Wirral Life talk to Chris Sweetman and Peter Marples of Fair Result, a team of specialist divorce lawyers offering a new approach to achieve a fairer result for clients.
Why did you set up fair-result ?
Through a frustration with the existing process of divorce where often wives are starved of cash so they can’t defend themselves properly and it takes far too long to get a divorce done because of the processes and the reticence of lawyers to quickly move to negotiation – this was through our own personal experiences as much as supporting people over the past few years informally.
We don’t have timesheets for our team – we just won’t allow it and we don’t have hourly rates for our clients. This means our client is not fearful of contacting us as we won’t bill for telephone conversations or emails.
So why is fair-result different ?
Basically we are a fully fixed fee divorce business – whilst there are plenty that advertise a fixed fee, nobody in the country has a fully fixed fee for every aspect of the divorce and which isn’t payable until the divorce is finalised and the consent order is approved.
So you take the risk and the cash flow risk ?
Absolutely, if the divorce takes 12 months, we don’t get paid a bean until the end and we pay all of the costs of the divorce out of our own resources – court costs, our time, barrister fees, valuation fees etc.
What is the benefit of your approach to the client ?
Basically we cut through the chaff and focus on getting a fair and equitable result for our clients. After all, when a marriage has broken down the arguments are about the financials – so we focus on the
‘marital pot’ from the outset – there is no reason a divorce cant be settled within 4 months, even the most complex of cases.
We bring together financial skills and legal skills in one team and our clients get a barrister opinion on our settlement proposals from the start.
This means we finalise cases more quickly and most importantly the client gets calls answered 24/7 as we don’t want to delay a negotiation.
How is business?
The model is really gaining traction – we are winning 3 – 4 clients a week with little or no advertising and entirely through word of mouth. Most importantly, we are settling cases, despite lawyers wanting to delay things for no real reason often. We are even in discussions with professionals in Australia who love what we are doing.
We are currently working on some exciting exclusive contracts which will be announced soon which will put us in the position of becoming the largest divorce practice in the UK within the next 2 years.
So how does it work?
80% of our clients at the moment come from people who are dissatisfied with existing service levels and escalating costs. We commence by having a detailed discussion about the circumstances,
we talk extensively about the marital pot and using our AI technology we form an assessment of the pot and provide advice on how we should move forward. At this point we provide the client with a full fixed price quote – whether it takes a month, year, two years.
Within a week of engagement we will be corresponding with the spouse if they are not represented directly or with the ‘other side’ and provide a proposal for settlement – yes within the first week!
We then work in the old fashioned way – we pick up the phone, try and talk to the other side (often not easy) and get a round the table discussion to settle cases – more often than not it works but there are always lawyers who will want to clock up the fees.
Only when the consent order is approved by the court, we will issue our agreed invoice – we have never changed an invoice from our initial quote – ever.
And our clients are happy.
What have you found that has surprised you since you started?
The most common complaint of clients is that they experience delays and a lack of communication with their lawyers – this to us is surprising – we don’t switch off at 5pm because often our clients are only available at 8pm when the kids have been put to bed and they are worried about something – so we are as busy at the weekend and evenings as we are during the day.
The numbers – after all, if the marriage has broken down then it’s all about the numbers and most lawyers aren’t that good at the numbers. Our joint expertise with an ex senior partner of KPMG means we can value businesses, we understand assets and liabilities and we get to the issues quickly – it has made a major difference to our approach and success.
And finally lawyers just aren’t incentivised to settle cases – an approach of billing based on time on the clock is nothing to do with value. We invoice based on an agreed price – if we delay or are inefficient, our client doesn’t suffer and our clients should be able to contact us out of hours. It also means our clients can have a relationship with us knowing that we will work hard for them and they shouldn’t be concerned. Finally spouses cant deprive our clients of cash during the divorce in fear of bringing them to the table meaning they don’t get a good settlement.
It is making a huge difference.
So you are taking the commercial risk ?
Yes and why shouldn’t we – we shouldn’t be paid for a case that is unnecessarily delayed – there will be cases where our costs are greater than our income but that is just life. We will get it right 80% of the time.
What’s the overall objective of the business?
To transform divorce in the UK over the next 10 years. We are building significant AI capability and a unique platform with support from some of the greatest IT brains in the world. That will help us expand further.
And why should divorce not be the same as conveyancing with fixed fees as the norm in the future – there is far too much unnecessary process, meaningless emails and letters which delay the process and ignore, it is a very stressful time for clients – we are there to support our clients emotionally as much as help them with the divorce itself.
So in summary – if we have changed the profession to a truly fixed fee model by 2030 we will have achieved our objective and the 100,000 divorcing couples each year will be the beneficiaries.
Are you growing your team?
Absolutely, we want people who want to change the world with us. People who will never have to complete a timesheet ever again and people who are focussed on resolving cases using tenacity, spirit and a focus on making a difference. We will also reward our people differently so they share in our success. In return we are an organisation where we will work hard, have some fun at the same time and above all will be entirely client centric.
So are there any specific sectors you are looking to work with?
We are delighted to have Mark Wright join us as a director and shareholder. He is a great guy who has himself gone through the pain of divorce. Mark is local to the Wirral and well known nationally. He has done some excellent work with professional sportsmen and women and their spouses and we see that he has a growing part of our business – not just because some are high net wealth individuals but there are large numbers of retired sportsmen and women that get divorced shortly after they have retired and we believe we can help them emotionally as well as professionally.
Where is your focus?
Our focus is those couples who have been in relatively long marriages and who will have a family home, maybe a business, some pension provision and simply don’t want to be married any longer. They should be simple to settle but history tells you that they are the cases where people end up arguing about non material things and not be ‘penny wise, pound foolish’ – we talk frankly and we won’t put forward a settlement offer which isn’t fair and isn’t the basis of an equitable settlement because it will only delay matters and the bottom line we will not get that result for our client. We never fall out with clients but we often tell them that their expectations are not reasonable!
View the article in Wirral Life
Contact the Fair Result team about their revolutionary approach to divorce.