I’m writing this because I have been stunned by the number of professional colleagues who don’t make it easy for anyone to contact them. Their emails will invariably not mention a contact number, but when it does it will usually be a generic switchboard number rather than their direct dial, as it will on their websites. I have asked two lawyers for their DD numbers recently: one told me they have only given the number to their daughter so I was to promise not to give it to a client or another lawyer; and the other said they’d rather not give out the number “because I tend to answer the phone rather abruptly”. It makes the whole challenge of building interdisciplinary family law communities so much more difficult, and suggest that some of us are light years away from a true paradigm shift.
It got me thinking how difficult it must be for their clients to contact them. You don’t need to engage in any sort of market research to understand that what clients want from family lawyers, is not necessarily what family lawyers want to provide. Clients want more free information, they want their lawyers to be process architects, they want better use of technology, they want less expense, they want financial, therapeutic, legal and negotiating experts and they want control over achieving better outcomes. And that’s just to begin with.
Family law services on the whole (and there are some exceptions) still seem to be hoping above hope that they can continue to deliver what they have always delivered, which is a one-size fits all approach where the lawyer is on a pedestal (because we’re important), where we are often difficult to contact (because availability equates to over-familiarity), where we want to meddle in things we know little about (psychology, children and money), and where we control the choice of process which typically stamps our ideas of fairness and outcome on others’ disputes. Inappropriately and expensively.
Lawyers are not alone in failing to deliver, though. Family consultants and financial planners – who have long been perceived by lawyers as junior partners in dispute resolution terms – are equally and sometimes more important in relationship breakdown resolution but they need to step up to the mark collectively by acting as equal partners and demonstrating what value they can add. Software writers, too, should be developing tools which aid clients as much as they aid the professional user.
Family law is not yet waking up in sufficient numbers to all of this, let alone smelling the coffee. I hope it doesn’t take the hard medicine of redundancies and closures to bring it home.