Jo Edwards becomes new Chair of Resolution

News Release

04 Apr 2014

  • Partner at Pennington Manches takes over as Chair of 6,500-strong membership body.
  • Inaugural speech decries cuts to legal aid as having “devastating effect” on public and practitioners.
  • Time of “huge transition” for Resolution members.
  • Pledges to continue to support all members, whatever their area of expertise, so that “no-one is left behind.”

Jo Edwards, a partner at Pennington Manches, and leading DR practitioner, today became Chair of Resolution, the membership body for family law practitioners.

In her inaugural speech to over 300 delegates at the organisation’s National Conference in Manchester, Jo outlined the challenges currently facing family lawyers, and what Resolution is doing to help practitioners and the public address them.

She takes over as Chair from Liz Edwards and paid tribute to her predecessor, saying “it is remarkable how far Resolution has come over the past two years with Liz at the helm, during a time of unprecedented change.”

During her speech, Jo criticised last year’s cuts to legal aid as having a “devastating impact on our members and, more importantly, the people they had previously been able to help.”

Commenting on the fact that only eight exceptional funding applications for family cases were successful, out of 617 made in the past year, Jo added:

“We know that the promised ‘safety valve’ of the availability of exceptional funding is not providing very much relief at all.”

Jo also outlined how the organisation is responding to the challenges facing its members and the separating families they seek to help, highlighting in particular:

  • the recent launch of the government-funded Family Matters service, providing free support targeted at those previously eligible for legal aid;
  • a new online service to allow Resolution members to create, edit and save consent orders;
  • marketing support, including new logos for every Resolution member to use; and
  • a new financial product, in conjunction with Iceberg Client Credit, to provide loans at preferential rates to clients of Resolution members to help fund legal advice.

As former chair of Resolution’s Dispute Resolution Committee, Jo pledged to provide support to all members, to help practitioners offering different disciplines to work more closely together, “to provide a range of options which are seamless and focus on the client.”

And Jo looked to the future, announcing the establishment of a new National ‘YRes’ Committee for Resolution – a body to represent new and recently-qualified practitioners, bringing together the local networks that exist in Resolution’s regions. She said:

“It’s crucial that we all encourage the next generation of family lawyers. I’m looking to the existing YRes members in the room today to be the leaders of tomorrow.”

Jo also announced Resolution’s imminent Manifesto for Family Law, which will contain a series of proposals to help improve the way separation and divorce, is dealt with in England and Wales.

ENDS


TEXT OF SPEECH:

CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY

Good morning everybody and welcome to conference.

For those who don't know me, my name is Jo Edwards and as of about half an hour ago I’m your National Chair. I’m proud and honoured to have been chosen as your Chair, and can think of no better first duty than to be addressing you here today.

I would like first to take a moment to thank Tricia for her typically warm Manchester welcome, and indeed to thank Resolution Manchester region for hosting us this year. When we were last in Manchester for conference back in 2010 I managed to catch a couple of games at Old Trafford and I confess that when I suggested Manchester as a venue this year, it was with the ulterior motive of hoping to squeeze in another match. That’ll teach me to make suggestions before knowing how the season would pan out…

Anyway, football or no football, I am particularly proud to give my first address as Chair in the city of my birth, and delighted to see so many of you here. And for those who know me and have asked the question, despite my love of karaoke I won't be getting musical during any part of this address. Let's save that for later.

I can't move on without saying a few words about Liz Edwards, our outgoing Chair (and no relation). In taking over from Liz, I’m conscious I have some huge shoes to fill. Liz deserves a lot of credit for the work she’s done, and it is remarkable how far Resolution has come over the past 2 years with her at the helm, during a time of unprecedented change. As Colin Jones, our Chief Executive commented last week, like a stick of rock, if you cut Liz down the middle you would find Resolution running through her.

You’ll hear more from me about her tonight, but for now let me just say – Liz, thank you so much for everything you’ve done for our members.

Time of Change / Legal Aid Cuts

For now I want to return to the theme of change and how we are all managing it together and adapting the way we practice. It is a time of massive transformation for family law, the biggest in a generation, and that is posing challenges for us all, working, as we do, within family practices and firms of all shapes and sizes.

This week marks one year since the changes to family legal aid. LASPO has had a devastating impact on our members and, more importantly, on the people they had previously been able to help. We know that the promised "safety valve" of the availability of exceptional funding is not providing very much relief at all; at the last count only 8 successful applications in family cases, out of 617 made in the past year.

Family lawyers are not unique in this respect, of course, and we stand shoulder to shoulder with our colleagues in housing, welfare, immigration, and more recently criminal law, in decrying these cuts which are causing irreparable harm to the fabric of our society.

I’m not interested in the rationale.

I’m not interested in the rhetoric around ‘fiscal responsibility.’

And I’m not particularly interested in how the government views our profession.

The plain fact is, when you hear some of the nonsensical stories about victims of domestic abuse who are not able to get legal aid because they can’t produce the right piece of paper – whatever way you look at it, it is just wrong.

The government are also cutting off their nose to spite their face. They said they want more people to choose mediation. Yet publicly-funded mediation numbers are down. We warned before the cuts were introduced that if you remove solicitors and Citizens Advice Bureaux from the equation, you remove the key source of referrals into mediation.

We also emphasised the importance of legal advice during the mediation process.

Sadly, they didn’t listen at the time. But thanks to the hard work of our members and staff, together with the fact we have a new family justice minister, there are signs that the government are starting to realise that, shock horror, we do actually know a little bit about how these things work…

As a profession we need to adapt too, with mediators and dispute resolvers, solicitors and the courts working with, not against, one another. Because the reality is that whilst we can make appropriate noises where there is particular injustice, more broadly, we have to accept the harsh reality that the cuts are here to stay.

Further changes ahead

And there are further changes ahead.

The Single Family Court

The Child Arrangements Programme

The rolling out of the revised Public Law Outline

And other measures in the Children and Families Act, which recently became law.

It is a period of huge transition for our members; for the judiciary too, and I’m delighted that the President of the Family Division has joined us today – Sir James, I know we are all looking forward to hearing what you have to say, and that I speak for everyone here when I say we are committed to a continued positive and productive working relationship with you and your colleagues.

Resolution’s response to changes

So, given the changes ahead, what are we, as an organisation, doing about them?

I’ve mentioned the dialogue we’re having with the MoJ about the drop in mediation numbers, and we’re pressing them on a range of other matters, such as the evidence gateway for legal aid.

We’re also submitting evidence to the Justice Select Committee about the impact that LASPO has had.

And we’re talking to the MoJ about ways in which more separated couples can be signposted to and supported through mediation – we need them to recognise the valuable role that our members play in helping people reach agreements outside of court.

This time last year, you may remember we launched Family Matters, a programme to help separating and separated parents who would have previously been eligible for legal aid. This is being piloted in three areas, and the results are encouraging. After engaging in the programme, 70% of parents felt better about their situation, and one in five were referred to mediation.

We want to continue to innovate and to develop new ways of working, placing our members at the heart of supporting families through separation.

That desire to innovate has been at the centre of developing new services for our members.

This year we’ve launched our precedents for consent orders online, included as part of your membership fee, and the response has been fantastic, both in numbers signing up and the positive feedback we’ve had.

New funding product

And there’s another way we’re helping our members in tough times.

I know what a struggle it can be to balance the desire to go the extra mile to help people, with the need to run a viable practice. The commercial reality is that, like other professionals, we cannot work for free, despite the government seemingly having other ideas.

That’s why I’m delighted to announce that, after very careful consideration and a rigorous selection process, we are partnering with Iceberg to offer a new financial product, exclusively available through our members, to help clients of limited means to pay for family legal services. This will be through an unsecured loan, at preferential rates, which is paid back after a case is settled, with minimal risk to your firm.

This new exclusive service will help you help more people, without having an impact on your firm’s cashflow.

We’ll be providing more details on how you can access this product in The Review, and in future e-bulletins. Iceberg are also here at Conference, if you want to find out more today.

We’re also providing help with marketing, and have recently launched logos for every single member to use, so that the public knows what it means to choose a Resolution member.

When they look at the logo, clients need to know that our Code of Practice runs through everything we do. It’s why dispute resolution is so important, it’s why we campaigned hard against cuts to legal aid, and it’s why we launched Family Matters.

It’s also why we have just finished overhauling our complaints procedure, so it is more closely aligned with our Code of Practice. And we are also modernising our accreditation so that all members can communicate clearly the value of being a Resolution specialist.

So I want us all to focus on our core values. We refer to the team delivering Family Matters as “Trusted Guides,” but in truth, that’s what we all are.

Supporting ALL members

But what of my time as chair, you may ask? What do I hope to achieve?

During my term, I will work to support our members, making sure you all have the tools to do what you do best – whether you spend your time negotiating, litigating, using collaborative practice, mediating, arbitrating, or a combination of these – I want to ensure that no-one is left behind. I want to focus on ways to get practitioners offering different disciplines to work more closely together, to provide a range of options which are seamless and client-focused. This will be a theme of pod liaison officers days and of this year's DR week, now in its third year.

Influencing policy

Part of supporting our members is continuing to push for changes in the law, given that the law underpins everything we do and all of these process options. Harnessed by Rachel Rogers, we've worked tirelessly to respond to the very many government consultations issued in the last couple of years, and we’ve been increasingly commended for the quality of our responses. Ours is a voice which is respected, listened to, and often sought out.

You can see this in the success we had on the parental involvement clause in the Children and Families Bill. Our children committee, in tandem with the NSPCC and Coram, successfully lobbied for this to be amended to make clear that "involvement" is not to be taken to mean any particular division of a child's time.

This was a significant victory for parents and children, and one of my priorities as Chair is to build on this, to do more proactive policy campaigning, and to put us on the front foot.

With this goal in mind, we will shortly be launching our Manifesto for Family Law. This will form a clear statement of where we believe changes are needed to family law in order to improve the experience of separating couples. It will form the basis of our policy activity, and our communications with government and the opposition, in the run up to the next General Election and beyond.

We’ll be making the final document available online for all to see, but the headlines shouldn’t be a major surprise – divorce without blame; greater clarity about financial outcomes on divorce; funding to protect the vulnerable when their relationships breakdown; keeping people – especially parents – out of court where possible; and legal protection for the millions of people who cohabit without marrying.

Pulling this together is a real team effort, co-ordinated by our staff team and involving various committees, all of whom are looking at these policy statements and developing the detail. And we are grateful to the many members who have taken the time to engage in our recent all-member consultation on our priorities and policy asks.

I know a number of regions are discussing it with local members as well, and this reiterates how lucky we are to have so many members actively engaged with the work that we do. It makes me feel very privileged to be your Chair.

Regional, National, and International

I want to get out to all regions and meet members at grass roots, face to face, to listen to your concerns and learn about your ideas. Our last all member survey showed high satisfaction levels with the organisation and our direction of travel, but there is no room for complacency, and no substitute for meeting people face to face.

I also want to make sure we are tapping into the knowledge that exists beyond our borders, as well as sharing what we know, by working more closely with organisations on the international stage. This is something very close to my heart, having last weekend attended a meeting in Milan at which Resolution became a founding member of the European Network of Collaborative Professionals. It’s important that our members benefit from learning about developments in family law in other jurisdictions, as well as taking advantage of the cross-referral opportunities available.

More broadly, during my time as Chair, I want to make sure we build on the work started 30 years ago by John Cornwell. Another founding member, Richard Sax, reminded me recently of how Resolution was formed and the dozen or so visionaries who came together and then spread the word across the country. It is hard to imagine they could have predicted an organisation with 6,500 members today. Along the way, we have had some fabulous chairs and they have all played a part in pushing us forward, making us into the organisation we are today, and one which I know John continued to be proud of.

Supporting the next generation of family lawyers

But what of the future? Succession planning is rightly a big part of what we do. In 30 years' time, I wonder who will be standing where I am now?

We are fortunate to have a number of YRes members attending this year’s conference and the number of regional YRes groups has grown in recent years. This is something that’s very close to my heart, as my first involvement with Resolution was as a member of London YRes when I first joined.

It’s crucial that we all encourage the next generation of family lawyers. If you are just starting out in your career and want to be part of YRes, we are very keen for you to get involved. And if you are, like me, ORes (O in this context meaning "older"), I would encourage you to think about sponsoring a YRes member from your firm or from your region to attend next year’s conference, or to get involved in some other way; not just because it helps their professional development, but also because we need to nurture, as John Cornwell's widow Claire said to me so poignantly recently, the next "modern day John".

Our support for YRes is why Resolution is in the throes of establishing a new national YRes committee, building on the enthusiasm and excellent work that takes place in regional committees across the country. I’m looking to the existing YRes members in the room today to be the leaders of tomorrow.

So I’m proud to lead – and be a member of – Resolution. I’m proud of the hundreds of members who get involved, and I’m proud of the fact that we are an open organisation that welcomes anyone who wants to make a positive contribution.

Most of all, I’m proud of what we’ve achieved for our members and their clients.

And I am determined to make you proud of what we go on to achieve, together, in the future.

Thank you - and have a great conference.