Is it wrong for lawyers to advertise divorce services?

I’m going to put my neck on the line here and make a shocking public confession: we help people get divorced. On the surface this would seem like an innocuous statement, and indeed an obvious one coming from a law firm, but it would appear there are those who find it a hard pill to swallow. In an article in the Birmingham Mail, Tory councillor Peter Douglas-Osborn ‘lams’ a local legal firm for pitching a sign in the city centre advertising its family legal services.
“It seems the family is now under attack from some members of the legal profession. “We must ask whether touting for business amongst the saddest part of life is encouraging people to end their relationships and do long term damage to children.”
So, what exactly is the offending message, which represents an attack on the family unit and urges the nation to question its consideration for the wellbeing of its children?
“Unhappy with your partner” Speak to us in confidence and discuss your options’.
That’ it. In making the significant leap between the actual facts and his conclusion, I believe Cllr Douglas-Osborn has overlooked some key points. Firstly, yes it would be wrong to promote divorce, but the sign doesn’t do that. It doesn’t even mention it. However, it does say the options can be discussed in confidence. A solicitor will never encourage divorce. We are duty bound to ensure the client understands all the options available and has explored all other possibilities. These include talking to their partner, relationship counselling and mediation. Secondly, there’ an important distinction to be made between advertising a service and ‘touting for business’, as Douglas-Osborn puts it. When we advertise our property services, we’re not encouraging people to move house. When we advertise our will writing services, we’re not encouraging people to die. When we advertise a service, we’re letting people know it’ there if they need it. Advertising legal help for divorces doesn’t encourage people to end their relationships. The decision to get divorced is the final step in an agonising personal process. To imply anyone’ decision might be swayed by a sign in the street trivialises the heartbreak. Thirdly, it’s naive to assume that divorce is always the more damaging option for children, where the alternative is to continue in an acrimonious relationship. The councillor does make one sensible point: a divorce is one of the saddest parts of life. But for many it is also an end to an unbearable situation. Thankfully, the stigma of divorce has dissipated & we’re no longer in an age when people feel they have no choice but to remain in unhappy or even abusive relationships. In the 21st century, unhappy couples have unprecedented choice, including access to counselling and mediation to resolve disputes and avoid divorce. These will always be the first ports of call. However, when a couple faces a crisis they need to be able to plan for EVERY eventuality by being aware of ALL the options. There’ no sense in pretending divorce isn’t one of them. Chris Setford, Partner at Setfords Solicitors, Guildford For more information on divorce and legal support in other family matters, click here.