Family specialist calls on lawyer mediators to unite in fight against new competition

Thornton: we’re the experts

A family law practitioner from Wakefield is calling on solicitors, barristers and chartered legal executives to unite to promote to the public the benefits of lawyer mediators over non-lawyer competitors.

Clare Thornton, a partner at Thornton Jones, said that only by working together could the legal profession hope to compete with new entrants with major marketing power, like Co-operative Legal Services.

She has created The Lawyer Mediators Group, which will act as an online directory of mediators for the public, but she hopes that membership fees will generate funds to promote lawyer mediators’ services more widely, initially through marketing collateral but in time possibly press advertising. Membership costs £500 a year, although the first 50 lawyers to sign up will pay half price.

Initially targeted at family mediators, Ms Thornton said the site was created with the functionality to expand to cover civil mediation too.

“I bought the name three years ago because I feel quite strongly that a lawyer mediator is quite different from a non-lawyer mediator,” she said. “Particularly in [ancillary relief] cases, I don’t see how a non-lawyer mediator can help couples.”

However, new entrants will be able to outspend individual lawyers and firms, while non-lawyer mediators can charge lower fees because they do not carry the same overheads. “The problem for lawyer mediators is how to make it cost-effective – we can’t compete with non-lawyer mediators [on cost] but we shouldn’t try to because we’re the experts.” The group aims to explain that to the public.

The site also includes a members’ forum as part of the goal of providing a support network, training and professional practice consultancy for lawyer mediators across the country. Ms Thornton said the aim is to create “more of a cohesive group so we can help each other” and initially at least there will be no limitation on how many lawyers from a particular area can sign up.

In May, a group of 15 law firms in Yorkshire and the north-east joined forces with a specialist divorce coach and independent financial adviser to launch Dovetail Divorce Solutions, which they claim is the first fixed-fee collaborative divorce service. There are plans to expand it around the country.



    Readers Comments

  • Sorry Clare but “Experts” hmnn, in law maybe? Mediation is definately not about who is right in law or the judgement of any of the parties.

    Lawyers generally should leave Mediation to Mediators and concentrate on Crime and Legal principles. Leave Mediators to the non-lawyers who are experts in Mediation. I would go so far as to say you cannot be both; if the end-user is to received the best service!
    Ian Jenkins
    Non-Lawyer Mediator

  • Jon Aikman says:

    Sounds like closed-shop protection. Good mediators are not worried about competition. The strength of mediation comes from the diverse professional background of mediators and what they bring to their shared profession of mediation. If Clare can’t see how a non-lawyer mediator can help couples then she is missing the point of mediation. Leave mediation to the experts – professional mediators – whether their background is as a lawyer or a non-lawyer

  • Zoe Davies says:

    Mediation is NOT a court of law. The fundamental principle of Mediation is that the parties decide the outcome. The skills used by the Mediator are the complete opposite to the skills used by a Lawyer. Lawyers apply the law to the facts, generally an objective exercise. Mediators attempt to uncover the underlying issues. Those issues may be disguised as legal arguments; nevertheless the underlying issues must be explored in an empathetic or possibly a probing manner, it depends on the type of client. A skill which comes naturally to some Mediators but also comes with experience.
    I have a legal background and I’m also an accredited Mediator. I have come across some good Lawyer Mediators and some good Non-lawyer Mediators. I think the answer does not lie with whether you are a Lawyer or Non-lawyer Mediator but actually on the training of Mediators. It’s imperative that the training institutions provide the highest standard and accreditation should reflect this.
    Using the law card as a weapon of expertise against other professions will backfire. One of the selling points of Mediation is cost-effectiveness, and you’re proposing to sell your services at a higher premium on the basis that Lawyer Mediators are experts. Do you believe clients/parties will buy into this? The purpose of Mediation is to avoid litigation and the rising legal costs!

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