The Observer runs a piece today on the false economy that cut-price online divorce services may represent. Appearing on behalf of The Solicitors is Linda Lee (President, Law Society) and a couple of family solicitors; appearing on behalf of The Websites is Mark Keenan of Divorce Online (previous posts here and here).
Of note is the submission by Divorce Online that they recommend that people seek advice from solicitors BEFORE using their service, although as noted from the article they appear only to specifically recommend this when giving interviews – it’s not in the Ts & Cs. I’ve had a quick scoot around Divorce Online tonight and in fairness to them they do have quite a lot of helpful general advice and information available to visitors, but I confess I found it quite difficult to navigate and couldn’t see anything specifically urging potential clients to see a solicitor before take off (I didn’t read it all). There certainly isn’t any such warning on the home page.
[And here I get bored with the judgment phraseology conceit]
Overall I’m a little puzzled, given how comprehensive the guidance is on their website at the quote in the article that “we don’t give advice” – plainly they do in the sense that they provide a wealth of information to read prior to buying their services which are implicitly an alternative to the costs of legal advice through a solicitor.
Also slightly contradicting the “we don’t give advice” quote is the enjoinder on the home page to “Call Our Experts Now – Free Impartial Advice” above a photograph of a sympathetic and well informed call operative and details of their advice line which is open 7 days a week. It is unclear whether this advice would be provided by a lawyer, but information elsewhere on the site describing it as a corporate member of the Institute of Paralegals (and basic economics) tends to suggest not. Is this advice on the services offered or – you know – advice advice? (note the word “impartial”).
I’ve had an exchange with Mark Keenan of Divorce Online before on the question of whether or not cheap online divorce might end up costing more or end up more complicated and readers can find it in the comments to the Divorce in Haste Repent at Leisure post, and I don’t propose to rehearse that here. But whilst acknowledging that this may be an excellent and appropriate service for some, I was uneasy then and I’m uneasy now that it may be a service purchased by families for whom it is not the best way forward.