The report shows that 13 per cent of clients were unhappy with their lawyers, complaining in some cases of an enormous disparity between final costs and those they had been led to expect
As I wrote yesterday, lawyers are finding family law a difficult environment in which to work, but a report released today by the Legal Ombudsman reveals that their clients are not having an easy ride either. It makes for startling reading, not least because it suggests that some law firms are exploiting clients for financial gain.
The report (click here to download) shows that 13 per cent of clients were unhappy with their lawyers throughout their divorce proceedings, complaining of poor levels of service and, in some cases, an enormous disparity between final costs and those they had been led to expect.
One in five said that they were not given a cost estimate for their case at the outset. As I wrote yesterday, the general unpredictability in divorce law does make it difficult for even the best lawyers to give their clients precise figures and predictions regarding financial settlements, especially if the case goes to court.
But they should be able to give a reasonably accurate estimate; in some cases, the report reveals, case bills exceeded expectations by over £30,000. That is, quite simply, outrageous. Just imagine how far over bills for ultra-high-net-worth divorces run, where costs already go into the hundred of thousands, even millions.
MORE WORRYINGLY, THE report indicates that some lawyers are taking advantage of their clients’ initial anger and distress, which often takes the form of a desire to punish their estranged partner in the courts. The best lawyers tailor their advice to their clients’ needs and, concerned as they usually are to spare them the brutality of court, wait for their anger to subside before suggesting a course of action.
Not all lawyers are as professional, it would seem. One woman had asked for proceedings to be stopped; not only were her wishes disregarded, she was also presented with a final bill £15,000 more expensive than the one she was expecting. This included £4,000 for photocopying – presumably for court papers for a case she did not want to pursue.
Hopefully lawyers will sit up and take note. As one divorce lawyer I spoke to for the upcoming Family Law Index said, ‘Nobody wants to be getting divorced – it’s not a desired state of being.’ It is the responsibility of divorce lawyers to make this traumatic process as painless as possible, not to add financial worry and uncertainty to emotional stress.