Family law is a fulfilling career but here at Major Family Law we are always very conscious of one central truth: most of the people who make an appointment to see us only did so because something bad had happened to them – their spouse had left them for someone else perhaps, or they’d been arrested for drink driving. Alternatively, they might have been planning for the possibility something bad might happen –drafting a will is a prime example. It is our job to help these clients through difficult times and remove as much stress as we can from their lives.

But before we can do so, we need to help them find us in the first place and explain how to get as much from their visit as they can. So, let’s answer a basic questions for those who may never have been to see a solicitor before.

What do family law solicitors actually do?

Solicitors are lawyers who work directly with clients, providing legal guidance and conducting cases on their behalf. This makes them distinct from barristers, who specialise in presenting cases to judges in court but who rarely work directly with clients.

Typically, both solicitors and barristers specialise in particular legal fields, in order to develop valuable expertise. Family law is one such specialism – and just as the name suggests, it is concerned with any legal matters relating to the family. This includes:

  • Divorce
  • Separation
  • Cohabitation
  • Marriage and civil partnerships
  • Spousal and child maintenance
  • Adoption and fostering

If we step back and look at the bigger picture, we can see that the law has two fundamental branches: criminal and civil. The civil courts handle every legal matter that isn’t an actual or potential crime: anything from business regulation to property disputes. Criminal cases fall under the jurisdiction of the Crown Court, while civil matters are the responsibility of the High Court of Justice – and the latter has three divisions: the Queen’s Bench Division, the Chancery Division and the Family Division.

The Queen’s Bench division has a supervisory role and also handles common law – law derived from ‘precedent’ (previous cases) rather than ‘statute’ (written law). Meanwhile, the Chancery Division deals primarily with business and property law, along with ‘probate’ (i.e. wills). And finally, as you will have guessed, the Family Division is the home of family law.

How do I find a family solicitor?

In the age of the internet and the era of Zoom, you can, at least in theory, work with a solicitor in any part of the country. But in practice, most people choose law firms relatively close to home. This makes (socially distanced!) meetings easier to arrange and it can also be advantageous in cases involving the family courts, as local solicitors will already be familiar with the judges and facilities in your area.

Google is a quick and easy way to identify candidate firms close to your home. Their websites will provide further details: see if you like what you read. Do they have expertise that is likely to be helpful with your case? Look in particular for client testimonials: a firm worth your time and money should have plenty of these on display. Third party sites can also provide valuable insights into which law firms you should get in touch with. We recommend in particular https://www.legal500.com: this provides detailed reviews of law firms as well as useful information on individual solicitors. It is highly regarded within the industry.

Finally, contact the firm or firms on your shortlist and arrange an introductory “first appointment”. Prior to 2020, this would usually be a face-to-face meeting at the offices of the solicitor or their law firm. Nowadays a remote meeting via Zoom or Skype is just as likely.

How do I prepare for my first appointment?

The first appointment with a prospective solicitor is an opportunity for you to discuss the broad outlines of your case or legal issue. You will be able explain what has occurred so far and what you hope to achieve. You can also show any particularly relevant documentation you may have. But it not necessary to go over every small detail at this stage: that will come later. Try to relax as much as you can: you don’t to justify the meeting or convince the solicitor. Just focus on the facts: let those speak for themselves.

The solicitor you meet will offer some immediate thoughts on your situation and make suggestions as to how you could proceed. If they don’t feel you have a viable case, they will be honest with you. This is your chance to decide whether or not to proceed with the solicitor you are meeting so it is important that you feel comfortable with them – especially if your case could take some time to resolve.

What’s the best way to help my solicitor?

Here are the four best ways to help your solicitor as your case moves forward:

  • Be honest. Never try to conceal material facts or mislead your lawyer. The truth will eventually come to light, with potentially serious consequences for your case.
  • Provide them with as much information as you can. Even small details can make all the difference.
  • Do your homework as soon as you can. Submit documents and details without excessive delay. Don’t let your case stagnate.
  • Keep your solicitor informed – fill them in on any new developments as soon as you can. This will allow him or her to make the strongest case possible and maximise the chances of a successful outcome.

Image by Tatsuo Yamashita via Flickr (Creative Commons)