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The 7 stages of problem solving: how family lawyers deliver real value for money. Matthew Richardson

Updated: Apr 24, 2023

There are too many family lawyers who don’t fully understand the service they are offering to their clients.

It’s all too easy to think the main part of a family lawyer’s job is to advise a client about what the law says and how it applies to their case, and to then try and apply their resources to ‘winning’ the best possible settlement (i.e. the largest amount of money) that can be obtained.

This is a regressive and overly simplistic approach. It fails to understand where family lawyers can actually offer great service and value for money by providing clients with something much more useful and comprehensive, where customer satisfaction is higher and results are faster.

A helpful starting point to understand what we can offer to clients when we do our job well is to look at the overall stages of the process of helping a client:

1. Define the problem

2. Gather relevant material (evidence)

3. Analyse the evidence

4. Come up with possible options

5. Choose the best option

6. Advocate for that option

7. Secure an outcome

Many clients come to us already at ‘stage 5’ whereby they think they know what they want, and they want us to help them get it. ‘I want to stay in the house’, I want to keep my pension’.

The mistake I see all too often is that lawyers take this as a starting point and then try to secure that desired outcome for the client. So in other words, there are 5 stages of problem solving that are ignored, and lawyers are starting at stage 6 then reverse-engineering the process so that the client’s predetermined conclusion can be preserved.

It’s also worth considering which of these 7 stages has the most value to the client. Many would suggest that of course it’s stage 7 – securing an outcome is key. Whilst this is undoubtedly important, and for obvious reasons, there’s actually a huge amount of value in stage 5 – choosing the best option. The reason this is so important is because of the fundamental value of choice as something that empowers people and gives meaning to what they are doing. What many clients need from us is support in making informed and positive choices that properly reflect what’s really important in their lives both now and in the future.

Stephen Covey wrote:

‘Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.’

Thus we start to see the value we can offer to our clients. If we give them both (i) a process via which a series of realistic, tailored and thoroughly considered options is evaluated and then (ii) support in making the best choice from those options, what we are offering is incredibly valuable. We are offering not just a good outcome but power over their future – a sense that they are focusing on things they can control, and directing their own lives in a meaningful way.

So what is it that the really good family lawyers will do? They will challenge their clients to retain an open mind about what they want. They will explore the principles that are most important and won’t just focus on the end result. They will build options that are grounded in the client’s values and help them focus on things that are within their control – their choices.

Ultimately clients can and should be offered a service that delivers certainty not just of outcome but of process. A client who is confident not just in what has happened but how it has happened is all the more likely to be satisfied that they’ve been given something tangible and valuable.

All the members of the WCWIO Pod are committed to a modern, value-led approach to family matters. We work with you as a team and offer the full range of services to enable you to remain in control and to make the best choices for your future. Going to court is always the last resort and we are very effective in sorting things out without going to court, and also in supporting you through the court process if that last resort is needed. For more information about how we can help you, please get in touch.

Article written by Matthew Richardson, barrister and mediator, Coram Chambers

For more information about Matthew please click here:

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