Firms in four cities have kicked off a national mediation initiative designed to help separating couples and demonstrate to lawyers the commercial viability of providing the service.

Lawyer Supported Mediation has been set up by trained mediator Marc Lopatin (pictured) with ‘mediation hubs’ in Leeds, Newcastle, Manchester and London. Two more cities will join later in the year.

The initiative is launched ahead of a change to the law making it compulsory for separating couples to attend a mediation information and assessment meeting (MIAM) before issuing family proceedings.

The change is introduced on 22 April, under section 10 of the Children and Families Act.

LSM provides a fixed-fee service - under £5,000 outside central London and slightly higher in the capital - combining legal advice, mediation preparation, and pre- and post-mediation drafting. The lawyers do not attend the mediation.

Thirty firms are taking part, including Slater & Gordon in Manchester; Simpson Millar, Winston Solicitors and Chadwick Lawrence in Leeds; Newcastle firms Major Family Law, Sintons and Beecham Peacock; and in London TV Edwards, Bishop & Sewell and Belmont & Lowe.

Many people are put off using a lawyer due to the fear of spiraling costs, said Lopatin, but he said mediation is a cost-effective way for clients to solve their problems and the fixed fee removes the fear of escalating costs.

For lawyers, Lopatin said, the fixed-fee mediation model offers an opportunity to gain clients and grow their business as income from family legal aid drops.

The venture is being run as a year-long pilot, because, said Lopatin, ‘it is not lost on us that mediation has a lot to prove’.

He said: ‘Although it has been around for a while, it has not caught on.We want to demonstrate to the profession at large that lawyers and mediation can work in tandem commercially and contribute to firms’ departmental coffers.’

Its success, he said, will be judged by the settlements agreed and whether the fixed fees deliver acceptable returns for partner law firms.