Top Family Lawyer comments on Legal Ombudsman ‘Divorce Costs’ Report

Deborah Jeff of Seddons comments on a report that finds hidden costs and poor quality legal services ‘add to woes’ during divorce…

Deborah Jeff

Deborah Jeff, Founding Partner of Family at Seddons solicitors (www.seddons.co.uk), says the ombudsman is there as a very last resort and first a client should use the internal complaints procedure at the solicitor’s practice.  If the client still isn’t happy with the findings of the internal investigation, the ombudsman can be approached by the client.

Deborah adds: "The cases in the news today show a lack of management for the solicitors in question by not giving clear costs estimates at the beginning, regularly reviewing them and managing their client in terms of the work they are doing and costs being incurred for matters that could not have been predicted at the outset.  As long as a client is clear of what the costs are likely to be, they are regularly updated and can see there is complete transparency, they are reassured that we are very much acting in their best interests both in terms of the work we are doing and managing the costs of such work. Our policy is to be 100% transparent on costs from the outset.

"One reason that double the level of clients were dissatisfied with their lawyers in divorce cases, when compared to other areas of the law, is because emotions are running so high. That can result in clients not understanding what they are told regarding costs, or not fully understanding that the more time they spend with their lawyer, the greater the bill will be.  For solicitors, it’s because they don’t have management systems in place to oversee the costs aspect of every case from the outset, and also not communicating with their clients regarding costs and how they are increasing. Among other safeguards against this, we use monthly diary reminders to review the costs estimate and update our client, even if it is simply to say the costs estimate is still accurate".

On the cuts to legal aid in April that will result in 200,000 cases a year of divorce and family breakdown being removed from public funding, Deborah comments: "It’s likely to get worse for the smaller and High Street firms once legal aid is removed because those currently receiving legal aid will either need to act in person or find a way of instructing a lawyer privately in a cost-effective way.  It will increase the demand for reasonably-priced Family Law services and force lawyers to really up their game in terms of transparency on costs.  But this is likely only to impact on the firms doing smaller work, since big-money cases won’t be affected by the removal of legal aid."

Seddons (http://www.seddons.co.uk) is a 21-year-old central London law firm, based at 5 Portman Square, with a total of 84 staff, including 20 partners.

Chambers notes ‘This team offers clients the full range of family services, and is particularly noted for its expertise on divorce proceedings’ and the Legal 500 says 'Deborah Jeff provides an excellent level of service at Seddons'.