Emotions and passions are often at fever pitch when going through a family breakdown. The deep personal fallout is just too difficult to overcome. At times like this, when your emotions are in turmoil, this search for a solicitor shouldn’t be an additional, unwanted burden. Where do you start? What should you look for in a solicitor? How can you tell a good lawyer from a mediocre one?
I hope that the following checklists will make it easy and simple for you to make the best possible choice.
Checklist: the signs of a good family solicitor
1. The solicitor enjoys an excellent word-of-mouth reputation. When you are looking for a solicitor, ask for pointers from friends and relatives who have been through the divorce process themselves. They usually have the inside track on the good, the bad and the ugly. Many of my clients are referred to me by former clients and far more, by people I have acted against!
2. The solicitor has a green and black Law Society – Family Law, or Law Society – Advanced logo outside their office or on their stationery. This distinctive logo, which features two adults and a child, is used under licence from the Law Society’s Family Law Panel. It is your assurance that the lawyer using it has been judged by their peers to be a competent and caring professional. If they hold an Advanced logo,they have reached an even higher standard in certain aspects of family law.
The Law Society is the governing body for solicitors. It created the Family Law Panel to recognise good family lawyers. Only those solicitors who have passed a rigorous test of professional ability can use the logo.
I can vouch for the quality of this accreditation: I was appointed the Family Law Panel’s first Chief Examiner and Chief Assessor. The question we asked ourselves, when assessing candidates, was: “Would we be happy to recommend them to a friend or relative who was about to go through a divorce?”
Family lawyers in this country adhere to high professional standards, and the work of the Family Law Panel is helping to raise those standards higher still.
3. The solicitor will be able to give a good steer at the very first meeting, having extracted all the relevant information about the client and the factors that a court will take into account. The solicitor should be able to provide details of outcomes in similar cases and the likely outcome in your case.
I’m not a fortune teller, but I can advise about what is likely to happen in most cases, usually with the parameters within which I think the court will make its decision. Even in the most complicated cases, with the most complicated of assets, it is possible to advise a client about the likely outcome of a split. I will also provide an estimate of the likely costs of the case.
This is advice that clients need to know – however difficult it is to give.
4. The solicitor is caring and compassionate, but doesn’t tiptoe around you. If there are likely obstacles, or if you are chasing impossible dreams, a good divorce solicitor will inform you immediately. They will be frank and direct with you, without appearing unkind or uncaring. Counselling is an important part of a solicitor’s job, as is full discussion of the likelihood of reconciliation.
5. The solicitor is straightforward and knowledgeable. A good lawyer has a straightforward manner and does not fill you with false hope. They aren’t afraid to discuss how much it is all going to cost. They know what they are talking about, and you come away feeling confident.
This is an extract from Divorce & Splitting Up: Advice from a Top Divorce Lawyer by Marilyn Stowe, a comprehensive layman’s guide to the legal complexities of ending marriages, relationships and civil partnerships. Available as an e-book and in print.