We are offering a new funding option to clients in Family and Divorce cases that allows legal fees to be minimised.
For many people today the internet is their first port of call for advice and assistance, even in legal matters. A quick search will produce any number of sites telling you how to do your own divorce. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t. They’re certainly cheap, but if they go wrong they will undoubtedly cause you to pay far more in legal fees to unravel than it would have cost to have the job done properly in the first place.
We recognise that for some people the DIY approach is their only option, so we’re trying to ensure that we can support clients through the divorce process by enabling them to dip in and out of using our services when they are needed. Our Family Law on Demand service does exactly what it says it does. You only pay for the time we spend working for you as and when you ask us to. This might mean that you come to see us for some initial advice about a family law matter, or you ask us to draft a particular document or check something that you’ve drafted yourself. There’s no ongoing correspondence. We don’t have overall conduct of any case. And we don’t communicate with your former partner or solicitors instructed by them. We’re just there as and when you need us.
The obvious benefit of this type of service is that it allows specific legal tasks to be undertaken at a much lower cost than would be the case under a traditional solicitor/client retainer. However, it’s critical that those using it understand from the outset exactly what is being provided. If you ask us to draft you a document then that’s what we’ll do. We will ensure that the document does what you have said you want it to and that it’s correctly worded. We won’t however give you advice on the contents of the document unless you specifically ask us to and pay for us to do so.
The idea of these “unbundled” legal services is still pretty new and can lead to misunderstandings about the service being provided. A recent case is very helpful in clarifying the responsibilities of solicitors in providing advice in this way.
In Minkin v Lesley Landsberg (a 2015 case) a solicitor was asked to draft a consent order. This is a document resolving financial issues on a divorce which a court can approve as a formal order which is then binding on both parties. In this case, the solicitor was presented with a proposed consent order which the court had already rejected. Her instructions were to amend the order so that it would meet with the court’s approval. That was the limited basis on which she accepted the instructions and the client confirmed that she had correctly understood what she was being instructed to do. The order was redrafted and ultimately approved by the court. The client however came to regret the order she had entered into and brought a professional negligence claim against her former solicitor, alleging that she had been negligent either in her advice or her lack of advice which had resulted in the order being made. That claim was dismissed both at the original trial and then by the Court of Appeal.
The court made plain that the starting point is for the solicitors to be clear about what they are being engaged to do or to advise upon. The solicitor and the client may agree that there are limitations on the advice being given but if that is the case the limitations should be made clear in writing. It is implicit that the solicitor will give advice reasonably incidental to the work they have been instructed to carry out. The question of what advice is reasonably incidental will depend on the circumstances of the case, including the character and experience of the particular client.
So, if you ask us to do a particular piece of work for you, we will make it absolutely clear from the outset what we will do, and what we won’t do. If you ask us to draft a document that reflects an agreement you have chosen to enter into, that’s what we will do. If you want us to advise you on whether the agreement is advantageous to you we will happily do so – but that will require us to have significantly more information than we are likely to have if we’re just putting the agreement into writing and this will be reflected in the fee charged.
If you’re not sure what is covered by the work you’ve asked us to do, just say so. We will confirm in writing what we’re being asked to do and make sure that there is no room for reasonable doubt or confusion. Our aim is to ensure that you can get help when you need it and to the extent you need it. Whilst the internet can be a wonderful resource it doesn’t offer the answer to all our problems. There will be documents that are so important or complex that they will require individual input from a specialist solicitor rather than being downloaded from a genic bank of precedents on the web could be totally unsuitable.
And if you’re still not convinced that the internet isn’t the answer to all your prayers, well think of it this way. You can download from the internet a guide to removing your teeth without the aid of a dentist – but would you seriously consider it?
For more details of our Family Law on Demand funding option in Family and Divorce cases give us a call on 01271 372128.