You may have seen the news coverage in recent months about a report by the Legal Ombudsman for England and Wales which highlighted the high fees people are paying their divorce lawyer and the complaints made about costs. Lots of these complaints are sadly, justified - but not all divorce lawyers can be tarred with the same brush.
One in five people interviewed for the report stated that they were not given an estimate of their legal costs at the start of their case. In one instance, a woman was charged £15,000 more than had been agreed at the outset, including a £4,000 photocopying fee!
The report calls on lawyers to do more to reduce complaints by providing a better service and giving clients accurate information upfront about their legal costs, in order to make the divorce process as painless as possible.
Added to this is the additional pressure that many thousands of people across the country are now experiencing following the end to Legal Aid funding for many services, which came into play on 1st April. These changes mean that many people are now simply unable to afford the cost of legal support. Family law services such as divorce, cohabitation disputes, financial matters and children’s issues have been particularly affected. It is important to point out, however, that funding for mediation - which many couples see as a viable alternative to going through the courts - has not been affected.
This move by the Government is likely to affect the legal services landscape for years to come and undoubtedly, as lawyers, we have to respond to these changes and review how we charge for our services.
At Ashton KCJ, we have been listening to what our clients tell us and have put in place measures to ease some of the financial burden by offering a fixed fee payment scheme for many of our family law services. This means that our clients have certainty from the start of their case about what their costs will be.
These measures go back to the recommendations contained in the report. When someone contacts us about a family law issue, undoubtedly they are going through one of the most stressful times in their life. By providing our clients with clear guidance about the outcome of their case and a transparent fee structure, we hope to make the process as painless as it can possibly be.