Book Review

Family Courts without a lawyer - A handbook for litigants in person - Lucy Reed

I have to start this review by coming clean - I haven't been paid to write this review. I contacted Lucy via her linkedin page and rather cheekily asked for a copy to review. She very kindly agreed and I thank her and her publishers (Bath Publishing)  for promptly supplying me with a copy.

I suddenly realised when I was lecturing one day that I was referring to this book when answering delegate questions, at that stage it had just been reviewed in the Guardian but I hadn't read it myself. What a great book - I hadn't read it and I was already recommending it to other people!

Now I have read it, from cover to cover and this is what I think (I still recommend it!)

Things I like

  1. It comes with a website, www.nofamilylawyer.co.uk The website has numerous documents that I genuinely believe would prepare a Litigant in Person for entering a family court.
  2. Lucy recommends other websites with useful resources throughout, there is a minefield of information and it is always useful to have some good recommendations in one place.
  3. A lot of the useful websites and other useful resources can be found on the website that accompanies the book, currently the website access is free.
  4. There is a helpful list of abbreviations and "jargon" explained, this section could help the newly qualified/law student as much as the Litigant in Person.
  5. The book incorporates the new FPR 2010 introduced on the 6th April 2011. Anyone who knows me knows how much I love the new FPR!
  6. Lucy manages to include the main statutory provisions across the family law subject, this is very useful but doesn't bog the reader down with too much information. She includes s25 MCA 1973 (finances), s1 of the Children Act 1989, the Family Law Act 1996.
  7. Chapter 6 - The Law - is a must read, whilst most of the book is peppered with good practical tips, for example "Do not bring everyone and their dog to court for moral support".
  8. The contents list is extensive which means that the busy reader will be able to access the information quickly and efficiently.
  9. Divided into 7 parts, the book breaks down the entire litigation process into smaller easier to handle stages, taking the Litigant in Person from general understanding of family law proceedings- in part one, to getting to grips with procedures and finances after judgement (part 6) and finally, arming them with a tool kit and resources in the seventh and final part of the book.

  10. Lucy is very clear about the parameters for the book’s use or application, essentially it will give a Litigant in Person enough information to arm them in proceedings with or without a Lawyer, but she is clear that it is not a substitute for legal advice or expertise. This is very important. One clear benefit of the book is the chapter dedicated to the different types of legal advice, and legal practitioners available for consultation.

Other things to note

  1. I have the first edition copy, it states the law to be accurate to May 2011, this was one month after the introduction of the FPR 2010. I know how difficult it must have been for Lucy to accurately incorporate the new rules that quickly and therein lies the small problem. There are a few minor issues with accuracy, I'm sure they will all be ironed out by the second edition.
  2. For me the font size of the text is too small, as it is mostly a text book without diagrams or flowcharts, it can be hard to concentrate for long periods.  Its follow the format of a law text book more than it does a guide to the law for ordinary people.
  3. The book is available on an electronic format, it should be easier for the Litigant in Person to navigate because of the great cross referencing (to glossary, definitions, online resources, other websites etc).  It is available to purchase here.
  4. Lucy is pro Resolution (the organisation of family lawyers) and mentions the organisation several times but fails to mention the expertise of those on the Law Society's Family Law Panel which has over 1000 members of which 60% or so are advanced specialists.  This is likely to affect someone's choice if they are looking for a solicitor to represent them during proceedings.
  5. There were a couple of mentions to the Baby P case, I couldn't find a summary to the case and it could confuse the Litigant in Person.
  6. A little bit of Latin creeps in here and there, generally the book is written in clear plain English.
  7. I would like to see a few more worked examples which might be easier to use and explain more complex issues (or could serve to confuse issues!).

Conclusion

I would easily recommend this book to any person who is thinking about using the family court without legal representation. In fact, I do recommend it, to Litigants in Person where I represent the other party. It would make things much easier for the court system if these Litigants were knowledgeable about the court system and had realistic expectations. I think this book offers all Litigants an insight into the court system that comes from practice rather than the usual sources of information, (magazines, soap operas etc).  This book is exactly what is needed at the moment with greater numbers of Litigants in Person accessing the family court system, it has the information that I would want as a Litigant in Person. It does require a certain amount of ability to read and digest but there is simply nothing like it available on the market.

However, If I were a Litigant in Person reading this book the conclusion I would reach is that I need representation. Perhaps not all the time, but for key points throughout the Litigation, the preparation of key statements, after the receipt of important reports.