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TWM Solicitors comment on Legal Ombudsman's report and criticism of Family lawyers in divorce cases

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A new report by the Legal Ombudsman for England and Wales has sparked criticism of Family lawyers, in particular those acting in divorces.

The report says that 18% of complaints to the Ombudsman are related to services provided by Family lawyers – more than any other area of law. Of these complaints, the vast majority is in respect of divorces and the disproportionate costs that are often associated with them.

The media has, understandably, had a field-day with these findings – one particular example given in the report cites one firm’s fees as including £4,000 for photocopying alone (a charge that was later waived after a complaint to the Ombudsman). The horror stories didn’t stop there – several further examples demonstrated woeful underestimation of fees, a common theme. One law firm’s initial estimate, for Mrs B, of £5k - £30k resulted in a final bill of over £70,000!

It could be easy to defend divorce lawyers – after all, they work in a field that is often associated with negative emotions and acrimonious court proceedings. A divorcing client is rarely going to be a happy client. However, it is important to keep things in perspective and give clear and sensible fee estimates, says the Ombudsman.

At TWM Solicitors we have a transparent pricing structure, based on a "no surprises" principle, which prioritises the needs of the client. Our experience means we know that a good family solicitor will advise on the right process with the minimum conflict. We are determined to provide a value for money service, keeping costs low whilst providing an effective and empathetic advice.

Family lawyers, perhaps more so than in other areas of the law, are likely to have a close relationship with their client and an insight into the most personal areas of their lives. The allegation that family lawyers elongate cases (perhaps by resisting settlement) for their own financial benefit is disingenuous and not the reality in the Surrey divorce market in which we largely operate.

Of course there is always the danger that either party can become obstructive during the process – something that can have a knock-on effect on costs for both sides, and is another reason that costs escalate.  Any good lawyer will strive to regularly explain to clients how costs arise, as well as providing options at every key stage.

The current trend is towards ‘divorce with dignity’, with Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) coming to the fore. Why? Because it is quicker and cheaper than courts – reasons that justify the increased government backing that ADR is receiving. Lawyers need to have skills to mediate in order to bring about an acceptable and amicable settlement for both sides. Whilst this should never be underestimated, it is especially beneficial if children are involved. At TWM we have seven trained mediators, skilled in brokering an agreement that lets both sides move on.