Code of practice for resolution members
Eagles Solicitors has recently adopted the practice of “Total Quality Management / TQM” as the ethos going forward in the day-to-conduct of our business. Within the TQM framework, we will work to a number of key standards and norms. One of them means working to the norms of Resolution.
Resolution is an organization of 5,000 lawyers and family justice professionals who believe in a constructive, non-confrontational approach to family law matters. The resolution also seeks to improve the family justice system. We provide education and training for lawyers and mediators to improve their knowledge of the law and their understanding of the emotional and practical issues of family breakdown. The resolution encourages the use of other dispute resolution methods, such as mediation and collaborative law, where appropriate.
Encouraging good practice
Resolution believes that family law disputes should be dealt with in a way designed to preserve people’s dignity and to encourage agreements. The cornerstone of Resolution’s membership is adherence to the Code of Practice, which sets out the principles of a non-confrontational approach to family law matters. The principles of the Code are widely recognized and have been adopted by the Law Society as recommended good practice for all family lawyers.
The Code requires lawyers to deal with each other in a civilized way and to encourage their clients to put their differences aside and reach fair agreements. Experience shows that agreed solutions are more likely to work in the long term than any arrangements imposed by a Court. If the family has to resort to the Court to resolve their dispute, it is best for all concerned that any proceedings are conducted in a constructive and realistic way to minimize conflict and distress as far as possible.
The approach that any Resolution member adopts should be firm and fair. The Code does not prevent solicitors from taking immediate and decisive action where necessary.
The Code of Practice
The Code of Practice is designed to establish the principles of a constructive approach to family law matters. The Code is not a straitjacket, but Resolution members must adhere to the Code unless the law, professional rules or clear client instructions contradict it.
The Code should be read in conjunction with the Resolution Guides to Good practice and other current practice notes. (Guides are available free to members from Resolution’s Office).
- This Code applies to all Resolution members. You should explain to your client at an early stage the approach you adopt to family law work, what the Code of Practice is and provide them with a copy of the Code.
- You should encourage your clients to see the advantages of a constructive and non-confrontational approach as a way of resolving differences. You should advise, negotiate and conduct matters so as to help settle differences as quickly as possible and reach agreement. You should seek to recognize that your clients may need time to come to terms with their new situation.
- You should make sure that your clients understand that the best interests of any children should be put first. You should explain that where a child is involved, their attitude to other family members will affect the family as a whole and the child’s relationship with his or her parents.
- You should encourage the search for fair solutions and discourage the attitude that a family dispute is a contest in which there are ‘winners’ and ‘losers’. You should avoid using words or phrases that suggest or cause a dispute where there is none.
- Emotions are often intense in family disputes. You should avoid inflaming them in any way. You should not express any personal opinions on the behavior of the other party.
- Correspondence should be carefully considered for its potential effect on other family members. Letters should be in plain English and avoid jargon and legalistic phrases. Clients may see assertive letters as aggressive. Any communications should aim to resolve issues and settle matters, not antagonize or inflame them. Threats or ultimatums should be avoided.
- You must stress the need for your clients to be open and honest in all aspects of the case and the consequences of not being open and honest.
Relationship with the client
- You should always be objective and not allow your own emotions or personal opinions to influence your advice.
- You should advise your clients on all the options available to them. Your clients should understand the consequences of any decisions they make. You cannot make decisions on your clients’ behalf – that is a matter for them, taking your advice into account.
- You must make your clients aware of the legal costs at all stages, including the risk of costs awards. You must ensure that the benefits of any step to be taken are balanced against the likely costs.
- You should ensure that your clients are aware of other services that may help them to reach a settlement, including counseling and mediation. Where appropriate, you should explore with your clients the possibility of reconciliation.
Dealing with other solicitors
- You should be courteous in your dealing with other solicitors and should avoid undermining the other party’s solicitors in your clients’ or their spouse’s eyes.
Dealing with a person who is not represented
- When dealing with someone who is not represented, you should take even greater care to communicate clearly and try to avoid any technical language or legal jargon. You should strongly recommend that the other party consult a Resolution solicitor, but be sensitive to the fact that they may not be able to afford representation.
- You should consider the long-term effects on your clients and other family members of any step in the case and balance those effects against the short term benefits.
- If a particular step may appear hostile to the other side or is capable of being misunderstood, you should consider explaining the reasons for that step to the other side or their solicitor.
- Before filing a petition, you should consider with your clients whether to contact the other side in advance to allow agreement on the ‘facts’ or particulars or to minimize misunderstandings.
- When a Petition or Statement of Arrangements is received for approval, you must advise your client to give the other side at least 7 days notice of any intention to start their own proceedings, other than in exceptional circumstances.