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21 November 2014

Can’t I just represent myself? The changing role of family solicitors

Following the changes introduced by the Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO) on 1 April 2013, Legal Aid was cut for private family law cases such as divorce and issues over the children. Legal Aid is now only available in cases involving domestic violence or public law proceedings regarding children. As time has gone on, the changes have had an effect on the progress of cases through the courts and people's access to justice.

Amanda Owens, family solicitor and head of the family team at Steeles Law, comments:

“Recent Government figures have revealed that 60% of parents in Children Act proceedings are now unrepresented by a family solicitor (often referred to as litigants in person).  The impact of this is that parents very often do not know what they need to be doing and when or what they should be asking the court to do and cases can take longer to resolve.  The same can be said for financial proceedings following divorce or dissolution of civil partnership proceedings where, without the benefit of legal advice, the parties do not know what they are entitled to.

There is still a vital role to be played by solicitors but how we are now involved has changed.  There has definitely been a shift in the way that clients now want to deal with their cases.  Whilst we are still instructed by clients, their needs and requirements are quite different to what they once were.  We have seen an increase in clients “dipping in and out” for help and an increase in clients wanting certainty as to costs.  Clients are very cost conscious and need to know what each part of the work is going to cost them.  We have also seen an increase in clients seeking initial advice about how to do things; also clients who may have started proceedings off themselves and then coming in for help going forwards.

The role of family solicitors these days has to be far more flexible than it once was.  Solicitors need to be prepared to provide the service that their clients want.  Here at Steeles Law, we have seen an increase in clients wanting to know what each stage is going to cost them and seeking fixed fees where possible.  We are happy to work in this way and to help our clients with their needs.”

For further information, please contact Amanda Owens, family solicitor, or another member of the family team.