Demand for family law expertise is set to climb 4% over the course of 2023 in what marks the fourth year of growth in five years for the sector, a new study has found.
According to LexisNexis’ latest Gross Legal Product (GLP) Index for the sector, family law has proven “particularly buoyant” and is subsequently set to see further growth over the next year.
Demand increased by between 2% and 4% in 2019, 2021, and 2022, with 2020 being the only year since 2018 that the sector shrunk – though this was likely driven by pandemic-related factors.
Key trends within family law
The report noted financial remedies as an area generating a “fair amount of legal work” for family lawyers, with Ministry of Justice data showing 73% of cases having at least one party being legally represented.
The number of cases started in 2021 was the highest seen since 2008, though this was not matched in the first three quarters of 2022. Similar trends are also seen in the number of cases closed and the overall number of applications.
“Reported cases frequently have an international aspect, with England and Wales often the preferred jurisdiction for a financially weaker spouse or the super-wealthy,” said Geraldine Morris, head of family law at LexisNexis, commenting on the figures.
Private children disputes
2020 saw the highest number of private children cases since records began in 2011 (55,642). Though representing a slight drop, the 54,649 cases in 2021 suggest something of a continued trend of higher case numbers since 2019, as visible below:
When looking at the number of cases started for Q1, Q2 and Q3 of 2022, there were 39,907 cases – just under three quarters of 2021’s figures, suggesting the trend is set to continue. Morris puts this down to periods of the pandemic placing “significant pressure” on contact arrangements and causing heightened tensions between parents. On the role non-court dispute resolution can play, Morris said:
“Much has been said by the judiciary and family lawyers themselves about the benefits of using non-court dispute resolution as a more suitable method of dispute resolution in private children cases, rather than court proceedings, particularly given the numbers of litigants in person in relation to private children disputes.”
Divorce itself is not a key driver of work for family lawyers despite a slight increase in divorce rates since the introduction of no-fault divorce, according to the report:
“Divorce statistics often make their way into the media headlines – and despite its news appeal, the largely administrative process of obtaining a divorce or dissolution now generates very little work for most family lawyers.
Divorce has become a largely-automated process, with applications taking place online and most lawyers charging a flat fee.”
One lawyer, two clients
The report said the concept of “one lawyer, two clients”, whereby a single lawyer advises both parties on issues relating to divorce or separation, is a notable trend that is growing in popularity.
The SRA makes it clear that solicitors are only able to do this if there is no conflict of interest or risk of one – and solicitors are unable to act for both sides in a litigation or dispute:
“You must always be sure that it is in each client’s best interests for you to act. Bear in mind that if you were acting for just one client, you normally would be negotiating their position and putting forward solutions that favour their interests over the other client. So by acting for both, you may be limiting the service that you would provide.”