Legal advice for both clients
As mediators we are sometimes asked for this by clients – and now, apparently, it is available. Two family law barristers have set up what is believed to be the first service allowing separating couples to obtain advice from a single legal expert at any point in the process. Samantha Woodham and Harry Gates, both based at 4 Paper Buildings, are launching The Divorce Surgery as an alternative business structure (ABS) regulated by the Bar Standards Board. The service offers advice from barristers with a range of experience, including QCs.
While solicitors are prevented by Solicitors Regulation Authority rules from advising both sides in a divorce, and mediators can work with both sides but not provide legal advice, the two direct access barristers believe that there is nothing to stop them from acting like a single joint expert, provided they do not represent either side afterwards.
The barristers believe that this will help people avoid getting drawn into an adversarial process. Couples using The Divorce Surgery attend brief introductory sessions with a barrister separately, to make sure the process is suitable for them and there are no hidden assets or abuse, and are advised on the financial disclosure they need to make. The couple is then advised, together, by a barrister for two to four hours on a “bracket of outcomes” that the court is likely to consider fair and the advice is sent to them in writing. Fees start from £3,000 plus VAT per couple, with 1% of profits donated to charities working in the field of access to justice.
Samantha Woodham said: “At the end of a court process, when all the lawyers have gone away, a divorced couple has to start talking and communicating on a practical level. We are inviting couples to start as they mean to continue – taking responsibility for their own situation and actively engaging in moving forward.”