Law students have a useful administrative role to play in divorce cases and will be able to ease workloads and reduce delays.
It was recently announced that trainee lawyers and students are set to be drafted in to guide separating couples through the divorce process.
Due to recent legal aid cuts, it has been reported that more than half of divorcing couples head into court without proper representation. Therefore, ministers are proposing that student and trainee lawyers should be based in a network of centres around the UK, so that they can ‘hold the hands’ of divorcing couples and guide them through the legalities.
This new plan is just one of a number of significant changes to the family justice system – the biggest shake-up of the system in 25 years. The proposed changes have been met with a mixed reaction from the public and legal industry.
Concerns have been raised regarding the inexperience of law students, with some people worried that divorce cases are too sensitive for students to work on while gaining experience.
However, these concerns are being born out of the idea that students will be having a bigger input into the family law cases than they actually will. Among the plethora of new proposals announced for the family justice system is the idea that divorcing couples will now be asked to consider mediation before they decide on whether to take their divorce to court, as well as having to attend compulsory sessions on how to resolve disputes out of court.
In a classic case of crossed wires, some commentators have mistakenly thought this is where students will be used. Understandably, the idea that not-yet-fully-trained individuals will be providing this mediation has caused some concern.
But the truth is that the role of students will be largely admin and support-based. As we are all only too aware, it is often the administration process involved with divorce cases that causes most delays. Employing almost-qualified students who understand the system and will be able to help ease workloads and reduce delays seems like a commonsense approach to the problem.
What is more, on-the-job training will be hugely beneficial to the students. There is only so much that you can learn from reading a textbook or attending a lecture, and although they will be having a limited input into cases, the hands-on experience they will gain will help to develop their skills.
It is imperative that the family justice system gets a major shake-up so that the duration of cases are reduced.
Divorce cases are a stressful for everyone involved and it not something that children should be stuck in the middle of for too long.
John McKenna is family law partner ay Paul Crowley & Co Solicitors, Liverpool