Family Dispute Resolution Week
I want to say a few words about Family Dispute Resolution Week. I was in Nottingham a few weeks ago to attend Resolution’s Dispute Resolution Conference. It’s the third annual conference in a row and I keep going back because I meet lawyers, mediators and collaborative practitioners who are utterly committed to pushing the boundaries of their own practices to provide better outcomes for families. This usually means keeping families out of the court process. So I learn a lot and I come away feeling inspired. Which is just as well when having to deal with the obstacles that get in the way of real change. Let me refer to the usual suspects.
The usual suspects
It is not easy to push boundaries in any professional practice. Here are a few of the obstacles in the way of pushing family dispute resolution:
- Public ignorance. People simply don’t know enough about the dispute resolution options that are available. Resolution has been pushing the options for many years and any reader who is unaware of the rich resources on the Resolution website needs to hop over there pretty quickly and bookmark it for future, constant reference.
- Professional indifference. In a sense, lawyers are the gatekeepers to the dispute resolution options as far as the public are concerned. This is one of the reasons that the loss of 1,000 high street legal firms in the last 12 months caused the take-up of mediation to be sliced in half. But I still think the lawyers who are left could do a better job of ‘selling’ the merits of mediation, collaborative law or (the new kid on the block) arbitration. Perhaps some lawyers are worried about turning away business if they cannot offer mediation or the collaborative discipline. Well, call me old-fashioned but lawyers should put the interests of their clients first. So, if a family breakdown is crying out for dispute resolution instead of the family court trial by combat then the lawyers need to pack their clients off to a mediator or a collaborative practitioner. Better still, they should get trained up themselves to be able to offer this resource to their clients.
- Political ideology. The UK government ‘discovered’ mediation relatively recently, in the same way that European settlers, wading out of the American surf 450 years ago, ‘discovered’ the New World. It had always been there. But this new-found zeal for mediation unfortunately coincided with the financial meltdown: the perfect backdrop against which to attack legal aid, a pillar of the post-war welfare settlement between state and citizens. Even better, this astonishing piece of vandalism against the body politic would serve to stick it hard and fast to two despised constituencies: the ‘undeserving’ poor and the fat cat lawyers. In short: get rid of as much family legal aid as possible and force the low income punters to run from the lawyers and into the welcoming arms of the army of mediators ready to take their place. Yeah, that worked really well. Hands up, Mr Grayling, didn’t you foresee that all the punters would run off to the courts as litigants in person putting a strain upon the court services whose budgets had already been slashed?
Better news: Family Dispute Resolution Week
Well, I like mediation anyway: always happy to get my clients off to see a mediator. But mediation is not the only gig in town. You should check out collaborative law and family arbitration on the Resolution website. How can you find out more? Resolution, the national organisation of family lawyers is promoting the second …
Family Dispute Resolution Week
from the 25th to the 29th November 2013
Did you get that? This means Resolution members throughout the country will be hosting events and trying to gain publicity for the alternatives to the court process. In the main this means promoting the benefits of Mediation, the collaborative law process and Arbitration. You may hear features on the radio, see articles in the local press or even bump into smiling faces at your local court handing out flyers and lending a sympathetic ear.
My bag is collaborative law where the parties sign an agreement not to go to court and the lawyers work with each other (instead of against each other) in the interest of the whole family. Collaborative lawyers form local groups to share experience and improve practice. I belong to two pods in the Brighton area: Sussex Family Solutions and Brightpod. We will be promoting the benefits of family dispute resolution to the wider public. Twitter users should be able to search for local developments using #keepitoutofcourt closer to the time. And why not follow @ResFamilyLaw why you’re at it
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