How to communicate with a divorce solicitor
Most of us find communicating with a solicitor daunting, whether it’s your own or your soon-to-be-ex-husband’s.
In How to communicate with a divorce solicitor, I will take you through the main dos and don’ts to keep communication productive and keep your divorce on track.
Bookmark it and come back to it – solicitor’s correspondence can be triggering, so return to this guide every time you find your hackles rising.
Do: remember what their role is
It may sound obvious, but remember what their role is. A solicitor is a legal professional. They are there to give legal advice – either to you or your ex.
Remember that unless your solicitor is working for a fixed fee every communication will generate a bill. Even if you are on a fixed fee, anything that the solicitor deems to be outside that arrangement will be billed – so be careful. Check what communication is included and what isn’t.
While they need to get a flavour of your situation, and if it’s high conflict they need to understand that, they don’t need the ins and outs of all your disagreements. Don’t get me wrong, they’ll gladly listen… at their standard rate. No-one is better off by using a solicitor as a counsellor.
Don’t ask a solicitor to do a job they’re not qualified to do. You wouldn’t get your cleaner to re-wire your house, would you? So don’t take your emotional issues to your lawyer. Read up on how to build a support team here.
Do: start as you mean to go on
One of the best ways to get the most out of your solicitor is to be clear about expectations.
Your solicitor expects instructions from you about how you want them to proceed – so you need to know what you want them to do. They can explain your options but you have to choose. This is why I always recommend getting clued up on divorce before instructing a solicitor. You can read all about getting divorce ready in my book, ‘How To Be A Lady Who Leaves’.
Before you instruct them ask them how long they generally take to reply. If you have experienced being ignored as part of a pattern of abuse and you find it triggering, let them know. Equally, you are responsible for managing your emotions so get support with this if you need to. How to communicate with a divorce solicitor starts with the recognition that it’s your responsibility to communicate with them what they need to know.
A good solution focused solicitor (you can find a list and resources here) will encourage you to work in partnership with them. They’ll encourage you to get appropriate support from services other than themselves if they’re not best placed to help you.
Do: stick to the facts
Keep your communication factual and to the point. Remember your solicitor is charging you in six-minute blocks to read and reply to any correspondence. The longer and more rambling your letters are, the more it’ll cost. Solicitors love a letter they can read and action quickly – it’s one less file to deal with today.
When responding to communication from your ex’s solicitor keep it factual and to the point. Just as with your own solicitor, you’re more likely to get a timely response.
Do: remember it’s not just about you
Many people feel that they are being ignored by their solicitors. Mostly (but not always) this is ego thinking. Of course, for you, your divorce is the most important thing in the world right now. But for your solicitor, however, dedicated they are, you are one of many.
A good solicitor will be a busy solicitor. Your solicitor has to balance the needs of all their clients and the closer you get to settling or litigation the more the solicitor will focus on you.
Equally, if you don’t get a response from your ex’s solicitor, it’s not that they’re being rude. They won’t respond if a) your ex owes them money or b) they don’t have any instructions from your ex by which to respond.
Don’t: take it personally
Your ego will get in the way when you receive correspondence from your ex’s solicitor that you find sharp or controlling. It’s upsetting. When it first happens it can feel like a kick in the stomach, particularly when you have been amicable and courteous. You may wonder where its come from.
Unfortunately, it’s part of the language and game of divorce. Most of it is posturing so take a breath and a step away. The letter is designed to assert their authority – it doesn’t mean they are ‘right’ or that you need to acquiesce or kowtow. It’s not personal. It just feels personal.
You may get a letter that is plain rude. It doesn’t happen often but I have read some frankly appalling letters from solicitors who call themselves professional. It’s sad because they bring the reputation of the profession down.
If you do receive these types of letter, don’t retaliate. It doesn’t mean they will get away with it. You can make formal complaints either to Resolution or the Law Society at the conclusion of your case.
Don’t: fight fire with fire
If you receive a letter you find offensive it’s tempting to fire one back. Don’t. If you’re represented, let your solicitor handle it. The family law community isn’t that large and there’s every possibility that your solicitor knows your ex’s solicitor, at least professionally. They will know how they operate and what their tactics are. Let your solicitor reply – now that is one thing you do pay them for!
If you’re self-representing, write the letter you wish you could send. Let your rage boil over onto the page. Then – delete it. Or print it and rip it up. You’ll feel better having got it all out. But to get to the end of your divorce as smoothly as possible, you need to keep the heat down when you’re communicating with your ex or their solicitor.
So take the letter, ignore the commentary and look at what it’s saying. What is it asking you to do?
If you’re not sure you have to respond to a request, get advice. If it’s in relation to court directions comply as concisely as you can. Don’t add your own digs and commentary, particularly if you plan to make formal complaints in the future. By all means state calmly you find the tones of the letters threatening or aggressive and request them to be courteous then leave it alone.
I can help
Helping clients interpret, process and respond to communication from their ex or solicitors is one of the most practical and powerful parts of my work. When you’re feeling out of your depth or like you’re not good enough it’s easy to become defensive and not even realise it. How to communicate with a divorce solicitor has given you the tools to change the way you deal with your communication.
Still feeling out of your depth?
I can help you step back and see the bigger picture. Struggling to communicate? Not sure how to respond to that text message, email or voicemail? Tempted to shut down or respond with the same level of aggression you feel is coming your way?
Let me help you make sense of it and stick to the facts. Not only does it move your divorce forward more smoothly, it means you stay above the petty power plays and mind games – you set your own agenda and build your sense of self-worth.
Here’s what one of my clients wrote to me after I helped craft a response to her soon-to-be ex-husband:
“Thank you soooo much! Your insight, reflections and the way you word things is incredibly helpful. You manage to phrase things in a way that is clear and assertive but at the same time comes from a place of respect and empathy”.
Book in a free half hour chat to see how I can help you.
Emma Heptonstall, the Divorce Alchemist is author of the Amazon best selling book How to be a Lady Who Leaves, the Ultimate Guide to Getting Divorce Ready. A former lawyer, Emma is a family mediator and founder of Get Divorce Ready the online self-study and group programmes. Emma has been featured on BBC Radio, The Telegraph, the iPaper and in Marie Claire Magazine. To find out more visit www.emmaheptonstall.com