Choosing to go through a divorce is a big, and often painful decision, and it’s important that the stress that comes with divorce is not made greater by working with a solicitor who simply cannot meet up to their client’s expectations or has a lack of proper communication with them This firm takes over many cases from other solicitors and often the main reason of complaint is that they did not understand what was happening in their case or could not get hold of the solicitor concerned on many occasions. This can lead to unnecessary frustration.
One of the most common questions concerning divorce solicitors, is the right of a client to switch to a new solicitor, once proceedings have begun. Before delving into practicalities of how to change to a new solicitor, it is important to understand that it is always possible to appoint a new solicitor to take over your divorce proceedings. The impact on your case though must be considered as what is the appropriate time to change.
With that being said, I will take a closer look at why people might want to change their divorce solicitor, what their current divorce solicitors will need to do in order to help their clients to switchover, and at what point in the proceedings it is impossible or not advisable to change solicitors.
Why might someone want to change divorce solicitor?
Family law is a highly specialised field – becoming ever more complex, day by day with many conflicting precedents. It is therefore important that if you have a more complicated divorce case that you need a solicitor who is up to the task and fully au fait with the current laws.
Complicated divorces include those that involve many dependent children with difficulties, sizeable or complex financial assets, involving multiple companies and investments, an aspect of international or conflict law or where there has been a pre-existing prenuptial agreement that one or both parties are now disputing either in part or in whole.
Any divorce solicitor who is not suitably equipped to work on such cases will bring about a lack of confidence and trust on the part of their client especially if they are giving conflicting or uncertain advice. Many clients that transfer to this firm say that there has been confusion in the advice being given or between different solicitors or that their divorce case has not been given the attention to detail or any attention that they feel that it deserved. This of course must be distinguished between someone who is a needy client and wants to speak to a solicitor all the time and one where they have genuine concerns that are not being met.
Some solicitors have created a reputation that they simply do not return phone calls and will instead send endless emails that the clients cannot understand. Many of the clients who cases we take over feel that they are not being listened to, or heard in any way or that the important facts that they are giving to their solicitors have been overlooked. This in itself can lead to huge frustration. People who are already under stress and pressure because they are going through a difficult divorce need a steady and constant flow of information about how their case is progressing. Failure to communicate properly on the part of the solicitor only leads to greater frustration. Often with the cases that we take over this has been the main reason for change. It is very important to understand that a good solicitor will continuously communicate with their client.
The main reason to switch divorce solicitors comes down to trust and confidence. If a client loses trust in their solicitors, then must consider seeking alternative representation.
Should someone switch immediately?
Many clients complain to us when they change over to this firm from others, that they feel that the entire process was a lot less efficient than they would have reasonably expected. Whilst some clients accept the process does take time, there are many who will become very frustrated at the lack of progress or the lack of understanding what should be happening on their case and whether it in fact is.
So, should someone who is not satisfied with their divorce solicitor make an immediate change. What we would recommend is not to rush into changing but to firstly give your solicitor an opportunity to deal with anything that you feel unhappy about. If you are not happy at the explanation given, or the progress, or the way in which things are unfolding, then you should follow your gut feel and change solicitors to a firm that you know can deal with expert advice.
If a client is not satisfied with the advice that they are receiving, we would recommend that they should seek a second opinion from us first. This does not necessary mean that they should switch divorce solicitors completely and no documentation needs to be signed over to the new solicitor at that point. In order to give a second opinion, we would need sufficient copies to advise on the case so far to offer an overall opinion as to whether it is going in the right direction. Of course, without seeing proper disclosure of the assets, it would be foolish of another solicitor to give a second opinion. It may be the case that you can collect as much information as possible as will be required by the solicitor to give a second opinion but if you cannot, you will have to change solicitors.
It is often the case that we give a second opinion to clients and will, if appropriate, advise them to remain with the solicitor who they currently are instructing since the advice appears to be on the right road and correct. In cases where there are little assets it would be foolish to expend a lot of fees in changing solicitors if the advice that they have already received is correct and balanced. Further if it is the best advice that they should expect. As a result, no switching might be required for this kind of this client and the client may have a renewed sense of optimism that their divorce is proceeding in the right direction, and at the correct pace.
I need to switch divorce solicitor – how do I do it?
There are sometimes cases where we would advise that it is inadvisable to change divorce solicitors at that time. It may be that it is too near a hearing for directions for example and that we would advise that once those directions have been completed, that the change can take place. Further, if final orders have been made then realistically there would be little point in changing solicitors at that stage. It might be extremely unhelpful since we cannot give a sense that there is something that can radically change if it cannot. However, we can advise whether the advice given that led to a settlement at a final hearing or led to the way in which a final hearing was fought, has been entirely negligent. In which case the new solicitor ie this firm or others, would look at what can be done about it. In many cases if there has been a final order and nothing can be done to change the final order itself, and there has been negligence, the client will be referred to specialist solicitors who can take proceedings for the negligence concerned with our firm having supplied the evidence of the negligent advice. Sometimes applications can be made in due course for variation of the maintenance aspects of the matter. There are some lawyers who will say that there is never a time that is too late to change matters.
Appointing a new divorce solicitor is a straightforward process. First, the client will need to pay the old solicitor for all of the work that has been carried out and all of the bills rendered to them. In the absence of being paid for their work, solicitors can exercise what is known as a ‘lien’ over the old papers and it is vital that any new solicitor has all of the papers in order to properly advise. Sometimes it will be possible to negotiate the outstanding fees in order to quickly receive the papers.
The simplest way of moving forward would be for the client to sign a document with the new solicitors, authorising the release of their files to the new divorce solicitor. If there is any obstruction to the handing over of the files when the bill has been paid the Law Society guidance is quite clear, that if you have paid for the services the file now belongs to the client and therefore they can insist that the file is handed over.
If there are any difficulties in this regard, your new solicitor must make contact with the old one, together with the authority from you, and ensure that they understand why there has been any delay. A consistent delay in handing over the file is something that can be reported to the SRA.
It is important that, in addition to receiving the documentation and correspondence passing between solicitors, that you also receive all the attendance notes of any conversations between solicitors or any attendances at Court or any Advices given by the barrister. In order to give a full, proper and informed advice to a client who is changing solicitors you must have access to the entirety of the file.
Some divorce solicitors can delay in handing over the attendance notes but again a simple conversation between the new solicitor and old, should rectify that situation.
At Lloyd Platt & Company, we take over a substantive amount of cases from other firms and what often is the first thing that we notice is how badly that the files have been kept or put together. If there has been a file that is in total confusion, the chances are that the advice has been haphazard too. This is not always the case, but a badly put together file is an indication that all is not right.
You must also understand that in changing solicitors it will be necessary for new solicitor to read through the old file. This will take a few hours at least and you must be prepared to pay that in order to receive a proper and sensible opinion and moreover a strategy for your case going forward.
Our forte at Lloyd Platt & Company is to troubleshoot in these kind of cases and develop a strategy where none has hitherto been available. Quite often in taking over these kind of cases, we can see that the solicitors have been reactive rather than proactive in taking the case forward and there may have simply been endless correspondence without any action to move the case on.
If you feel that things are not well in the case, you should always give the current solicitor an opportunity to put them right. If their inexperience is shining through then you must change solicitors to ensure that your case receives the best advice and direction. If you have no idea what is going on currently in your case, the chances are that there is no strategy and things have not been made clear to you. At Lloyd Platt & Company, we always ensure that there is a clear strategy for every case, because what we do and the kind of action we take, follows on from that strategy.
Do not suffer in silence, we are always here to help. Get in touch today.