Firstly: an apology
To the hundreds of readers who have sent me emails, chronologies and asset spreadsheets asking for help, advice or comments on their particular legal troubles. I haven’t been much help. There are just too many of you. And your circumstances are always unique to you and your family so there is no pre-formed answer I can drag off a shelf and present to you. I’m sorry that I haven’t been able to respond to all of you.
Secondly: an explanation
I have been unusually ‘quiet’ on this blog. I’ve haven’t posted anything for months. It is not just that I have felt overwhelmed by the number of people asking for help. It is not just that my main job at Family Law Partners takes up most of my waking time. The real reason, the reason that I hope is worth the effort over the last 5 years is that I have been building something that I think will help more family lawyers help more people with family law related problems. We have been using the prototype at Family Law Partners for the last year and it has fundamentally changed how we engage with our clients at the first point of contact.
Thirdly: the future
There are too many people now who do not have access to legal advice, usually because they think they cannot afford to do so. So they try to deal directly with their ex-partner but find it is really hard to communicate against a backdrop of distrust, anger, fear and sadness that marks out the breakdown of a relationship. Some people find themselves as LIPs pitted against their ex-partners in court. It must be incredibly hard to navigate legal proceedings as a LIP when the rules of the game are anything but clear and the legal professionals you encounter: the judges and lawyers, are speaking something that sounds like English, but is full of words you don’t remember coming across at school, work or anywhere else for that matter.
But what if a solution, enabled by technology, allowed more people to access legal advice at the very start of a family law ‘problem’ emerging. What if that solution gathered the information from a potential legal client in a helpful and intelligent way at zero cost. And then presented that information to a family lawyer in a format that allows them to immediately offer advice, whether paid advice, or free, or a combination of the two. And what if that solution enabled a client to come back to the same lawyer from time to time and have the same process repeated (commonly known as ‘unbundling’) even though the facts of their case had changed in the interim?
This is the challenge that I have been working on for the last 5 years. And, over the last 12 months this solution has started to take shape and become realisable.
This explains why, I hope, that I have been ‘quiet’ on the blog front. I’ve devoted most of my spare time and energy to this new solution because it is ultimately a numbers game.
The numbers game
When I started out as a family lawyer many years ago I did what most lawyers do. I helped out at advice centres, CAB rosters or church drop ins – trying to provide what lawyers call pro bono (free) advice. If I was lucky, about four punters would stumble in to see me on a cold, rainy night. At least one of them would want to sue the local council for something or other: pigeons crapping on their conservatory roof or a bin man doing Les Dawson impressions within the vicinity of their no humour zone. I was once shown an ingrown toenail and once shown something worse. I was even asked for a prescription. Very occasionally, someone would appear with an unambiguous legal need but drop 5 boxes of paperwork on the desk and ask for ‘a quick bit of advice’ about their case that had been trundling on for years.
As my career positively blossomed I graduated to seminars where I could charm and educate a captive audience with my knowledge of family law – sometimes as many as 50 lucky, lucky people so long as there was no major sporting event on.
Eventually I discovered the world of blogging. I remember my excitement at being told that I could have as many as 50 visitors a month if I worked really hard at my blog. Imagine that. Perhaps 100 visitors a month after a few years, I was told. Wow, I thought, imagine reaching that many people. So I started my blog. Real amateur stuff. Most legal blogs are lawyers talking to other lawyers. No harm there, all good clean fun. Or law firms posting blogs that can be summed up, no matter what the subject matter, as:
Hey you with the sad face, did you know divorce and separation are horrible, that kids get stuck in the middle, and you might lose your house? Call us now and book an appointment.
How helpful is that? I loathe those sort of legal blogs. As much use as a chocolate teapot.
I knew early on that my blog would be aimed at people who needed legal help but might be struggling to get it or pay for it. I knew that I was going to be giving away lots of information without being paid for it. I knew that might annoy (a small minority) of fellow lawyers. I knew it would be difficult to write blog posts that were detailed enough to be helpful but not so specific as to be useless to the majority of my blog visitors. My blog has grown. I looked at Google Analytics recently for the first time in almost a year. I am astonished to see that I had nearly 7000 visitors to my blog last month alone. I know those numbers are only small beer for some websites but I would have to go some at the local CAB or advice drop-in to match those figures.
But those numbers are the tip of the iceberg. I can’t keep up with all the requests for help that come into me on this site. I confess I am overwhelmed. But there are lots of family lawyers like me out there and if we can find a solution to making access to lawyers easier, faster, and more affordable, especially at the beginning of a legal problem we may be able to stop difficult situations escalating into all out war in the family court room.
So, here’s to bigger numbers. I’ll keep you posted.