Part 2: Ten Questions To Ask Your Family Law Solicitor

Every step of the way, it helps if you feel confident and in full possession of your facts. Write them down before your meeting, then …

When you first meet with a solicitor, we always suggest taking a notepad and pen.

You’ll be given lots of information and you may be asked to get some further information or take certain steps to help strengthen your position: it’s always handy to make a quick note of what you need to do.

No doubt after your appointment you’ll be asked by your friends and family how it went, so these notes can help you to process everything – and decide what to do next.

During the appointment, we suggest you ask your solicitor the following questions:

1. Are you qualified?

We would strongly recommend getting advice from a qualified lawyer such as a solicitor or legal executive, and choose one who specialises in Family Law. Although some firms employ ‘legal advisors’, they are usually unqualified and are not subject to the strict codes of conduct set by the Solicitors Regulatory Authority.

Also, solicitors who dabble in lots of different areas of law may not have in-depth knowledge of Family Law and may give out-of-date advice. Jack of all trades … master of none.

All of Cunningtons’ family solicitors are qualified and only deal with Family Law cases. What’s more, two of our solicitors are accredited members of the Family Law Panel which recognises their expertise in this area.

2. Are you a member of Resolution?

Resolution is an organisation that encourages solicitors and clients to deal with Family Law cases in a constructive and amicable way.

The emphasis is on getting things done and resolving problems with as little conflict as possible. This gives you the very best opportunity of building a happy and positive future. Solicitors who are members of Resolution avoid using inflammatory language, don’t send unnecessary letters (which avoids pushing your costs up unnecessarily!) and they put the children above everything else.

All of our solicitors are very proud to say they are members of Resolution. This doesn’t mean we will advise you to give in or roll over, it just means we don’t cause you more problems than you’ve already got.

3. How much will my case cost?

Solicitors must give clear costs estimates to clients, taking account of all of the aspects of your case. You should specifically ask if the information you receive is a fixed fee or an estimate, whether it includes VAT, court fees or disbursements, and whether it has been tailored to your case or is just a general estimate given to all clients.

Although it can be difficult to give clients an exact quote in Family Law, we believe in transparency and give accurate cost information throughout your matter.

4. How long will my case take?

It can be difficult to give clients this information, but your solicitor should be able to give you a rough idea of when your issues will be resolved. They should keep this under review as your case progresses and let you know if they think it will take longer than anticipated.

5. What are my options for resolving my issue?

There are nearly always lots of different ways of resolving your issue, such as mediation, negotiation through solicitors, applying to court or dealing with it yourself with the help of a solicitor in the background.

If your solicitor seems to be giving you only one option, they may be looking to push up your costs.

6. What are your funding options?

Traditionally, Family Law solicitors charge on an hourly rate basis and can only give clients an estimate of what their costs might be. In addition, we offer a comprehensive fixed fee scheme so that clients have the options of paying a set amount and knowing exactly what their costs will be.

We are very proud to say that we are one of the few firms who still offer Legal Aid to clients who meet the eligibility requirements.

7. What technology do you use to manage my case?

There are a wealth of different ways that solicitors can use technology to help progress your case as quickly as possible and reduce your costs. Technology makes solicitors more efficient, but some old-fashioned solicitors are stuck in the dark ages and refuse to even use emails. Think carefully before deciding to instruct a solicitor who is a technophobe!

At Cunningtons we prefer to use emails to stay in contact with clients and other solicitors, although we are happy to rely on good old-fashioned snail mail if that’s what works for you. As part of our strict cybersecurity policy, we do not conduct any financial transactions by email.

We use a computer system to log and process diary notes (so we don’t have to rely on our memory to remember when to chase other solicitors or when a court deadline is approaching).

We have state-of-the-art scanners to help get documents to you as quickly as possible and we have a specially-designed computer system to help us draft documents quickly and accurately.

8. Are you part of a team?

Solicitors who aren’t supported by a team have a lot on their plate. Rather than being able to focus on giving their clients legal advice, they have to spend time typing letters and drafting documents themselves, meaning there is less time in the day to give advice!

All of our family solicitors have secretaries and we work closely as a team, which means we bounce ideas off of each other, talk through complex cases to get a new perspective, and keep each other up-to-date with any changes to the law. If your solicitor is on holiday, you know there will be someone else around to help if a problem arises. Teamwork makes the dream work.

9. How do you keep yourself up-to-date with the law?

This is so important. Family Law has gone through so many changes over the last few years, and is likely to go through even more in the future.

If a solicitor doesn’t invest time in keeping themselves updated, then the advice they give may be wrong. The impact of that on clients is huge – you may be making life-changing decisions based on old law or practices, and you won’t even know it. Why risk the humiliation of being told by your ex’s solicitors that you’ve been given the wrong advice, or have to be told by a judge that you are being unrealistic?

Our solicitors undergo monthly updates on any changes to the law, and read Family Law reports so they know what has happened on other cases, as well as attending courses throughout the year so they can keep their advice accurate.

10. What do I need to do to instruct you?

Our favourite question.

Usually you will be expected to provide ID, sign some Terms and Conditions of Business and make an upfront payment in order for a file to be opened for you and work to begin.

You should not be pressured into signing up with a solicitor though, so unless there is an urgent matter for them to deal with, don’t be afraid to go away and have a think about things before deciding which solicitor to use.

So there you have it – you owe it to yourself and your children to get the legal aspects of any potential issues within your family right. In an ideal world there would be no need for Family Law – but if you do need it, we hope these tips help you prepare.


Previous post: Part 1: I think I need legal advice, what do I do next?

Next time: Part 3: Now what? Five Questions to Ask Yourself After You’ve Met Your Solicitor

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Cunningtons LLP in Great Square and Tofts Walk in Braintree, Essex, is the head office for Cunningtons Solicitors across the UK. Established in 1748, the Braintree head office in Great Square is still in its original offices. This amounts to almost 300 years of Experience and Tradition.

The Senior Partner at Cunningtons’ Braintree office is David Drake. Paul Fenton is the Joint Managing Partner. He, along with Johanna Withams are the residential conveyancing partners at the Braintree practice. They are supported by qualified Solicitors and Licenced Conveyancers.

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