Traditionalists (and many lawyers are traditionalists) will tell you that for legal matters generally and particularly for Family law it is better for the client to meet ‘face to face’ with their solicitor.
Pre-Covid, meetings in person were the norm. Some law firms had started to induct clients online but the view was that it was difficult to build up the required relationship without meeting the client in person.
So did Covid throw a massive spanner in the works or did it just speed up solicitor /client relationship evolution? And, importantly, what is the required relationship between a client and his/her Family lawyer?
The answer to these questions depends on the type of case that is involved.
Say, for example, a couple split up 18 months ago and relations between them are quite good. They want the lawyer to draw up a Separation Agreement regulating the welfare of the children and the finances. Once that is completed they wish to proceed with a no-fault divorce based on the amount of time they have separated.
The case is not controversial with everything already agreed.
For this type of case, which is more of an administrative process, a close solicitor/client relationship is not essential. It is unlikely that there will be highly stressful moments where the client relies on the Family lawyer to guide them through difficult emotional times. There are no academic legal points that could go either way.
There is no reason, in this type of case, why there has to be any face to face meetings. The whole transaction should be dealt with by a couple of Zoom meetings and email correspondence although there may still have to be one physical meeting if affidavits (sworn statements) require to be signed.
On the other hand, if the case is technically complicated, if there are disagreements about what is best for the children, or if the financial settlement is proving impossible to agree and generally if there is a high level of conflict then the client should have a close relationship with their Family Lawyer.
They are going to go through difficult, stressful times and they will benefit from having someone on their side who they know and trust. Someone who they will rely on to guide them through the minefield that is a contested divorce action.
To build up that trust it seems intuitive that the client should have met their lawyer in person and formed an opinion of the lawyer and started to build that important relationship.
It is, of course, possible to do that on Zoom although the current level of technology restricts the quality of communication. Expression and nuance can be missed or misconstrued. If the client could sit down with a perfect holograph of their Family lawyer that might be different but we are not quite there yet.
So it depends on the type of case but it also depends on the type of client.
Some clients will be happy to keep matters at arm’s length and for them, Zoom will be ideal.
Others will want to build up that relationship and will want to meet in person.
For now, the most likely outcome is that Family Lawyers will use a combination. The majority of the case will be processed online but there may be a crucial moment where a face to face meeting is the best option.