As was reported here on Monday, the Law Society has launched its 2014 consumer campaign. With the slogan ‘Use a professional. Use a solicitor’, the campaign seeks to encourage consumers to instruct solicitors, rather than unregulated providers of legal help.
The campaign focuses on six areas of law, but for obvious reasons I want to concentrate on the family law area of the campaign. This includes a poster with a picture of a wedding cake on it, with the groom’s head stuck in the icing. The caption reads: “For better, for worse. Have your cake and eat it – get a fair settlement.” Then, below the slogan, it states “Family law experts”. We then have the inevitable hashtag #useaprofessional, followed by a link which takes you, somewhat strangely, to the Law Society’s Family Section page which is actually intended for lawyers, rather than consumers (I think the link should really go to the Getting a divorce page).
Now, I’m not particularly going to comment upon the contents of the poster. I suppose it is, as intended, mildly amusing although it does, of course, only refer to one element of family law. I suppose it would be rather difficult to find anything amusing about disputes over arrangements for children.
What I did want to say about the campaign is something that I have said here previously (on more than one occasion!), but as it is something of great importance, I make no apology for that.
The point of the campaign is that solicitors are subject to heavy regulation and are required to be insured (a requirement that costs them very considerable sums in insurance premiums every year). These requirements are not there for the benefit of the lawyers. They are there, of course, for the benefit of the consumers. They seek to ensure that the lawyers have sufficient expertise, that they conduct themselves in a proper fashion, and that the consumer is protected if things go wrong.
Until last year, all family law consumers were entitled to this level of service and protection. If they could not afford to pay for it themselves, then legal aid was available to pay for it for them. However, as of April last year the Government abolished legal aid for most private family law matters. This has inevitably meant that those who cannot afford to instruct a solicitor have turned to cheaper unregulated and uninsured providers. In other words, the less well off are condemned to a second-rate service where providers are unqualified and where there is little or no chance of recompense if things should go wrong.
So, it is all very well for the Law Society to encourage consumers to use a solicitor, but many of them simply cannot afford to do so. Of course, I am not blaming the Law Society for this. The fault lies squarely with the Government, which sacrificed equal justice for all in order to save a comparatively trivial amount from its budget.