What kind of family lawyer do you need?
If you need legal representation because you’re going through family difficulties, such as future child arrangements or separating finances, it can be difficult to know what your first steps should be. Depending on your situation you might need to instruct a solicitor, a barrister (through direct access), or both – but how do you know which route is right for you?
We’ve assembled a basic guide to legal representation for family disputes to help you decide.
Solicitors vs barristers – what’s the difference?
A solicitor handles legal matters outside the court such as legal letters, applications and communication with the other side in a dispute. They can also represent you in most courts.
Solicitors usually work for a law firm and can either charge by the hour or agree a fixed fee with you in advance.
A barrister is a specialist lawyer who represents you in court, advocating and arguing on your behalf. They are qualified to represent you in any court. Most barristers require you to speak to a solicitor first who can then instruct the barrister before they act for you.
They are usually self-employed and charge by the hour (although a few offer fixed fees).
Instructing a solicitor
If you’re not certain what kind of legal representation you need, we’d advise speaking to a family solicitor first. Some, including us, offer a free initial consultation where they can give you general advice on family law and charge a competitive rate thereafter. Solicitors can sometimes act in court for you without the help of a barrister – but if you do need one, they will tell you.
Direct access to a barrister
In an era of diminished public funding for legal representation, many family law clients are now approaching barristers directly – known as direct access.
Provided you’re confident in filling out a lot of court paperwork yourself, direct access means you’ll only need to pay the barrister’s fees – which can help keep costs down.
However, not all barristers will take instructions via direct access and the Bar Council only recommends this route if your case is straightforward. In particular, if your case involves children, they recommend using a solicitor.
Using a solicitor + a barrister
If your preferred barrister doesn’t take instructions from direct access clients, you’ll need to appoint a solicitor in order to use that barrister.
One way you can do this and still keep costs down is to take out a fixed fee package with a solicitor who will then instruct the barrister on your behalf. This way you pay a competitive rate for the legal work outside of court, which often means the barrister needs to do less preparatory work on your case themselves, reducing the amount they charge you.
Most established family solicitors also have close working relationships with barristers, so they can advise you on your choice of advocate according to your specific needs.
Our family law solicitors in Bristol are experienced in advising clients on a range of matters. To speak to a solicitor about your circumstances, call us on 0117 325 2929 or fill out our online enquiry form.
We offer all new clients a free 30 minute consultation with a family law expert to talk through your options, including the process for instructing a solicitor or barrister if needed.