Oh Look, I’ve Started a Trend

It’s been a slow burn folks – Family Courts Without a Lawyer was published in 2011, and many were the perplexed looks and guffaws from colleagues at the bar back then. They thought I was nuts, some thought I was possibly mildly treacherous.

But now it’s all the rage. It’s like Gangnam or Super Samurai Power Rangers I tell you (well, in our house anyways). This is the closest to trendy I will ever be.

The Bar Council have this week published their long awaited Guidance for litigants in person, under the headline “We won’t stand by as vulnerable people suffer”. It has been produced in conjunction with various Specialist Bar Associations, including the Family Law Bar Association, and covers general court process as well as specific areas of law. It was gratifying to see the reference in the family section to Family Courts Without A Lawyer. Oh yes people. I have arrived.

But also racing up the charts are The Civil Justice Council, with their Guide to Small Claims for Litigants in Person, produced no doubt as penance for the introduction of the guerrilla term “Self Represented Litigants” which diverted us for the better part of 18 months.

And pop pickers, there’s a Guide for Litigants in Person dealing with Interim Applications in The Queen’s Bench Division coming in at number 3 (a bit “niche” if you ask me ;-)).

Although the first implementation update in respect of the modernisation programme from Sir Ernest Ryder says “The MoJ is working with the Family Justice Council on guidance for SRLs in both children and financial remedy cases”, that was December and there is no mention of it in the second implementation update in February. I may have missed it but I can’t see anything on the FJC or MoJ websites so assume that it is either a work in progress or that it’s been ditched upon realising that there was duplication of effort going on.

We professionals have got Practice Directions and Rule amendments coming out of our ears, but it’s striking that the only Guidance for Litigants in Person specifically dealing with family courts that is available by the date of implementation of LASPO (today) comes not from HMCTS, not from the MoJ, not from the FJB or FJC, not from the judiciary….but from the bar.

[Postscript : Erk. Late night paranoia has set in. Lest there be any doubt in your mind my tongue was firmly in my cheek for the duration of this post - I am not the complete and utter ego maniac I may appear if you were to read it dead pan. As you were...]

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25 thoughts on “Oh Look, I’ve Started a Trend

  1. Nick Langford

    Started a trend? Come, come. Celia Conrad, Michael Robinson, Tim Forder and myself all got there years before. As for the Bar Council’s guide, it’s pretty thin, and one would need a great deal more information than that before venturing into the courts. There’s some valuable advice on conduct in court, but not a lot else – nothing on enforcement, for example.

    • Alright, fair cop (but see postscript to original post).
      The Bar Council Guide is not really aiming to be a guide to the law, hence (I suspect) nothing on enforcement.

  2. Here’s another source of guidance for litigants-in-person in the family courts, which had nearly half a million views in 2012:

    http://www.thecustodyminefield.com/

    Your trend-setting influence extends even further than you are aware, Familoo.

    Bruno D’Itri

  3. http://fathersandchildrensrights.wordpress.com/2009/06/08/families-need-fathers-produce-essential-book-for-anyone-representing-themselves-in-a-child-contact-case/

    Please do not forget “Give ‘Em Some LIP!” – Produced in 2007/08 by Ruth Glover and others of Families Need Fathers (FNF).

  4. I did mean to also say your book is a very good resource familoo and many LIPs would benefit from a copy.

  5. The Custody Minefield is an excellent resource as well as your book familoo.

    The other books already mentioned by others imho would be of little practical help at court and may very well be detrimental to a parties case. They are more for campaigning and focus on parents rights above getting a result out of the system. They may only get up the backs of most judges and family court workers leading to poor results, counter-productive.

  6. Nick Langford

    Ouch! Happily, Angela, that was very far from the experience of those who bought my e-book, and it would be unfair to tar Celia with the same brush. Have you read these books, I wonder?

    Certainly there was campaigning material in mine, but for the most part the campaign was kept separate from the advice and support. And don’t forget that FNF used to be a campaign organisation.

    I’m no longer involved with F4J now, so I am independent of campaigns; my wife and I are shortly to produce our own e-guide for LIPs (if we can work out how to market it); I think it is important that there should be guidance available from the point of view of those who have been through the system themselves.

    I’ve also got some ideas for a couple of printed books, and I’m sure there will be other guides appearing in this relatively sparsely populated market place.

  7. The trouble is, it’s maybe too easy to forget a couple of fairly important points.

    1) Witness handling is an art form, and one that is learnt slowly through experience. Good advocates know how to expose the assumptions, how to undermine a witness who is subtly exaggerating or changing their story, how to deal with an outright lie, and a hundred other issues. These skills aren’t the exclusive domain of counsel, or lawyers at all, but merely skills that those groups spend their working lives practicing.

    2) One of the elements of added-value that the Bar in particular has is the experience of seeing the same set of judges, day in, day out, making decisions. Given a factual matrix, counsel can often predict fairly accurately what a given judge (and with discretionary powers, the individual judge does make a difference) would order. Which enables counsel to advise the lay-client robustly should a good offer be made by the other side. Again, this is simply a question of experience, not magical powers.

    A guide, an e-Book, the ISCL Family Law Manual or a red book can only give LiPs so much. Experience is worth a lot. And a professional detachment is worth its weight in gold.

    Something I’m curious about is the scope for barristers to do more Direct Access work, for example by giving clients an early conference to advice on merits and then appearing in court, with the LiP doing the litigation themselves. Not ideal (goodness knows if its even feasible), but may be an improvement.

    Of course, it isn’t going to help those people who can’t afford the brief fee—I suppose the question of how many people it can help simply becomes one of how cheaply can it be done while maintaining proper professional standards as required by the Code.

  8. Hello Nick, yes read all the books mentioned on this thread. Sorry your book imho was in many respects unhelpful for plenty of LIPs plus I have seen some of your advice on Wikivorce under your username Forseti, also not particularly useful.

    Granted Celia’s book is reasonable in its approach, but its not ‘Family Courts Without A Lawyer’ or ‘Custody Minefield’, although a valiant attempt in its day.

    I agree with the subsequent posters on page 4/5 of this thread, your advice could make things very difficult for many in court I would suggest; I hope you realise this now and have changed your stance: http://www.wikivorce.com/divorce/Divorce-Advice/Contact-and-Residency/227615-Dont-be-bullied.html

    Wonder what familoo might think of your advice to newbies?

    Agree FNF were/are a campaigning organisation but they did a reasonable effort at an LIP book in the early days (no campaigning undermining attempts at achieving results).

    I sincerely hope your new book will be of real practical value, good material is certainly needed. Good luck with your venture.

    • Angela I did read Nick’s book (not for some time) and my recollection is that it contained a lot of useful information, although there were some bits that slightly confused the law and I did not agree with all of the strategic advice. As for the thread you refer to – I haven’t read it all but agree with the thrust of those comments cautioning against too much emphasis on shared residence and too rigid or too bullish an approach, all of which can be completely counterproductive in achieving the goal of a good relationship with a child. Nick and I agree about many things, but have quite different opinions about others – much of which we have aired here in various comments threads. I’ve no doubt he has some criticisms of my book also – it is not perfect. I’ll be interested to read Nick’s next book when it comes out (send us a review copy Nick eh?)

  9. Got as littler guide of my own available – based on our NZ system which is similar to the UK.

  10. Nick Langford

    I’m very open to criticism, provided it is detailed and constructive and enables me to ensure the next edition is better. I think Lucy’s book is excellent and I have recommended it on numerous occasions. I would be hesitant to criticise it knowing just how much time and work is involved producing these things.

    Of course, we come at the problem from very different perspectives and have different views; what I respect about Lucy is that she respects other viewpoints and is prepared to give them room on her blog. She is always game for a good argument.

    Incidentally, one reason I became involved with Wikivorce was to try to see the other side of family law – I recognised that within F4J I was getting a very restricted view. I never imagined where that involvement would lead, but it has certainly opened up my understanding of issues like domestic violence and irresponsible parenting.

  11. Alright Ladies and Gents,
    I don’t really police who is who on these threads, but I do smell a rat when people are posting from the same IP address under different names.
    I’m not going to entertain a discussion online between you about who is really who (so don’t bother posting about it).

    WordPress does give me your ip address and email, and I’m not totally daft – so I am able to spot it when it happens. That information is confidential and and I’m not going to out anyone, but stop your anonymous tomfoolery please.
    Cheers me dears
    Loo
    PS I’m the boss of the blog. Don’t argue with me on this.

  12. Hmm, I obviously haven’t read Nick’s book, but some of that advice on Wikivorce seems…unhelpful.

    I did, however, quite like this:

    Don’t delay getting a prohibited steps order when your ex has just asked you for the children’s passports and has bought a new set of luggage.

    Unless you’re dealing with someone who is a foreign national (or there’s some other reason to believe they won’t come back), I struggle to imagine the level of pure bemusement on the face of some poor unsuspecting DJ taking that application in his morning list.

    On a serious note, ignoring Scott schedules, making a barrage of (ultimately doomed) applications and generally trying to assert rights makes an LiP appear unreasonable and does him/her no favours whatsoever.

    • Erk. Haven’t read that in context as it originally appeared but – there’s nothing like a knee jerk PSO application and scuppering your ex and kid’s much looked forward to holiday to engender a souring of relations and a bump in contact. It is a constant balancing act for a representative to ensure that a client’s rights and position are protected whilst also making sure that the taking of legal steps does not make things worse on the ground. Good advice is not just about law, it’s also about strategy and logic and humanity.

  13. I’m very sorry Familoo

    As my life is so very dull, I thought I’d liven it up a little with some alternative personalities.

    If it’s any consolation, I always put on a frock when I’m ‘Angela’ and a strong antipodean accent when I’m ‘Ken from NZ’…

    Regards
    Bruno D’Itri
    (a.k.a. Nick Langford / Ken in NZ / Angela / Jim Nately)

  14. “Good advice is not just about law, it’s also about strategy and logic and humanity……”

    In terms of how most of us Mc friends with commonsense act here in NZ it’s nearly all about the above points in addition I’d add “using the system not letting the system use you.”

    Very much Ken from NZ and no one else on this blog and yes there is no doubt some antipodean accent but I’m still a pommie import.

  15. Dear Lucy,

    Given what I strongly suspect is going to be brought in once the family Courts fail to deliver on 26 weeks, perhaps you could get in early with a book entitled “Family Courts without a Judge”? Or indeed “Family Courts without a Court”

  16. My lord above, but how glad I am that I don’t do family work these days . . . it’s going to be mayhem.

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