Joanne Major, leading female lawyer and Principal of Major Family Law, North East’s Top leading divorce and specialist family lawyers, comment in the Journal:

At this time of year, it’s interesting to look forward to see what the New Year might bring for the profession, specifically for family lawyers. Here are our Major predictions for the legal New Year.

There is a quiet revolution going on and we think that it will come to light in the first quarter of this year. The SRA will make way for the first paralegal to qualify under its equivalent means route, which was introduced last 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 SRA’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 that this will be year of change for non-court dispute resolution models. Arbitration for financial cases is bedding in after it was set up in 2012, however we anticipate that the Institute of Family Law Arbitrators will take positive steps towards extending the scheme to private law children disputes. The use of arbitration in financial cases will continue to go from strength to strength and the med/arb model may start to take roots this year.

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 MIAM 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, 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.

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.

It will be all change for solicitor’s CPD after 1st April when the SRA will allow individuals and firms to decide whether to transition to the new scheme, or remain subject to the 16 hour CPD regime. It’s time to get our thinking caps on about this change which will inevitably impact on learning and development throughout firms.

Family finance lawyers can expect changes to the Form E and possible changes to the numerous financial application forms pursuant to the report produced by the Financial Remedies Working Group.

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!