet…?

      Reply

    2. Mark keenan’s avatar

      Interesting but the number of complaints that they [Quickie Divorce] have recorded against them and other services they offer with trading standards and numerous review sites would indicate a lack of service to the consumer.

      Reply

    3. Nicola Matheson-Durrant’s avatar

      Quickie divorce’s comment: ‘Our services unlike those offered by our competitors’ isnt accurate. Since 2005, hundreds of businesses have replicated their service and are just as dynamic, hence the drop in demand for ALL of the usual players!

      Reply

    4. DivorceFT’s avatar

      Thanks Suzy. Yes, I suspect unbundling is going to be a prominent feature of the way people approach family law services as the decade progresses.

      Reply

    5. DivorceFT’s avatar

      Thanks for the comment Nicola. I hadn’t appreciated just how many businesses had entered the market. I do now!

      Reply

    6. DivorceFT’s avatar

      Thanks for the comment Mark. I can’t comment specifically on Quickie Divorce but as a general observation I will be interested to see how many of the newer, non-solicitor businesses in the legal market get on with customer satisfaction. Over the course of the last decade or so, clients (should I call them customers now?) for legal services have demanded a more consumer-friendly approach from traditional legal practices. And this is where many firms fell down. The legal expertise may be of the highest standard but the client would not always see the ‘value’ in the end result.

      Consumers/clients want to see ‘value’ but it is not solely to do with the price. I think most lawyers realise that now and have modified the ways in which they engage with clients. About time, I say.

      Reply

    7. Family Law Clinic Client’s avatar

      Nicola

      It’s a shame that although there are many people offering the services mentioned above. You yourself at familylawclinic.co.uk offer McKenzie services but send letters on BEHALF of your clients and expressing YOUR opinions…. When it is my belief that McKenzies should advise ‘clients’ on how to write letters them selves….

      Certainly not attempt to intimidate and harass the opponent and make threats of litigation on your ‘clients’ behalf..

      I urge potential paying customers of Nicola (£95 + VAT) to be wary that this particular organisation may cause them far more problems then the issue they are trying to resolve!

      Reply

    8. Nicola Matheson-Durrant’s avatar

      I note that the writer didnt bother giving their full name, which most legitimate contributers have. Their para 1 is not factual or accurate, therefore misleading to readers. All letters we are asked to send out for clients are always approved by the client first, and changes are made on the client’s instructions, and therefore reflect the client’s own views, opinions and concerns. We also encourage clients to write their own letters whilst in consultations with them, where we suggest phrases and comments which could be effective and useful, but the client writes the letter themselves. Of course, all approaches to communicating with the other side have to contain accurate legal information and phraseology to assist the client, otherwise the client being served properly. Our fee is actually £89 + VAT not £95 + VAT. You dont not have to be wary of the Family Law Clinic, as we are open, transparent with who we are and what our costs are – its all published on the website, and we do not hide behind anonymity. Just look at our ‘Success Stories’ to see how appreciate we are, and how trusted we are. But, thank you for allowing me the opportunity of commenting of that less than accurate writer.

      Reply

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