Cutting the cost of family lawyers: I get knocked down but I get up again...
Due to the coalition government's emergency budget and swingeing public sector cuts looming on the horizon, I cannot open a newspaper these days without reading about the impending double dip recession.
The legal services profession has been particularly hard hit by the declining economy. The most recent victim being national law firm Halliwells which went into administration at the end of last month. A statement issued by the firm cited the economic climate and its impact on profitability as contributing factors. So what will the double dip recession mean for family law practitioners?
Financially savvy clients are demanding value for money and looking at means to reduce spending on legal fees. Let's face it, ancillary relief clients are faced with a double dip of their own, first having to pay off a soon to be former spouse and then having to fund a hefty legal bill to boot.
Litigants should however fear not. Lord Justice Thorpe was on hand with cost cutting suggestions in the case of Jones v Jones (Telegraph, 25 June 2010). The wife was granted leave to appeal an order which awarded her £5m out of total assets of £25m. Costs in the case so far, reportedly stand at £1.5m. Bearing cost cutting measures in mind, Thorpe LJ urged the parties to mediate not litigate.
In the search for means to reduce costs, clients are also taking matters into their own hands... literally. Heather Mills reportedly owed Mishcon de Reya £1.5m or £2m (depending on which newspaper you read) when she became a litigant in person (LIP). She was assisted by a Mckenzie Friend at trial before Mr Justice Bennett.
More recently Mati White was preparing to enter court as a LIP, (alongside Marco Pierre White who was doing likewise), until Argent Chambers facilitated a litigation loan and Mati secured representation.
The Practice Guidance for McKenzie Friends in civil and family courts could not come at a more relevant time.
The double dip recession may not however be doom and gloom for all family lawyers, especially those who appear against LIPs. Cases involving LIPs have far lengthier time estimates. Solicitor opponents also have to take the lead in litigation when instructing single joint experts, preparing for hearings and the like, see for example, Practice Direction 27 July 2006 para 3.1.
So provided that you end up acting against a LIP, one's fees are likely to receive an uplift compared to cases where both parties are represented. For those fee earners feeling the pinch due to increasing numbers of LIPs, it's time to sign up for mediation training.
Amandeep Gill is a Professional Training PSL at Jordan Publishing.