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Family law qualifications can be difficult to understand if you are not a lawyer yourself.
Choosing a family lawyer to guide you through the legal process in relation to divorce or a family law matter is a very individual and personal decision. Alongside those very personal considerations is the all-important choice of what type of legal representative would be best placed to assist you – that is easier said than done.
How do you navigate through the seemingly vast array of labels and accreditations that exist within the legal profession?
By way of example, at Family Law Partners our team has a wealth of expertise across the wide spectrum of family law but our experts all have slightly different skills. Our specialist team comprises of family Solicitors, Legal Executives, Collaborative Lawyers, Arbitrators and Mediators. The following brief guide to the variety of family law roles and expertise will hopefully assist you in choosing the right expert for you.
A solicitor is a qualified legal professional who provides expert legal advice and support to clients. A solicitor may represent a client in some lower courts or instruct a barrister to represent a client.
A commonly asked question is “how many years to become a solicitor?“. The answer is that the route to qualification as a solicitor is a lengthy process which often takes up to seven years. In order to be admitted as a solicitor an individual must have completed the academic stage and the vocational stage of training.
To complete the academic stage of training an individual must have completed either a qualifying law degree or a first degree followed by the Common Professional Examination or Graduate Diploma in Law. Either route must include the study of the seven Foundations of Legal Knowledge; Contract, Tort, Criminal Law, Constitutional and Administrative Law, Property Law, Equity and Trusts and the Law of the European Union.
Once the academic stage of training has been completed the Legal Practice Course must be completed, then the individual must undertake a period of recognised training which is usually a period of two years spent training within a legal setting. Finally, the Professional Skills Course must be completed.
Only once all of these stages have been completed and the individual has met the professions regulatory bodies (Solicitors Regulation Authority) requirements for ‘character and suitability’ can an individual gain admission as a solicitor.
Solicitors have to adhere to a very strict code of conduct and are highly regulated, which offers members of the public reassurance that their case is in safe hands.
A chartered legal executive is a legal professional who has followed one of the prescribed routes to qualification set out by the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx). They are able to undertake all work that may be undertaken by a solicitor but they tend to specialise in one area of law, unlike solicitors who can practice across several areas.
As with solicitors, the route to qualification is a lengthy one (usually 6 years) and studies are usually undertaken at the same time as working in a law firm. Chartered Legal Executives, like Solicitors, are also highly regulated by their governing body, the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives.
The difference between a Solicitor/Chartered Legal Executive and an Associate Solicitor/Chartered Legal Executive is based on the length of post-qualification experience. Once a Solicitor/Chartered Legal Executive has sufficient depth and breadth of experience they can progress to an Associate, followed by Senior Associateship.? Solicitors and Chartered Legal Executives are also able to apply for some judicial appointments after a set period of post-qualification experience.
Resolution is an organisation that believes in a constructive, non-confrontational approach to family law matters.
Resolution supports the development of family lawyers through training programmes, publications and good practice guides and through its accreditation scheme. Resolution also trains and accredits mediators and provides training and support to collaborative lawyers.
Members of Resolution have to work within a Code of Practice. Some members are also recognised as Accredited Specialists, these members will have undertaken and passed rigorous assessment process in their specialist area of family law.
Mediation is one of a range of dispute resolution models offered by Family Law Partners as a way of resolving family law disputes, including separation and arrangements for children. A family Mediator is trained to meet with both parties in order to assist them to identify issues that the parties can not agree on and help the parties to try to reach agreement. As you would expect the training our family mediators undertake is very thorough.
Mediators are neutral, they do not take sides and can not give advice to either parties. Some Mediators are trained to see children as well adults. Mediators usually recommend obtaining legal advice alongside the mediation process and will guide you as to when this should happen.
A Resolution trained legal mediator provides general legal information to both parties within the mediation, if appropriate.
A Collaborative Lawyer is a Solicitor or Chartered Legal Executive who has undertaken the specific collaborative law training in addition to their main legal qualifications.
Collaborative law is a dispute resolution model whereby both parties and both lawyers agree to try and resolve family law matters outside of the court process.
Similar to mediation, collaborative law is based on principled negotiations, the difference between mediation is that in collaborative law each party is represented by a collaborative lawyer. The parties and their respective collaborative lawyers attend meetings where the four attempt to resolve the issues and then, when appropriate, convert any agreement into a legally binding order by consent.
Arbitration is another form of dispute resolution that we specialise in at Family Law Partners. A family law Arbitrator is appointed by both parties to adjudicate on a range of family related issues and make a decision which is a final decision and is made to be legally binding on the parties.
A barrister is a professional who provides specialist legal advice and represents clients within the Court process. A barrister can also be known as an advocate. Barristers follow a similar route to qualification as a Solicitor in that they must have completed an academic stage of training and a vocational stage of training. The academic route to qualification is the same as a Solicitor or Chartered Legal Executive following which they must complete the Bar Training Course in addition to undertaking pupillage which is the equivalent to the solicitor’s vocational training.
Barristers work on a self-employed basis. Most barristers cannot be directly instructed by members of the public, they have to be instructed via Solicitors/Legal Executives.
The term lawyer is a general term used to describe anyone who is qualified to give legal advice in one or more areas of the law. Solicitors, Barristers and Chartered Legal Executives can all be described as being a lawyer.
Once qualified, lawyers have to apply on an annual basis to renew their Practising Certificate and in order to do that they have to have over the course of each year reflected on their practice and addressed any learning and development needs. They have to continue to undertake training and keep a record of this throughout each year.
Whichever of the above legal professionals you choose to represent you, at Family Law Partners each specialist in our team has undertaken a lengthy period of legal training and operates within a highly-regulated sector. Furthermore, we are true family law specialists. Unlike other firms, or family teams who sit within much larger firms, our entire practice is designed around the needs of our clients who are facing family law issues.