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The Family Law Language Project (FLLP) is an initiative aimed at changing the way that we use language to communicate in a family law context, which arose from findings of the 2020 ‘What about me?’ report conducted by the Family Solutions Group.
Last November, I was fortunate to attend a presentation given by Emma Nash, founder of the FLLP committee in conjunction with Tara Dunne of Our Family Wizard at the YRes National conference in London. The premise of the FLLP is to challenge the tone and nature of the language we use in family law work, with the aim of making it more accessible, less hostile and easier to understand. A view shared by Sir Andrew McFarlane, who commissioned the ‘Language Matters’ report, a further paper published by the Family Solutions Group in October 2022.
Client first always, is an intrinsic way of working at Family Law Partners, so simple and non-confrontational language has always been a conscious part of my working practice. Sadly however, it came as no surprise that this rhetoric is not shared more broadly in the family law field and the use of archaic terms such as ‘custody’ or ‘Dear Sirs’ is still very prevalent in many firms.
We have all received letters which are hugely confrontational and accusatory, which often begs the question, what has this achieved? Correspondence written in this manner only serves to fan the flames and will do nothing to encourage the parties to find a solution to their particular dispute.
One message that really resonated with me and is one that the FLLP is passionate about promoting, is that family law is there for our clients and their children – not the legal professionals. Ultimately the effect of letters that a legal professional writes will impact on an individual long after the involvement of any lawyers and we would all do well to remember that.
Many lawyers recommend that clients use Our Family Wizard to help them manage their co-parenting relationship, and will be familiar with their strapline of ‘better co-parenting, happier kids’. One of the features of the co-parenting app is the ToneMeterTM, an Artificial Intelligence (AI) tool which reviews correspondence and highlights words and phrases that parents have written which may be seen as aggressive or upsetting and encourages parents to consider changing the language they use. If we can recognise that inflammatory language is damaging in communications between co-parents, as we are often part of a client’s journey to a successful co-parenting relationship, surely we should adopt the same practices in our own correspondence.
With the above in mind, Emma’s tips for managing a case and your communications with other professionals and unrepresented parties alike, are incredibly helpful and serve as an important reminder to us all (no matter what level of experience you have), to put the human element back into your communications. It costs nothing to be polite and whilst we all have a duty to act in our client’s best interests, you are communicating with another person and if a good rapport can be established, ultimately this will positively impact upon your client’s case.
So, if you don’t already, I would implore you to think about the three W’s when writing your next letter:
Changing the legal landscape for family law matters and the language we use is a collective responsibility. If we all think carefully about our communications and shift the focus towards guiding our clients through a period of transition, rather than fighting a battle. In many cases, prevention is better than cure, so if we all adopt an approach which has wellbeing at its heart, I am hopeful for the future of family law.
Eleanor Pollard is a Solicitor in our Brighton office.