What I do
Good family lawyers are great problem solvers and will look to find ways to help resolve your issues in a prompt and cost-effective manner that preserves familial relationships. This article looks in detail at what the family solicitor does and how to get the most out of them.
The primary role of a family solicitor is to provide expert advice on what the law is, how it can help you and what legal obligations you have. They can help you understand the realities of your circumstances, find creative solutions, and guide you on what you can do to achieve your aims.
Most of the work done by family solicitors is in assisting people in resolving issues concerning children or finances during or after a relationship breakdown. However, they can also help in happier times with cohabitation agreements or pre/post nuptial agreements that can help if difficulties arise later.
As well as giving legal advice, a family solicitor can correspond on your behalf if that is difficult, assist with any negotiations, prepare necessary legal documents and, where necessary, represent you at court or in other dispute resolution processes.
Traditionally a family solicitor would act only for one party, but this has changed and some solicitors will now assist both sides of the separating couple.
What the family solicitor does.
Experienced family solicitors often have a breadth of knowledge that means they can offer valuable and practical insight that reaches far beyond the law. However, the following are things we don’t do:
- There are strict rules about who can provide financial advice and most solicitors will be unable to do so for this reason. A separate accountant or financial adviser is usually needed for financial advice.
- While family solicitors can likely offer some emotional support, it is usually better, and more cost-effective, to seek emotional support from someone other than your family solicitor. Specialist counselling or coaching support is likely to be best.
- A family solicitor cannot make decisions for you or your family. They are there to guide you and help you understand any pros and cons, so that you can make informed choices.
- A good family solicitor will not just do whatever you ask, and they should refuse to take steps that they consider to be destructive or unhelpful. They are not a ‘hired gun’ to be used to help you take revenge on an ex-partner or to abuse a dominant position.
- There is a common myth that involving a family solicitor may make things harder or that they may deliberately stir up animosity to increase the work required and their fees. While there may be some family solicitors out there where this approach creeps in, for the vast majority this could not be further from the truth. Most family solicitors care deeply about the work they do, the families they try to help and will do everything they can to minimise conflict. All solicitors are duty bound to act in the best interests of their client and are regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority.
What qualifications, memberships and experience to look for
Finding a good family solicitor can be vital in achieving the best outcomes for you and your family. When looking for one:
- Get personal recommendations wherever possible by asking around your networks. Try to get a range of names and ask why they are recommended but be mindful that your circumstances may be different.
- Look for a specialist family solicitor, i.e. someone who only practices in family law, rather than someone who dabbles in it alongside other legal services. Check the Law Society find a solicitor website for their details.
- Consider solicitors that offer alternative methods of dispute resolution such as mediation or other joint service approaches. Often these solicitors have been trained with additional skills that can help ensure a holistic, child-focused approach is adopted. You can search for accredited mediators on the website of the Family Mediation Council.
- Check that the solicitor is a member of Resolution, meaning they should abide by a set code of practice. If you have a complex issue then consider whether a Resolution Accredited Specialist is needed, meaning they have demonstrated particular skill in certain areas.
- Do some homework online. Do the messages they put out online come across as offering the right style for you and your family?
- Consider the level of experience (usually years practicing in family law) the solicitor has and whether they have others in their team with more experience supervising them.
- Do not pay much attention to any self-proclaimed awards or rankings; many of these are a result of self-nomination
- Remember offers of ‘free advice’ or ‘free initial meetings’ are a marketing ploy to draw work in. Understanding overall pricing structures and what the solicitor will do to help keep costs down are better indicators of good value, but ultimately you get what you pay for.
Top tips for getting the most out of my profession
- Invest in early advice, when more options and potential solutions are available, even if you then pause before taking further action.
- Take responsibility for what you need to do to progress matters, whether it be gathering information or documents, making decisions, or responding to questions. Doing your bit in a timely fashion will ensure that you stay on track.
- Use a solicitor as part of a wider team of support.