The UK Family Law Market Trends Report is the fifth edition of an annual report from the author and provides an overview of the UK family law market.
The market bounced back in 2015, after a weak performance in 2014 following the reductions in legal aid, and continued to grow in 2016 and 2017. In 2018, the value of the market grew by an estimated 3.8%, a slightly higher level than the 3.2% recorded in 2017.
The UK family law market value is forecast to increase steadily over the next five years. While divorce cases are expected to increase in 2018, we are anticipating a longer term decline in divorce cases but growth is likely to come from some rises in legal costs, and work in other areas, e.g. legal work for co-habitating couples/civil partnerships, Children Act work, domestic violence work.
Obstacles to market growth include the likely drop in marriages per year, further increases in DIY family law work (boosted by the new online divorce platform from the Ministry of Justice), the likelihood of price transparency introduced into the market which may create a price war amongst some suppliers, and the potential for a no-deal Brexit to create problems for international family law cases.
Over 2018 to 2022, the market is expected to grow by 13% in value terms.
A large percentage of firms involved in the family law market are optimistic about the prospects for the coming year according to the authors latest survey: a significant majority of firms – 73% - are predicting increased work volumes in the next 12 months and this is the highest percentage in the three years of the survey: it compares with 70% in 2017 and 67% in 2016.
The family law sector, like the consumer legal market as a whole, exhibits the classic long-tail characteristics of a professional services sector. There are large specialist international law firms dealing with high net worth clients and offering family law services plus large law firms focusing on consumer law. There are niche family law specialist firms and then a large number of general practice law firms offering family law alongside other consumer law services.
1. Executive Summary
- A fragmented market but a few major players
- Some social changes have a positive impact
- Other changes have a negative impact
- Family law developments in 2018
- Family law practitioners optimistic about growth in the next year
3. Market Structure
- Up to 6,000 law firms working in family law
- A single Family Court
4. Market Developments And Drivers
- Marriage and co-habitation trends
- Number of divorces fell in 2017
- Same sex marriages a new growth sector
- Legal aid changes have meant a decline in work and funding
- Families encouraged to use mediation
- But consumers are increasingly going it alone
- No-fault divorce – a step nearer
- Owen v Owen and Mills v Mills
- No deal Brexit – the potential impact on family law
- House of Lords committee raises concerns about family law after Brexit
- Fully digital online divorce system launched for individuals
- Courts modernisation update
- Civil partnerships for opposite sex couples
- Flexible court openings
- No significant change in prevalence of domestic abuse in latest year
- New family law firms and services launched
5. The Key Players
- Solicitors - London firms
- Solicitors - Rest of the UK
- Online divorce
6. Market Size And Trends
- A market worth almost £1.7 billion
- Divorce cases generate the greatest volume of work
- Divorce petitions fell in 2017 but look set to rise again in 2018
- Financial remedy applications up in 2017 but look set to fall in 2018
- Number of public law cases under the Children Act rise
- Volume of domestic violence work rising
- Adoption cases are declining
7. The Future
- Drivers and obstacles
- A market worth £1.8 billion by 2021
- Family law practitioner survey