Yesterday, the first working day of the year (at least for those who did not have to work on the first three days of the year) was, as we are often being reminded, ‘Divorce Day’, the day upon which lawyers receive more new divorce instructions than any other day. Of course, ‘Divorce Day’ is a misnomer – not all of those seeking a New Year divorce will instruct their lawyers on that one day. Accordingly, the term really refers to the increase in divorce instructions that occurs in the period after New Year, perhaps covering the entire month of January.
For a long time it was not clear whether Divorce Day was a real thing or just an invention, possibly by the media looking for a story during a quiet news period. Certainly, whilst I was practising I never noticed a particular spike of divorce instructions during January, but then I stopped practising six years ago and Divorce Day is, it seems, a recent phenomenon. In fact, it may be a self-fulfilling prophesy – the idea that it exists encouraging people to seek a new start in the new year by taking that moment to end a stale or unhappy marriage. Whatever, whilst I suspect that some lawyers may still object, Divorce Day is now generally acknowledged to be a real thing, even though some, such as Marilyn Stowe, dispute that it is the busiest time of the year for divorce lawyers.
But is it a good thing for the public image of divorce lawyers?
Many divorce lawyers and law firms have seized the opportunity presented by Divorce Day to promote their services, in an attempt to gain a bigger share of the rich pickings. In fact, the number of firms I see joining the party seems to increase each year. But is this good marketing strategy or an unseemly attempt to take advantage of the misery of marriage breakdown?
Obviously, law firms are businesses and any business worth its salt must take advantage of any opportunity it sees to increase the amount of business it does. However, a divorce service is not the same as most commodities. Getting a divorce is not like buying a new pair of shoes or a new dining room suite. Those things are desirable and buying them is a pleasure. A divorce, on the other hand, is not something that people want in their lives, and certainly cannot usually be described as a pleasure. A divorce involves the breaking up of a once-happy family, with all the emotional and financial upheaval that that entails, and can of course be made far worse where children are involved.
Family lawyers must always walk a fine line when advertising their services, being careful not to be seen to be taking advantage of the miserable situations their clients find themselves in. Divorce Day, however, magnifies the difficulties because it puts divorce lawyers in the public spotlight like no other time. It is therefore much easier for lawyers to cross that line and appear to be mercenaries, all too eager to prey upon misery.
But it is not just about jumping on the bandwagon presented by Divorce Day, it is also about promoting the concept of Divorce Day itself, whether or not it really exists. What does the public think when it keeps being told about Divorce Day? Does it just find it to be an interesting, possibly even amusing, episode in an otherwise bleak and boring time of the year, or does it see it as yet another attempt to gain more business by those awful parasitical lawyers, who they already hold in such contempt?
Divorce Day is a double-edged sword, and any lawyer seeking to use it for their advantage must tread carefully indeed.