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23 Years of Change

23 Years of Change

Monday 11 June 2012

Rita Veitch, collaborative family lawyer talks Law and More readers on the changes in the profession since she qualified as a Legal Executive (now Chartered) 23 years ago:

When I was younger a booklet entitled “How to Complain” caught my eye and reading that kick started   my interest in the law and subsequently led to my career as a Chartered Legal Executive.

Going on to university wasn’t something that was suggested to me and I was tempted by the notion of working and studying at the same time rather than continuing to study full time and therefore I decided that I wanted to train to be a Legal Executive.  

Eventually, I secured employment as a legal secretary in a local firm in the family law department - finally I could see the benefit of my parents sending me on a typing course at age 12 even though at the time I had not been at all impressed by their decision!  I started my Legal Executive course at college and built up my skills as a legal secretary – what I was learning in the office was adding to and putting into practice what I was learning at college.  Since qualifying I have always conducted my own cases, continuing to specialise in family law, and my role has really been no different to that of a solicitor.  
I qualified as a Fellow of the Institute of Legal Executives in 1990 and am now proud to be a Chartered Legal Executive following the Institute of Legal Executives being granted a Royal Charter in January 2012.

I stayed with my previous firm for 23 years until I moved to my present firm, Child Law Partnership, in 2008 with the remit of expanding their services to include general family law work.  In order to do this it was necessary to become involved in more marketing of both myself and the firm – something that lawyers were prohibited from doing when I started my career.

There have in fact been lots of changes since I started, both in relation to the law and also practice.  I am, like most family lawyers today, a member of Resolution (formerly Solicitors Family Law Association) as well as an Accredited Specialist with Resolution.  This means I subscribe to a code of conduct which encourages a conciliatory approach to handling family law cases rather than an adversarial approach.  The latter sadly often being the public perception of family law lawyers.  Clients’ expectations are often that lawyers on both sides of a dispute will be “at each other’s throats”.  Fortunately this is now not the case and Resolution has gone a long way to dispel this myth.  Dealing with cases in a constructive and non confrontational way has to be much better way for all concerned.  I am very much of the view that communication between clients is also key.  It can take the heat out of an otherwise inflammatory situation even in the most acrimonious dispute.  Clients are going through a very difficult and emotional time in their lives.  Frequently they have not spoken at all since they separated.  This can lead to frustration.  They may have issues that need to be aired and, having done that, they are then often able to move on and resolve matters.

A further progression of how family law cases are dealt with has been the advent of ADR (Alternative Dispute Resolution), i.e., finding different ways to resolve disputes instead of using the Court process.  This includes mediation and collaborative law.  The Court rules now provide for ADR to be considered at all stages thus further recognizing the need for the parties to communicate, to be prepared to compromise and empowering them to make decisions about their future rather than having decisions imposed upon them by the Court.  In addition, and particularly all the more important in these difficult times, this can also assist in minimising costs.  A very important factor as it is often money that could be better spent on the family that is being used to fund the legal proceedings.

One form of ADR is collaborative law.  Originally an American concept it has now been in the UK for many years.  I trained as a collaborative lawyer in 2009.  This process takes ADR a stage further.  Within the collaborative law process both parties agree to deal with the issues collaboratively rather than through the Courts.  Both clients and their lawyers attend a series of collaborative meetings.  The emphasis is upon discussion and negotiation.  The discussions are led by the clients.  There are no “opponents”, only collaborative colleagues.  There are no surprises as a further emphasis is on transparency.  Once an agreement has been reached it can then be made into a Court order.  Clients are able to set their own short term and long term goals and frequently this means considering how they would both like to continue to parent the children.  It is very satisfying to see this process through from the beginning to end and to see clients moving on to the next stage in their lives having successfully negotiated their way through together with much less stress and anxiety and spending less money than they would have done had it been dealt with by the Court.  

Whilst not all cases proceed in this way the skills acquired in the collaborative training are still put to good use in assisting and advising clients in family disputes and in negotiating in order to reach a settlement.

Rita Veitch, Collaborative Family Lawyer, Child Law Partnership.

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