Law Clouds: Anne Marie Cade Talks Online Divorce, Legal Entrepreneurship & A Friendlier Way To Separate

BucketOrange

In the December Issue of BucketOrange Magazine, we chat with Anne Marie Cade – founder of award-winning online divorce platform DivorceRight – about her love of law, technology and a holistic approach to separation in Australia. 

Can you tell us about your professional journey and your reason for pursuing law?

“I was encouraged to pursue a career in law by my cousin who was a Professor at Yale University and who I greatly admired. I had an opinion about everything and was very argumentative, so he thought I would make a good lawyer! I also wanted to make a difference. As Martin Luther King Jr. said ‘our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.’

I moved to Melbourne in 2003 after practising law in Sri Lanka for over 10 years.

I started my legal practice, Le Mercier Legal & Conveyancing, in 2006 at my living room table. I had a 3- year-old baby and two older children in primary school and wanted to work around my young family.

I was working primarily in Conveyancing and Wills & Probate, and moved my practice online around 2014. I was constantly hearing clients complain about the high cost of legal fees in family law matters as well as how frustrating the whole process is.

There are lengthy delays, and the adversarial process doesn’t seem to work for most families.

They end up fighting in court for extended periods, spend heaps of money on lawyers and never get the settlement they were hoping to reach in the first place.

I had been thinking that there must be a better way to deal with divorce and separation, which is why I decided to launch the platform DivorceRight.

I run the platform myself and connect families with mediators, lawyers, accountants, counsellors and psychologists as divorce is not just a legal issue but has financial and emotional implications as well.

My aim is to shift the focus of divorce from legal wrangling to a healing process where a settlement and resolution can be reached through consultation and mediation for a fixed cost.

Marriage does not begin with lawyers and the court system, so there is no reason for it to end that way.

Divorce is not all about the paperwork. It’s about a major life transition and I want to make a difference by demystifying legal services and making them more accessible to clients who have been previously unable to find legal help.”

What are your experiences with Australians accessing lawyers – is it something most people are willing and happy to do, or is there a bit of reluctance? 

“Australians are very apprehensive about seeing a lawyer primarily because of the cost.

They associate lawyers with hefty fees, and they are not far from the truth. There are so many Australians who are unable to access legal services because of the cost of legal fees. Especially in the area of family law, some practitioners are notorious for letting a family law matter unnecessarily drag on instead of exploring options with their clients with the aim of settling the matter as soon as possible. It is hard to think of a reason for such an approach other than the desire to drive up the fees.

So there is a real need for more cost-effective legal solutions that are of a high quality.

Some say that divorce is a far too complicated legal and emotional process to be conducted online, but I believe my approach removes the barriers people often experience when looking to access legal services delivered traditionally, like high costs or feeling intimidated working with lawyers face-to-face.”

What led you into entrepreneurship? Is it something you always wanted to do, or did you stumble into it?

“I am always looking for solutions and how to do things differently. I look for ways to make things better and to create products or services that make the world a better place. Learning interests me and I am never satisfied with my current knowledge.”

Was there a specific moment that inspired you to found DivorceRight? How does it work and how is it different?

“The idea for the platform came from watching families tear themselves apart during the divorce process. The court process and the traditional adversarial approach does little to help families heal and sometimes makes their problems worse.

No matter what the status of a relationship with an ex-partner, if couples have children they will always be parents together which is why I believe that a different approach to divorce is so necessary.

My startup handles as much of the divorce process as possible online – clients can lodge forms and interact with each other and their lawyers and mediators through an online client portal. When face-to-face meetings are required, they’re conducted in designated meeting rooms at a location convenient to both clients.

After making initial contact online, clients are sent a questionnaire they can fill out online. Based on the responses, clients are guided step-by-step through the process with as much or as little help as they need. When necessary, we’ll connect clients with a wider team of legal professionals, mediators, counsellors, accountants, financial planners to help them untangle even their biggest life challenges.

Once a settlement is reached, they’re referred to individual lawyers so they can receive independent legal advice and file their divorce papers.

Paperwork associated with each step of the process is filed on the platform. They are also able to send and receive messages, see notifications, view their case status, schedule conferences, and pay bills. The platform also encourages the use of Skype and video conferencing.

From the outset, clients are a given a costs agreement which outlines the process and how much it will cost.”

DivorceRight is an online legal platform. Does this mean that residents of any State and Territory can access your legal services?

“Yes, it is accessible in any state and territory.”

What do you enjoy best about your work?

“I enjoy using my legal skills to help people in the most efficient and effective way possible. My aim is to empower people to begin their lives after separation with less conflict, in less time, and for less money than a conventional divorce.”

What has been your greatest achievement?

“Being able to launch my legal startup with the aim of making a difference in the way divorce is done in this country, and I am inspired by the response and acceptance I have received to my approach in such a short space of time. I am also encouraged by the fact that I won in the individual category of the 2016 LexisNexis Legal Innovation Index for my approach to making the divorce process more amicable, easier, smoother and kinder using web-based technology to automate paperwork and engage a community of professionals.”

Who, or what, inspires you?

My two maternal aunts who brought me up as my mum passed away when I was only 1 ½ years old.

They were strong determined women who taught me that I can achieve anything I want to if I work hard and set my mind on it. I am eternally grateful for the strong work ethic they instilled in me from a young age.

Do you ever feel overwhelmed? If so, how do you deal with it?

“Yes, I do. Sometimes I feel that maybe I have bitten off more than I can chew. But when I feel like this, I take a step back, take a deep breath and keep going! I am also a gym junkie so whatever happens I make sure I do at least 5 classes at the gym every week. It’s a great stress buster.”

What is your ultimate dream that you would like to achieve through your work?

“I hope to take my ‘do divorce differently’ concept Australia wide and for my unique approach to be way divorce is done in the future.”

What is the best piece of advice you have ever been given?

“Work hard and you can make your dream a reality.”

Why do you love the law?

“I love that being a lawyer gives me the opportunity to make a difference in people’s lives. Most of the people I meet are angry or upset because their marriages have come to an end. I do my best to help those whose anger has eclipsed reasoning to understand that there is alternative approach through mediation which will often give them a better outcome.”

What music helps you to lawyer at your best?

“I love all types of music, but particularly RnB, and often have some music playing in the background when I work at night.”

What is your favourite legal series?

“L.A. Law. I was literally hooked and binged on the entire series.”

What is your favourite life hack at the moment?

“Cloud computing is amazing. I store everything in the cloud, so it’s accessible wherever I am.” 🍊

BucketOrange Magazine / December 2016.