Often we see or hear of clients asking for a divorce lawyer of a specific gender to represent them.
Some women for example may believe that having a female legal adviser means their lawyer will be able to empathise with their situation more readily. That’s certainly an important consideration. The client has to feel comfortable with their lawyer and feel that they really do understand their aims and objectives.
However some choose a male or female solicitor in the mistaken belief that their gender will somehow help their case. Women might believe that a male will be more aggressive and fight harder for them while men may think that having a female lawyer will make them appear ‘softer’ and more sympathetic, especially if the divorce involves custody and parenting issues.
There are some law firms in America who act only for men or women in their divorce and some firms in the UK who adopt a very aggressive approach with advertising campaigns such as “ditch the bitch”. Whilst this approach may attract certain clients, it seems distasteful when a couple are separating, particularly where there are children to consider and there is no real evidence that gender makes any significant difference to the outcome.
Gender is irrelevant in settlement negotiation
The reality is that having a divorce lawyer of a certain sex will do very little to help your case. Very few divorce cases go to trial at all – most are settled ‘out of court’ - so does the gender of your legal adviser matter to the success of settlement negotiations? Gender stereotypes might imply that a male won't back down and will get you what you want, or that a female will be a better communicator and more likely to reach an accommodation.
There should be no winners and losers in any divorce. Often the most effective strategy to resolve a volatile situation in family proceedings is to adopt a calm, measured approach. We have a mixture of male and female lawyers in the Shoosmiths family team. What matters more in negotiations to achieve a satisfactory resolution that allows all parties to move forward is the personality and experience of those legal advisers. Their sex is irrelevant.
Gender is immaterial at trial
Those divorces that do go to trial are heard by an experienced judge, so the sex of your legal representative does not make the same stereotypical impression as it might do in any other social context (e.g. the raised eyebrows among passengers when they discover their airline pilot is female). Occasionally it can sometimes be beneficial to have a male counsel acting for a wife and vice versa, however, in the vast majority of cases, to the extent they care who your lawyer is at all, judges will only be concerned with that individual’s professionalism, ethics, and preparation - not their gender.
“In my nearly 20 years’ experience as a family lawyer gender has rarely been an issue. However, I remember early in my career, I had a first meeting with a new client who was embarrassed to tell me that he had committed adultery. He said he thought as a woman, I would judge him, but I explained that it was not the case at all and that my job was to give him the best possible advice.”
On another occasion Helen was told by a wife that she wanted someone to “fight for her” and she asked whether Helen could do that on her behalf or whether she would be better with a male lawyer. Again, Helen advised her what is important is to have a good lawyer who acts in your best interests to achieve the best possible outcome.
Choosing a divorce lawyer who is right for you
Choosing a divorce lawyer is a very personal decision which should not be dictated by gender, although that said, you may feel more comfortable working with a legal advisers of one sex or the other. That’s perfectly fine, since a comfortable working relationship is essential and you need to be guided by someone you can trust.
However, an equally if not more important consideration is your lawyer’s breadth of knowledge and experience, their ability to negotiate on your behalf and whether they are sensible in their approach therefore saving you costs.
Irrespective of gender, a good family lawyer should be empathetic and understanding of your circumstances and work hard on your behalf to reach an agreement so that you can move on with your life and look to the future.