Yesterday I tweeted about the fact that I was coming under pressure from the management of the firm where I work to undertake work with the primary objective being to generate fees. So in a nutshell this means pushing clients into lengthy, acrimonious battles rather than doing things in a more amicable way. I am being discouraged from referring them to mediation as we may only get work drafting an agreement out of this which generates much less fee income.
From an ethical perspective I would feel more comfortable murdering chickens in our reception (given I eat chicken this seems more acceptable). My role as a family lawyer sees me deal with people at their worst, in very difficult and upsetting situations. I strongly believe that my role is to help them as best I can and set them on course for the rest of their life. I am always mindful that people generally feel better leaving the process feeling OK about the outcome and not spitting poison at their ex partner. In cases where there are children these people will have to have a relationship for the rest of their lives and it needs to be civil. In my mind I always think about the children's weddings. Will these ex partners be able to be there for their child on their special day and behave appropriately? My very strong view is that it's my job to try to assist them to make that happen.
I also believe that people generally feel better about decisions if they've had some input into them. So if they've discussed a settlement with their ex partner (in mediation, directly or through their lawyers) then they'll probably feel more OK with the outcome than if a Judge has told them what to do. Again it's my job to advise them about all this.
So to do something that is likely to not be in a client/family/child's interest to make money is something that goes against every molecule of the person I am. I cannot put it strongly enough.
If we leave the ethics for a moment, it doesn't even make business sense. If as a firm we want to survive in what is now a very difficult market, then we need to send away people that are vaguely contented and happy with their outcomes. They are then likely to recommend us. If we send away people that don't feel happy with what's happened and who are scarred by the experience (not to mention much poorer than they imagined) then they are not going to recommend us and so we are not going to get future business.
I don't in any way think this applies to family law or even just law. This is about good ethics in business. It is perfectly possible to have a profitable and thriving business and behave in a decent and honest way that benefits your clients/customers. There are businesses out there that prove this.
Family law is changing and I sincerely hope that these costs focussed/outcome ignorant lawyers are left by the side of the road. In all businesses if you're not providing a service that people actually want then your business will simply not survive.
To anyone going through a relationship breakdown I urge you to find a lawyer that will actually deal with things in a sensible and helpful way that focuses on you and your family and not on what money they can make. Resolution is an organisation that represents family lawyers and has a code of conduct about dealing with matters in an amicable way. You can find such a lawyer through their website at http://www.resolution.org.uk/
If you think you've seen a lawyer that wants a battle and the costs then please find another one. This is your life and your money. Use it wisely.