The problem 

Getting a divorce is never easy. The process for divorcing and separating in England and Wales is a broken model. The emotional and financial cost is extremely high for individuals, families and society.

It’s estimated that half a million people divorce or separate in England and Wales each year and the cost of family breakdown to the UK taxpayer is estimated to be as much as £51 billion annually.

Historically, traditional routes to divorce and separate were accessible through a set of gatekeepers – lawyers and solicitors who were affordable because of legal aid.

Fast forward to 2013, legal aid and access to justice is removed for all except the most serious cases of domestic abuse or violence.  For many, divorce is much less available than it once was.

The amicable origin story

Having had a personal experience of an expensive and traumatic divorce, as well as professional expertise coaching couples through the process, Kate Daly (amicable’s co-founder) knew there had to be a better way to divorce and separate so created amicable.

A focus on collaboration, people and process

Their approach is unique in the family law world. Unlike the traditional lawyer route for divorce, amicable works with couples not individuals, combining coaching, automated processes and where necessary targeted legal input.

A big boost for this consumer-focused design decision has been a January 2020 High Court decision (England & Wales). That decision validated amicable‘s unique approach and important access to justice role (see below for further detail).

Removing friction with the targeted use of technology

amicable uses document automation (for data capture and legal document generation), interactive triage tools and secure online meeting rooms to handle the legal and procedural elements of divorce and separation.

Simple but effective, this significantly saves time capturing, transferring and utilising information between the parties and their coaches.

In turn, this helps free up time and attention, enabling greater focus on coaching couples through the emotional journey of parting ways.

This fusion of technology and psychology offers a new way for couples to untie the knot, amicably.

Why amicable’s mission is important

Many people want to divorce or separate amicably. However, most of the existing routes and the current legal process in England and Wales can make this very difficult.

The below infographic summarises the 2018 figures (the latest available from the Office of National Statistics):

ONS divorce statistics infographic

Relationships form because two people have an emotional connection so the priority if a relationship comes to an end, should be tending to the emotional journey, not the legal paperwork. This isn’t often the case and is the main reason divorce and separations often turn sour and costs spiral out of control.

Hence, amicable’s focus on streamlining the process through technology such as document automation, interactive triage tools and similar (see below), combining it with a collaborative rather than individualistic approach.

Divorce isn’t likely to go away, but a lot can be done to improve the process, outcomes and costs.

How amicable helps to solve this issue

Like lawtomated, amicable believes the law should be affordable, understandable, and accessible.  amicable combines user-friendly tech with the all-important consumer-centric human touch. A dedicated coach manages everything and supports both people through the emotional and legal journey of separating.

The focus is on the future and an arrangement that makes sense for each unique circumstance.

1. Affordability

One of the key stressors of separating is financial uncertainty. According to the amicable team, amicable is:

  • more than ten times cheaper than going to court;
  • a third of the cost of using a lawyer; and
  • half the cost of mediation.

amicable’s charges are fixed price and transparent so that couples have peace of mind about the costs before starting the process. Simple, but effective.

2. Legal jargon-free

amicable has banished legal jargon in their communications so the process is easy to understand. They offer many free guides and tools that breakdown the process (see here for an excellent guide to the UK divorce system), including but not limited to a chatbot that can answer basic questions, a divorce timeline tool and court fee calculator.

3. Accessible

Every customer has access to their own online account, which dilutes the complicated legal forms into intuitive, easy to use forms.  All meetings take place in secure online meeting rooms or over the phone. This means there’s no need to traipse to offices, take time off work or be in the same place if that’s uncomfortable.  In this way, amicable is remote first.

Why it’s working

Like many consumer-facing LawTech start-ups, amicable’s founding team aren’t “recovering lawyers”, but consumers.

amicable was created as a result of Kate’s real-life experience of divorce, and draws upon experiences of other divorcees. As such, every facet of the business is designed to help people avoid the financial and emotional distress Kate and others had experienced.

The unique combination of beautiful, user-friendly tech and the all-important human touch provides people with an affordable, legal-jargon free and kind alternative to divorce and separation.

The customer’s needs and wants are at the forefront, and that’s why it’s growing so rapidly.

According to Google, each month over three thousand people search for ‘amicable divorce’ and terms relating to ‘divorcing without lawyers’.

The demand is there, and now amicable have the solution.

amicable seem to be hitting the right notes with consumers, currently averaging 4.8 / 5 on Trustpilot! No easy feat to pull off given the often (but perhaps unnecessarily) fraught domain within which amicable is operating, i.e. divorce.

Access to justice

Access to justice is never going to be driven by a profession that bills by the hour. It just doesn’t compute. The goals are contradictory. So, a revolution in business models must precede the mass embracing of access to justice by the profession. It needs to be underpinned by something more than rhetoric.

In January 2020, amicable won a High Court judgment (available here) that validates amicable’s model of working with couples rather than individuals, and helping couples negotiate financial settlements together rather than having to hire two separate lawyers.

This judgment is significant as it highlighted the access to justice that amicable’s service is offering and recognises the need for alternative legal services.

There can be no doubt that the initiative of amicable has greatly improved access to justice for many people effectively disenfranchised from the legal process by the near total withdrawal of legal aid from private family law proceedings on 1 April 2013

Mr Justice Mostyn

The case makes for an interesting, and uncharacteristically (for court judgments) easy read.

For us at lawtomated, the most interesting aspect is the general theme highlighted with regard to modern legal services:

There is a gap between the law / lawyers on the one hand (expensive, hard to access), and consumers on the other (outcomes-focused, cost-sensitive). In this gap sits a lot of “legalish” process, which under various laws are more or less reserved to lawyers explicitly or by market practice, but in huge need of streamlining via user centric design and application of readily available and often simple technologies and processes.

If you read the judgment, you’ll note the well-intentioned, but increasingly outdated rules, that make it tricky to operate as an alternative legal services business. The law is going to have to adapt, and as this case demonstrates, can be applied sensibly to support rather than stifle alternative legal service business models, such as amicable‘s.

Luckily for amicable, the case was won in their favour. It’s an example of how tech start-ups can challenge the legal services model, how companies can make money and help people while creating a fair and just society where everyone has access to justice.

By focussing on the needs of end-users – making divorce as painless as possible and ideally constructive with regard to on-going commitments regarding finances and children – amicable is winning over consumers and, as noted above, the courts.

The wider legal profession could learn a lot from this approach, both lawyers working in A2J but also those working in the commercial and corporate world, including high street firms, regional firms and BigLaw.

amicable shows the huge value of listening to end-users, and building services, systems and novel business models around consumers and not the lawyers, whilst necessarily navigating complicated legal and regulatory rules.

What’s next for amicable?

amicable’s future plans are to help as many couples as possible separate amicably, not just in England and Wales but in other jurisdictions across the globe.

As the rate for divorce declines (fewer couples are opting to co-habit over getting married) amicable will be developing more services that support co-habiting couples and co-parents. They’ll also be campaigning for fairer laws for co-habiting couples.  We look forward to doing a follow-up piece next year to see what’s new!

About Amicable

The post Divorce disruptors – how LawTech start-up amicable is changing the rules appeared first on lawtomated.