As much as we try to avoid them, ultimately if agreements cannot be reached for our clients through Alternative Dispute Resolution, contested court proceedings and court appearances are sometimes necessary. Occasionally, advocacy at those hearings on behalf of our clients can also be required.
Advocacy – the representation of a client in court before a judge or magistrate, like many things, is a skill and one which all Family Law solicitors should possess. When we are on the path to qualifying as Solicitors, there are advocacy elements on the professional courses we must complete; some undertake voluntary ‘Mooting’ (mock trials) at University, or college, and some are old enough to remember ‘Debating Society’ at School, where budding advocates would argue their viewpoints, some more aggressively and persuasively than others.
I never really went in for ‘Mooting’ at University, but at a firm I worked at early in my career it was a requirement that I would carry out my own advocacy, at least up to a Final Hearing stage, whether that be in Divorce or Children matters. The thought filled me with horror; I have never liked being the centre of attention and as a young lawyer I had enough on my plate learning the ropes of client management.
However, I spent the next four years carrying out advocacy on all client matters and while I cannot say that I enjoyed it, or that I hold a desire to do it again, the skills I learned were necessary and have benefitted me later in my career. One such occasion was very recently when, due to a combination of factors including the court’s lack of staffing and inability to deal with a jointly filed and agreed application to vacate a Directions Appointment (where the hearing is to case manage the matter and to agree and create a road map for progressing), I was once more required to rely on those skills and advocate for my client.
I hold myself in the majority of Family Law solicitors that will instruct counsel for court hearings and advocacy. They spend their days in and around court and dealing with Judges and their peculiarities, so to my mind are better placed to do that work, while I, conversely, spend my time working with clients day to day, and feel I am better placed to do that work. I also strongly believe that there is a cost efficiency to instructing Counsel, who will charge a fixed fee for representing our clients, while solicitors charge on an hourly basis.
One of the benefits that came from the Covid pandemic was the move by the Court Service to an online portal, and holding court hearings via remote means – the Court Video Platform was born which is the court’s version of MSTeams/Zoom and reduces the need for parties to travel and attend court for hearings.
Previously, all court hearings, no matter the length, would be held face to face and could lead to significant (and costly) travel, waiting, and stress for what proved to be no more than a five minute hearing. Now, most short and non-complex hearings, such as a Directions Appointments are listed for remote hearings, while longer and more involved hearings, such as Dispute Resolutions, remain in-person. This provides benefits when trying to negotiate settlements because the parties are focussed on spending that time at court with no outside distractions, as well as ‘face-time’ with Judges when insurmountable issues arise.
The continuing squeeze on court funding is likely to create repeated administrative issues, and the benefit of a Family Law Team with advocacy experience, like Hedges, enables them to cover court hearings which may have to take place at the last minute.
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We are dedicated to resolving matters as amicably as possible and every solicitor in our family team are members of Resolution which means we have a duty to reduce conflict wherever possible.