Family law is less intimidating and more efficient than ever before, according to a Dundee-based family lawyer who launched her business just before lockdown.
Marking her first year in business following a 15-year career with one of Scotland’s largest law firms, Amanda Wilson of Amanda Wilson Family Law believes that, despite the challenges of 2020, Covid has presented a number of opportunities and benefits for families requiring legal support.
One of the benefits takes effect at the outset of any client relationship – onboarding. Pre-Covid, lawyers mainly did this in-person, with their clients coming into the office with their original identification documents before any work could start. Since Covid, lawyers have been able to do this online, allowing them to start working with the client sooner. Running a largely paperless office, most of Ms Wilson’s meetings are also now online, saving time and effort for clients, as well as allowing cases to progress despite illness or Covid restrictions.
She said: “Many people are nervous about meeting a lawyer and family law can be particularly emotive as clients are talking about their family life. Most clients come to me after struggling with their situation for some time so, if we can minimise that anxiety by meeting online at a time that suits them, it makes the process much easier and more efficient. In addition, meeting online can save the client time and money, reducing legal costs.
“Families also have more choice now when it comes to choosing a family lawyer. In the past, families would tend to choose a lawyer on their doorstep, particularly if they might need to raise a court action locally. However, with most family court hearings now taking place online, families can access a wider choice of firms.”
Indeed, one of the most significant changes is the introduction of virtual child welfare and other procedural hearings, making life easier for clients and the legal profession.
Ms Wilson continued: “Covid has had a huge effect on the legal system with a heavy backlog of criminal cases still to be dealt with. However, in my view, moving civil hearings online has been a considerable step forward.
“Most of my clients have never dealt with a lawyer before, apart from perhaps buying or selling a house, so the prospect of making their case within a courtroom can be extremely nerve-wracking and intimidating. In the past, clients could also be hanging around court for hours, sometimes in a witness room with lots of other people, whilst they waited for their case to call. Often this time would all be charged to the client. Moving hearings online is more efficient. Depending on the type of hearing, clients will sometimes be given an allotted time slot, saving the client and lawyer time, keeping costs to a minimum and reducing the anxiety associated with attending court.”
With premises at Dundee One, Ms Wilson has also recruited two members of staff within her first year in business. Legal secretary Alix MacKay joined the practice in April with seven years’ experience as a legal secretary with two local firms. Meanwhile, University of Abertay law graduate Sophie Fairweather has recently been appointed as a legal secretary while pursuing her legal career.
Ms Wilson added: “The first year has been exceptionally busy, partly due to the growing number of separations and divorces family lawyers are seeing due to Covid but we have also been busy with a wide range of family work, including child disputes, prenups, cohabitation matters, adoptions and surrogacies.
“Family law has traditionally been a fast-moving area of law and several changes have taken effect in the last year alone, so gaining specialist rather than general support is more important than ever. Family law matters can be highly charged and stressful, but I believe the changes sparked by Covid will make the process that little bit easier for families in the future, allowing them to resolve their situation while keeping delays, cost and stress to a minimum.”
As one of only three Dundee lawyers accredited as a specialist in family law by the Law Society of Scotland, Ms Wilson, who graduated in law from the University of Dundee in 2005, has dedicated her working life to supporting local families.
And, as a strong believer that court is a last resort, she is also trained in collaborative law and is Dundee’s only Family Law Arbitration Group Scotland (FLAGS) arbitrator, using various skills and techniques to help clients reach a dignified and amicable settlement.