Before you start to look for a solicitor, it is a good idea to consider why you need legal advice and assistance.
Many people choose a career in law because they rather like the aura of respect and authority that goes with the job. As a result, many prospective clients are hesitant about treating an instruction to their solicitor as a simple purchase of a service, requiring negotiation and as firm a price as possible.
When you are looking for a solicitor, you need to put aside all of these misconceptions. In finding a solicitor you should arrange short interviews with two or three. It is essential that you make clear to each of them before you meet, that you are not looking for advice but simply to explore his/her approach, fees and so on.
Explain that you will need only 15 minutes and insist that this first interview will not be charged. If you fail to do this you will probably receive a bill for £250 even if you do not use his/her services subsequently.
You control the first free interview
When you are attending your “free interview”, stay quietly in charge. He/she does not realise, but actually, you are interviewing him/her. Do not tell him/her what you want, but rather let him/her tell you what he/she offers. Just keep asking yourself:
- Is he/she professionally competent - and not putting you into a sausage machine?
- Is he/she sharp and on the ball - or is he/she laboured and tedious?
- Is he/she overly aggressive when he/she refers to your ex-partner?
- Is he/she excessively sympathetic - you can get a counsellor at 25% of the fee?
At your free interview, the solicitor will say “Do you mind if I just take a few notes?” and embark on an exploration of your circumstances. You may well wonder whether it is in his genes. Stay cool. Keep smiling. It is up to you to decide how much to say.
That approach will not only enable you to find which of the three you get on with best. It will also set up a relationship where you are in charge. Your solicitor will also be (painfully) aware that you are watching out for where your money goes. Sadly, there is still no guarantee that the person you choose will be right for you.
Almost every solicitor will assume that you want help with the least the whole of the process in connection with your financial order. That means you may encounter a barrage of questions about every aspect of your life. If you are considering an instruction to your solicitor for less than all of the work, then you should make that clear at the outset.
In particular, it may not be necessary to discuss with your solicitor the detail of areas where you are largely in agreement with your ex-partner. For example it could be that children arrangements, and arrangements for your family home have been well covered by your common sense, without worrying about a fight. More often than not, the main arguments about financial issues, particularly where you share an interest in a business or company or investment.
For DIY, consider a barrister too
When you are deciding who you want to interview, make sure you include any solicitor who has been recommended to you by friends.
Much the same applies to your barrister, but you will not depend on a barrister for the close and continuous personal contact that you would expect from a solicitor, so the point is less important. A barrister is unlikely to agree to an interview.
The Law Society (https://www.lawsociety.org.uk/) has a panel of family law solicitors. Being on the panel is no more than a ticket to respectability. It says nothing about attitude or fees. There are plenty of other brilliant family law solicitors who are not on the panel.
Solicitor collaboration is fast and efficient
If you are able to talk to your ex-partner about something so sensitive as legal representation then your best solution of all would be for both of you to find a solicitor at www.resolution.org.uk - a body of solicitors who subscribe to a collaborative and conciliatory approach rather than blasting their way through the court process.
What happens is that both sides sit down with solicitors to hammer out an agreement together. That way, you will both obtain proper professional representation but without the aggression.
Of course, each solicitor has to justify his presence. If one of them is pressing points forcefully, there will be difficult for the other to avoid taking a stronger line than he might otherwise have preferred.
Collaborative meetings sometimes take a long time. If you use this procedure you both need to make quite clear to your respective solicitors that you wanted time limited meeting. Two hours is long enough. If it turns out the more time is required you can always have a second meeting.
Instructing a barrister or solicitor to help with Form D81
Of course, the pitfall could appear at any stage of your divorce and separation. However, there is one particular area which can be complicated and is most likely to require professional help. That is, to settle the terms of the draft consent order which you will need to present to the Court for the approval of a judge.
The actual application for a financial order is the easy part. Nonetheless it is still far easier for the solicitor then it is for you. The more important document is the fearsome and encyclopedic Form D81. Even if you have managed your entire divorce process to date without legal help, you might just decide that Form D81 is a bridge too far and that you will instruct a lawyer for help. We explain this in detail when we make suggestions about how to use a solicitor or barrister.
It is perfectly possible to complete Form D81 yourself and to draw the simple order yourself. The penalty for getting it wrong is hardly serious. The District Judge might well call you in, wrap you over the knuckles, and edit some small detail in your document. Alternatively, he/she might send you away to get it right and come back later. That may be weeks later. On the other hand, solicitors are and barristers are used to drawing what you want in terms which the Court will expect to see.
If you have instructed a solicitor for other work then you will probably wish to instruct him/her also in connection with the financial order and your Form D81. If you use a barrister, he/she will not want to send the document to court but will draft it perfectly, so that you can submit it yourself.
If the draft is properly set out and contains no obvious issues which might cause the Court to question it, then it will be approved without any attendance at court by you.