Family lawyers embrace mixed teams to offer non-court alternatives

Malkan: We are quite all-encompassing

An increasing number of family law specialist teams are joining with other disciplines and professionals to give clients a wider range of services that do not involve the court process, it has emerged.

Last week’s Resolution ‘Future of family practice’ conference, held online, heard from the North West London collaborative pod, recently re-launched as Family Dispute Solutions, and Hampshire Family Legal Solutions.

Both involve lawyers who are also mediators working with non-lawyer specialists in areas like financial advice, counselling and therapy in order to give clients broader expertise and a range of lower-cost alternatives if they choose not to take their matter to court.

Peter Martin, a consultant and arbitrator at London firm OGR Stock Denton, part of Family Dispute Solutions, explained: “Our pod has a mix of mediators, collaborative lawyers, arbitrators and financial advisers. We wanted to show potential clients the choices and benefits of each, enabling choice of the route that best suits them.”

Fellow member Bindu Malkan, a senior family solicitor at SA Law, told Legal Futures: “It’s not a case of one size fits all, it’s about what works best for clients and can be a combination of different methods.”

She added: “It means that, [even] if a client has started under the collaborative process, they [can] then flip to mediation or do arbitration, or hybrid mediation.

“We are quite all-encompassing and in this way clients will be able to have the full spectrum of options available, plus within our pod we’ve got every single discipline you can think of in a way that helps with referrals and cross-referrals, so tailoring it more to the client.

“We all know how difficult the court process can be. Whilst it’s a system we’ve been used to, there’s a lot of drawbacks and flaws with it… If you need the court, it is there, but it comes with a lot of hurdles so we as family lawyers now… are always looking at things outside the court arena.”

She continued that what set them apart was having “clever, cost-proportional, out-of-the-box-type thinking because ultimately it is about the client and… we’ve got to tailor our approach”.

She agreed with other family lawyers at the Resolution conference who pointed out that, due to Covid-19, clients had become more dependent on their lawyers.

The Hampshire Family Legal Solutions model is similar, designed “to help couples separate with dignity and without using the court process” and identify “common goals and [work] as a professional team to ensure a fair and cost effective outcome is achieved”.

Catherine Sousa,  director of Sousa Law in Southampton, explained: “The process starts with an initial fixed-fee foundation meeting… with the couple, a family consultant, a financial adviser and their solicitors.

“During the meeting we identify areas of agreement and areas of dispute so that we can then offer a plan of action for the couple in resolving all issues in the most cost-effective manner, taking account of their emotional, financial and legal needs.”

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