How your law firm can better serve those seeking a divorce or separation

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shutterstock_1279234-atomEven before the decorations are taken down, the strain of Christmas can leave more than just a hangover and a stubborn scattering of pine needles on the carpet. January is a top month for people turning their minds to divorce and solicitors can find themselves getting very busy with enquiries. You might have read the rather sad statistic that 42% of marriages in England and Wales end in divorce.

As legal aid has been withdrawn for divorce and separation cases other than in exceptional circumstances (eg domestic abuse or forced marriages), couples are now being heavily encouraged to use the cheaper and more collaborative option of mediation to sort out the basics of dividing assets and agreeing on shared parenting arrangements and child support. This doesn’t put solicitors out in the cold, though. As a bare minimum, any agreement made in mediation will need to be ratified by solicitors, and clients should in any case take legal advice as part of the process.

Some solicitors choose to offer an initial fixed-fee consultation, which can be helpful for clients who are only beginning to think about divorce and want to know what the process involves and – crucially – what the financial impact may be.

About 60% of divorce proceedings are now initiated by women, who typically earn 10% less than men (based on gross hourly earnings). Women are also more likely to be the primary carers for children. A fixed-fee starting point may be reassuring financially, while allowing them to put their toe in the water and begin to explore their options.

So how can law firms handle the seasonal rush? Firstly by offering a full range of services for potential clients, from online information, no-obligation fixed-fee meetings and collaborative law to traditional legal support leading up to court proceedings where appropriate.

Even picking up the phone to make that first tentative appointment is a big decision, so firms need to show their human face as well as their legal credentials: solicitors’ individual profiles are the most-read page of any law firm website. Use this opportunity to show how approachable you are. The same goes for your LinkedIn profile, which usually ranks very highly on any Google search for your name. And the mix of personal and professional that Twitter does so well is another useful tool: a friendly presence with evidence of your expertise.

If your firm is a member of Resolution, you should make that perfectly clear on your website and explain what that means for the client, ie that you are committed to a non-confrontational approach to divorce, separation and other family problems. Clients who are following the mediation route may be reassured to know that their hard work in trying to reach an amicable agreement won’t be undone by a confrontational lawyer.

This may be someone’s first contact with a solicitor. Choosing the right one is a big part of making a stressful time a little less painful. Getting that relationship right can also serve your firm well in a longer-term relationship with clients starting on a new part of their lives.