Collaborative Law: The Benefits
Lancashire firm Sarah Bentley Solicitors has recently recruited Rosemary Williams to continue their growth in family law, writes Gail Bailey
The long-established Lancashire firm Waddington and Son (Solicitors) Ltd has recently taken over Sarah Bentley Solicitors and are pleased to be supporting the firm to continue with their gold standard specialism in family law cases.
As the practice grows from strength to strength, Sarah Bentley Solicitors has recently appointed Rosemary Williams, who brings with her not only a wealth of experience and wisdom, but also a passion for family law and for helping couples to navigate their separation: “I really feel what we do is worthwhile,” Rosemary explains. “There is a fear that involving a solicitor in a marital break-up can increase conflict. That can happen in some cases but at Sarah Bentley’s we belong to Resolution, the association of family law solicitors that maintains a Code of Practice. It is so important for couples to have someone skilled to negotiate a settlement to the same standard of fairness as a specialist judge would, only without going to court.”
Rosemary has gone further and trained in conducting round-table legal negotiations in which both parties run the negotiations in tandem with their solicitor. In this approach, called ‘Collaborative Law’ the parties commit neither to resort to court, nor to take shelter behind solicitors’ letters. Instead, they agree to negotiate alongside their solicitor, in person, over a series of meetings and to deal with each obstacle that crops up in the talks, using legal advice as they go. Those taking part may include another specialist where necessary, for example a pensions actuary, a mortgage broker or a child development practitioner.
“It is not suitable for every separating couple,” says Rosemary. “This qualification has trained me to identify relationships likely to suit this method, ones that have sufficient flexibility, respect and openness.”
If the parties do not agree on every detail and if the negotiations get stuck, they can still use an arbitrator for that issue: “Most couples don’t need that. Their ability to trust, to listen and to understand disagreement will have grown through the process.”
Rosemary first qualified in Dublin, spending five years in commercial law in a large city firm. After re-qualifying in England, she moved to the leading Liverpool firm Cuff where she could use her experience in business assets to support family law, before being invited to lead the family law arm of a multi-branch, high street firm north of Manchester, to work with both legal aid and private clients.
After taking a break from law to raise her own family, during which she volunteered in representing parents at the Special Needs and Disability Tribunal, Rosemary returned to that firm and to family law. Earlier this year, Rosemary was approached to join Sarah Bentley’s: “It was both an honour and an opportunity to join a specialist family law firm of the standard of Sarah Bentley Solicitors and to work alongside Eve Brelsford, who had been running the practice following Sarah’s retirement,” says Rosemary.
Rosemary is proud that in England and Wales a body of legal expertise and wisdom has grown up over the years to supply principles and rules for fairness, emulated by some other countries. “We can draw on a body of case-law for family law negotiations. Judge-made law here is very flexible. The law is evolving as societal needs evolve.”
Round-table negotiations are not a quick fix and not always cheaper than applying through the court, Rosemary clarifies: “It depends on the issues involved. We assess the cost before starting. A big gain in collaborative law is that couples can emerge with an intact relationship after the negotiations have concluded. What a gift this can be for their whole set of family relationships!” she exclaims.
“This is something that money cannot buy. But the work the couple invests in the process, is what can achieve it for them.”
Sarah Bentley Solicitors
1 Mead Way
Padiham BB12 7NG