At this time of year, it’s interesting to look forward to see what the coming year might bring for the legal profession, and specifically for family lawyers. Here are our Major predictions for the legal New Year.
The legal press has recently highlighted that many large firms have come to rely on a multitude of paralegals, probably at the expense of offering lucrative training contract places to the same candidates. The lack of training places has always been an issue, with more law students than traineeships available. Those paralegals who meet the Solicitors Regulation Authority’s criteria can use their paralegal experience to qualify as solicitors. We look forward to congratulating the first paralegal to qualify as a solicitor under this route!
We believe this year will see an increase in the use of non-court dispute resolution models. Arbitration for financial cases, set up in 2012, is becoming more commonplace, and we anticipate that the Institute of Family Law Arbitrators will take positive steps towards extending the scheme to private law children disputes.
The changes made to mediation by the introduction of the Children and Families Act 2014 will be felt this year with increasing numbers of people attending the compulsory MIAM (Mediation Information Assessment Meeting) appointment. This will lead to increased numbers of mediations taking place and decreased numbers of court applications. The lawyer supported mediation model will continue to encourage the use of the mediation to help parties resolve their disputes under a fixed fee regime.
The issue of costs and clients’ accessibility to legal advice will continue to put pressure on firms to look seriously at offering fixed fee and unbundled services. A number of high cost family cases from last year have caused senior Judges to highlight the issue of excessive and sometimes disproportionate costs. This will continue to be in sharp focus this year, and costs estimates could even be introduced in the same way that they have in civil litigation cases.
Unfortunately there seems to be no way back from the restriction of legal aid available in the majority of family cases, following the implementation of the LASPO Act 2012. However, it looks like there could be some light at the end of the tunnel for victims of domestic abuse. They might find that the evidence that they need to produce to qualify for legal aid may be changed as a result of challenges to LASPO.
With financial assistance for family cases virtually non-existent, people requiring the Court’s assistance are having to find other methods of seeking assistance. In addition to the significant increase in litigants in person, the use of McKenzie Friends in family proceedings has also increased. Following on from the formation of the Society of Professional McKenzie friends last year, we anticipate a growth in the number of businesses offering these services. We also predict that the number of paralegals assisting litigants in person with family cases will increase.
Following on from the report by the Financial Remedies Working Group last year, there may well be changes made to the structure and forms used in financial disputes on relationship breakdown in an attempt to make the procedure easier to navigate for Litigants in Person.
This will be another year of change, following on from some major changes last year when the family court was created. We’ll be interested to see at the end of the year how many of our predictions come true!
Joanne Major is the Principal at Major Family Law, the Divorce and Family Law Specialists, 12 West Road, Ponteland, Newcastle upon Tyne. T: 01661 82 45 82 www.majorfamilylaw.co.uk. Twitter: @majorfamilylaw