Regional law firm Mills & Reeve will next month launch a fixed-price online know-how and training package for family lawyers that it claims will enable practitioners to compete in a shrinking market.
Partner Roger Bamber, who heads up the family department from Mills & Reeve’s Cambridge office, said the commercial venture had its genesis in the firm’s quest to provide consistent in-house continuing professional development (CPD) across its sites.
Mr Bamber has a long track record in online innovation; in 1998 he founded the divorce.co.uk resources website. Earlier this year, his firm’s Divorce UK free application for the iPhone/iPad – which provides the public with jargon-busting guidance on divorce and separation issues – was named one of the world’s top 500 most popular apps by the Sunday Times.
Speaking at a Legal Services Board seminar on legal education in London last week, Mr Bamber said: “The recession, the liberalisation of the legal market, and the increased use of web-based services… have led to a real contraction in the family law part of the profession.
“So we really feel we need to up our game and look much more closely at what clients actually want and what they are prepared to pay for – and also to think about what distinguishes us as a professional service as against an online service.”
An annual subscription to the Family Law Hub will cost £195 plus VAT per user, which includes providing family lawyers with sufficient training to satisfy their CPD requirement for the year.
The target launch date is 16 April. According to a pre-launch blog, the hub “integrates guidance notes, precedents, checklists, case summaries, updates, podcasts, webinars and much more in a single resource”.
The programme will draw on core content supplied by Mills & Reeve’s internal database. Also, barristers at 29 Bedford Row chambers will provide commentary and contribute to regular webinars. Legal publisher Class Legal, which sells a range of specialist family law-related financial software, will deliver “support and subscription maintenance” for the hub.
David Chaplin of Class Legal, who founded Family Law Week, a news service and CPD training provider, told Legal Futures that use of the word ‘hub’ “projects our desire to become a centre of excellence for the family law community”. He said he hoped other law firm departments would buy access to the service, although each lawyer would need an individual subscription to access CPD points and discounting would be limited.
At the London seminar, Mr Bamber continued: “As we disaggregate the legal processes… and as we drive towards fixed fees for services that can be commoditised, we need to consider very different training needs; how to train paralegals, how to monitor and audit their formal training and their experiential training.
“We need to ensure that lawyers get appropriate experience and supervision to complement their formal training and to integrate it… That needs to feed into their appraisal system when they are setting their objectives and following those up with their supervisor.
“We need to develop online auditing processes for training at every level and also we need to develop high-level training modules so that English family lawyers can attract the international work of immense complexity. So these are really challenging times for us but… there are great opportunities for us to develop new methods of teaching and… of learning.”
Mr Bamber explained that the hub evolved from two modular online programmes his firm designed for its newly-qualified lawyers, covering the first and second, and third and fourth years post-qualification. The aim was to turn them into “highly competent, self-sufficient [lawyers] able to give the client and outstanding service and to demonstrate really sound professional judgement”.
He added: “These modules are not just black-letter law; it’s very important to incorporate also the soft skills, case studies, and specialised topics.”