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Supporting & protecting vulnerable clients

Mental Health and Family Breakdown

Mental Health and Family Breakdown


In the first of its kind, dozens of family lawyers have collaborated with psychologists, psychiatrists, academics and others to provide guidance for family law practitioners up and down the country on how to identify and support those involved in relationship breakdown who are struggling with their mental health.

Studies indicate a greatly increased risk of depression for those going through divorce and those contemplating divorce. According to an AARP study, 29% of people age 40 and over experience loneliness and depression during the divorce process and 51% have increased feelings of loneliness after divorce.

Spearheaded by Payne Hicks Beach, this initiative was planned to help give guidance to solicitors in particular, who are often the first and sometimes only professional advisor dealing with relationship breakdown. The resource materials form a number of guides that are both original content for the specific audience of family law practitioners, alongside existing materials from relevant bodies including the Law Society, Family Justice Counsel and Tavistock Relationships. Our guides have been informally peer reviewed by a range of stakeholders, including charity partners and in consultation with many family law practitioners.

The Mental Health and Family Breakdown initiative launched March 19th at an event in Lincoln’s Inn to a large audience of solicitors, barristers, medics, mental health professionals, charities and partners including Assurety, Support Through Court and Parents Promise.

All materials created are available below.

This initiative would not have been possible without the support of Dr Jonathan Iliff (Psyke/NHS), Dr Emma Jones (Sheffield University), Sheena Cassidy Hope (Mishcon de Reya), Jonathan Edgeley (Montrose Health); together with Nick Manners, Kelly Gerrard, Luke Scarratt, Kate Edgington and the leadership of Ben Parry-Smith at Payne Hicks Beach.

The entire family department is proud to support this initiative.

We would to thank the Mindful Business Charter, Resolution members, lay clients, Independent Social Workers, mental health professionals and the following family law specialists for their support and contributions in the consultation process: Mishcon de Reya, Burness Paull, Charles Russell Speechlys, Dawson Cornwell, Farrer & Co., Forsters, Harbottle & Lewis, Peters May, Stewarts, 1GC, 1KBW,  29 Bedford Row, 1 Hare Court.


Informal peer review document

The development of both the Vulnerable Clients Guide for Legal Professionals and Client Survival Guide has been a collaborative process. In the initial stages, the guides received valuable input from a variety of sources, notably Dr Jonathan Iliff, a medical doctor in the NHS, with a background in neuroscience and mental health, and Montrose Retreats, a renowned wellness clinic. In addition, legal practitioners, psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists and an independent social worker provided feedback on the initial drafts. A steering group, comprising a panel of over 40 family lawyers, brought further expertise and their constructive critique was pivotal to the final stages of the revision, editing and proofreading process.

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Vulnerable Clients Guide for Legal Professionals

Family law practitioners have a responsibility to help clients navigate emotional and life-altering events. The Vulnerable Clients Guide for Legal Professionals provides a step-by-step approach to assist practitioners in recognising and supporting clients who are finding the legal process particularly challenging. The guide explains how to identify vulnerable clients, how to have open conversations to stratify the degree of concern and, ultimately, how to provide the appropriate support, be that self-care, a referral to mental health services or an emergency response.

Produced by Psyke in collaboration with Payne Hicks Beach.

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Wellbeing for legal professionals when dealing with vulnerable clients

Dr Emma Jones, Senior Lecturer in Law and Chair of the Association of Law Teachers at the University of Sheffield, provides vital guidance for legal professionals on how to look after their own wellbeing, particularly when dealing with vulnerable clients. The guide explores the importance of self-care mechanisms, professional boundaries and building a strong support network. The aim of the paper is to encourage legal professionals to build a sustainable and fulfilling career working with vulnerable clients in emotionally challenging situations. Dr Jones seeks to empower those in the legal sector to build a strong practice, while still prioritising their own mental health.

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Vulnerable Clients Survival Guide

The Montrose Health Group provides multi-functional health and wellness retreats. The Survival Guide for Clients explains the psychological impact of separation and offers advice on how an individual may self-reflect in order to recognise, and therefore manage, problematic behaviours. A comprehensive list of practical tips on managing stress aims to empower clients to take control of their mental wellbeing in order to navigate challenges with greater resilience and inner calm.

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Vulnerable clients – some considerations from a regulatory perspective

Developed by lawyers at Mishcon de Reya and Payne Hicks Beach.  This guide collates helpful resources available to legal practitioners and signposts some areas where particular thought may need to be given to the regulatory implications of supporting vulnerable clients, especially where there exists a tension between different professional obligations.

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Vulnerable clients escalation policy

Developed by Kelly Gerrard, Legal Director at Payne Hicks Beach, the Vulnerable Clients Escalation Policy details how a firm may respond if a client who has been identified as vulnerable appears to be becoming increasingly vulnerable or where there are concerns that the client may self-harm or be a danger to themselves. The contents of any policy will be a matter for each individual firm, in consultation with their compliance officers, and the suggestions offered are not intended to replace that process. Instead, the guidance aims to offer illustrative examples of practical internal guidance that may be adopted to develop a clear and unified approach in challenging situations.

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At Risk of Suicide: Information for professionals working within the court system

A short booklet written independently by Family Justice Council.

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When Parents Separate: Getting it Right for the Children

A short booklet written independently by Tavistock Relationships.

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Meeting the needs of Vulnerable Clients

A short booklet written independently by the Law Society.

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