An online family law service that uses barristers to triage a client’s requirements and connect them with the experts needed to assist – whether they are barristers, solicitors, mediators, financial advisers, arbitrators, collaborative lawyers or therapists – has gone live this week.
Clients who contact Family Law Café – the brainchild of Lamb Building barrister Joanna Toch – speak to a barrister to assess the problem, give a view as to how best it could be resolved, who could help and the likely costs.
The client then decides who to use and agrees a fee for what they will do direct with the expert they use.
Ms Toch said the site grew out of her experience of public access work – which now accounts for 75% of her practice – and the fact that clients still needed a large array of services, from photocopying documents to specialist pension advisers.
She said it was different from other ‘unbundled’ online family law services because Family Law Café tells consumers what they need, rather than leaving them to work it out themselves.
She told Legal Futures: “Whilst clients are often trying to save money by going direct to a barrister, they can become lost when having to deal with the day-to-day management of their papers. I’d like to help them have a joined-up service so that they can pay for what they need.
“It makes no sense for a client to be paying a barrister just to get their papers in order. Further, family law clients invariably need other experts, they may need to use a solicitor for part of their case or be pointed to a counsellor, divorce coach or psychologist”.
In light of the removal of legal aid for most family law matters, 85% of family law cases now have at least one litigant in person. “Most of those acting in person would welcome a place to go to get a steer on how best to move their case forward,” said Ms Toch.
“Family law barristers know how the court system works and can give an insider’s view. Whatever a client’s budget they want to use it wisely. Many clients come to me after spending tens or hundreds of thousands of pounds in legal fees with little left to get good-quality representation when arguably they need it most, as their case nears its final hearing. Other cases drag on for years whereas with the right advice they could have concluded in a satisfactory way long ago.
“Barristers are trained to take an overview of a case whenever it comes to them and I want to offer the public the benefit of getting this at any time in their case – my hope is that it will be at the beginning.”
She has been building up relationships with trusted partners to whom work will be referred. For the legal work, London-based matters will be handled by Lamb Building barristers, while Barristers Direct will supply barristers in the rest of the country. Ms Toch said various solicitors are in the network too. The main launch will be in September.
Clients are not charged for the service, while no referral fees are paid by the service providers either. Ms Toch said in time they would pay for advertising on the website.
She continued: “I have talked over the concept with many solicitors and they agree that the pattern of clients starting with a solicitor providing a full service and instructing a barrister at a late stage when matters have become complex or unresolvable without court intervention have long past.”