Jenny Beck comments on breaches of professional code and best practice guidance in the new BBC drama
I grew up in a household of doctors. We could never watch any medical drama without ceaseless, irritating comment about how unrealistic symptoms and procedures were.
Whilst I have absolutely no doubt that it is unlikely that so many peculiar and life-threatening illnesses and accidents can befall the small population of Port Isaac in Doc Martin I am able to suspend disbelief with a view to enjoying a good drama. Against this backdrop I was excited to see The Split, not least because of its excellent cast.
Needless to say within moments history was repeating itself. I was wincing within the first scene, pacing around the living room telling everybody about how unrealistic it was. It is peppered with breaches of professional code and best practice guidance.
Whilst I can accept this in pursuit of dramatic content, my main concern is that many members of the public might believe that the majority of family lawyers seek to line their own pockets rather than promote the best interests of the clients’ families. Such an assumption would be incorrect and could put people off seeking the help to access the solutions they need. Many of these solutions start with visiting a lawyer to get some early legal advice to understand rights and mechanisms for dispute resolution which do not necessarily always involve litigation.
In the first scene a husband and wife attend the husband’s solicitors together. The solicitor (played by – Nicola Walker) doesn’t actually know the reason why her rich client is attending with his wife. Irregular and rather surprising but nothing compared to the an uncomfortable situation which unfolds when the husband discloses he is divorcing his wife within the solicitor’s office. This is ridiculous on every level. The lawyer ( Nicola Walker ) is later reprimanded by her boss for being reluctant to litigate.
After her mother’s firm (from which she’d recently departed) poaches the rich client (enter breaches of data protection and professional misconduct) our heroine ends up acting for the wife of the lost client……….. clearly a conflict of interest and breach of our professional rules.
The impression given is that there is a real dog eat dog fight among the solicitors themselves and that clients’ best interests are secondary at best to the solicitors’ decision making.
These priorities are further emphasized where the two sisters (both solicitors for separate firms) engage in a round table meeting with their respective clients to discuss amendments to a script for the stand up comic husband. Neither client seems aware that their lawyers are related to each other, which would be deeply unprofessional. Nicola Walker clearly allows her anger at her sister to influence decisions in the case and excludes her client from having any input in respect of those decisions. She says to her client, ‘You just have to trust me’.
The reality is our clients do trust us, they have to. They have come to us at the most vulnerable time during their lives and we have a professional duty to work in their best interests, engaging with them and empowering them to make sensible decisions throughout their cases. To breach this duty is professionally and ethically wrong.
The round table meeting is especially odd as it is set up to negotiate the comedians script amendments. No laughing matter however as the negotiating chip appears to be contact with the parties’ child. Worse still, the child in question is hidden in another room whilst his parents spar. In over 25 years of practice no solicitor I know would allow a child to be used as a bargaining chip in this way. Decisions about who children see and stay with are made on the basis of a child’s best interests. They should be uncoupled from other decisions made in the case and, for this reason, most good family solicitors would urge their clients to work together to find a way that promotes children’s best interests supports co parenting. To threaten to withdraw contact unless changes are made to a script which has no bearing on the child’s best interests would be wholly inappropriate.
Ultimately, following the round table meeting, the husband is left with the wife’s solicitors who speak to him directly, again, wholly inappropriate but topped on the scale of professional no no’s by the subsequent scene where the husband’s solicitor walks into a bar and begins kissing her client!
I could go on …. it’s drama and I fear I’m sounding like my own parents used to over episodes of General Hospital in the 80’s. However, there is something decidedly unsavory about drama at the expense of the distress of people undergoing family breakdown. Worse, from a professional perspective, is the idea that family lawyers feed off the emotionally vulnerable. We don’t. Most are careful, diligent and support a non-confrontational approach in accordance with both our professional rules and code of practice.
Those professional rules are hard-wired into our day to day practice by our regulator whilst our voluntary code of practice subscribed to by over 6,500 members of Resolution adds some finer detail.
It is a shame family lawyers have been presented in such a poor light and if readers want a less expensive and more professional approach they should ensure they have a Resolution member or, better still, an accredited specialist who will help them find a non-confrontational approach to resolving family disputes which will benefit them emotionally, financially and, most importantly, allow them to walk away from a difficult period in their lives with dignity and safe in the knowledge that the impact on their children has been minimized.
Jenny gives her view on the drama in this week’s Woman’s Hour, discussing the conduct of the lawyers portrayed on screen and how this differs to the work and conduct of professional family lawyers on a day to day basis. The episode can be found 33 minutes into the programme at this link.
Beck Fitzgerald offer fixed fee and low cost divorce services. To speak to one of our team contact us on 020 7101 3090. For more information see https://beckfitzgerald.co.uk/funding-your-case/
Award winning family Lawyer and Director
Jenny is an award-winning family lawyer, committed to accessible justice and the rights of the individual. She is an entrepreneurial business leader, successful in creating and running high performing teams.
She is the current Chair of:
Law Society’s Access to Justice Committee
The ABS and New Law Advisory Council
Co-chair of the Legal Aid Practitioners Group