PI partner turned family lawyer challenges “aggressive” divorce bills

Thomson: Looking to empower people

A former personal injury specialist turned family lawyer has condemned “aggressive billing” in his new practice area and called for reforms to reduce costs .

Mark Thomson, a consultant at Setfords and former partner at personal injury firm Fentons, said part 36 offers should be introduced into family law as a disincentive to “drag the other party through the courts”.

He said the problem with existing Calderbank offers in family law cases was that, unlike with part 36, if they were rejected, the party involved was not necessarily penalised in costs.

Mr Thomson has set up a family law website, Sterling de Zuk and begun meeting potential clients. He aims to launch an SRA-regulated law firm with the same name by 2025. “I want to empower people and give them the confidence to move on.”

He explained that his own “multi-million” divorce last summer cost him and his ex-wife a total of over £300,000 in legal fees.

“The problem was that I couldn’t stop the juggernaut going to trial. There was no opportunity to make an offer like a part 36. There is not enough of a disincentive for people to drag the other party through the courts.”

Mr Thomson said it was “not just about the fees being charged” but also the way family lawyers worked, with “no case planning”.

He said “aggressive billing” seen in family law “would never be allowed” in the personal injury sector, “because you would go before a costs judge and you would lose”.

He said the Solicitors Regulation Authority transparency rules, which oblige law firms to publish fees for certain categories of work such as residential conveyancing, should be extended to family law.

Mr Thomson, admitted in 1990, worked for Irwin Mitchell as a catastrophic injury lawyer. He joined Manchester-based Fentons as a partner in 1999 and helped relaunched the firm, which had been a general practice, as a personal injury specialist.

It grew from 20 staff in 1999 to over 250 in 2013, when it was bought by Slater & Gordon. He stayed with S&G until 2017, before leaving to pursue other business interests, including fashion retail and property development.

He instructed two different law firms in his divorce proceedings, but terminated their retainers, choosing instead to instruct a KC and represent himself.

At this point, he “bought all the textbooks” on family law and took courses in it. Although he found acting for himself “really difficult”, the KC did a “very good job” and he considered that the end result was better than if he had retained solicitors.

Mr Thomson described family law as a “great area of work” and found similarities with his previous work in catastrophic injury.

“You are coming into peoples’ lives when they are severely injured, at a very vulnerable time, and you can make a massive difference to their lives.

“With family law, people are coming to you in a state of emotional distress and their lives are falling apart. They need solutions that can get them through the divorce and come out financially and emotionally intact.”

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