Is rushing to court the answer? Mills & Reeve on applying the lessons from alternative dispute resolution to divorces.
Mills & Reeve has one of the largest family teams in the country, and boasts star matrimonial lawyer Roger Bamber. Winner of 'Most Innovative Lawyer of the Year' at the 2011 Family Law Awards, Bamber is credited with bringing the practice crashing into the 21st century. He took the prescient decision to set up the domain www.divorce.co.uk way back in 1998, when websites consisted of flashing images and text you had to chase around the screen. The site is now the cornerstone of a Mills & Reeve e-empire that features over twenty YouTube videos of the man himself, a smartphone app the Sunday Times named one of the world’s top 500 most popular apps, and a divorce calculator promoted by the Money Advice Service. The website aims to give couples as much free guidance as possible, and prompts them to question whether rushing to court is really the answer to their marital woes.
As Bamber states on the Mills & Reeve site: “I have always been at the forefront of new developments in family law, not for the sake of novelty, but as a means of improving how as a profession we can help our clients. The legal process is ill adapted for helping families, in my view. I was one of the first mediator lawyers to be trained, and was part of the first group in the UK to train as a collaborative lawyer. I have advocated both ever since.” The website aims to give couples as much guidance as possible, and prompts them to question whether rushing to court is really the answer to their marital woes.
“Bad divorces never end,” Bamber is quoted saying in a Daily Mail article about collaborative law. “The conflict goes on for ever and the whole family is poisoned.” With collaboration, however, divorces can be wrapped up within six months: the average is four sessions, Bamber says in that same article, with a “crunchy third” which can, admittedly, be “pretty volatile.” As with the court route, both parties instruct their own lawyer, but instead of using the pen as a sword, they talk things through face to face across a table. They even have to sign a clause promising they won’t take the divorce to court should things get nasty. Over the course of these sessions, the couple is expected to divide both their finances and the responsibility for any children. The pay-off is that this occurs at a lower cost and hopefully under less stress. It’s a process Mills & Reeve has championed, while lawyers at some other firms have been less keen to accept lower fees and keep matters out of their beloved courts.
It’s up to you to decide whether all this talk of cutting costs and speeding up divorces has been borne out of a genuine desire to help people or whether it’s more of a clever marketing tool to reel in clients from the 42% of marriages currently expected to end in divorce. After all, divorce remains a lucrative business for lawyers.