Now I'm having another conversation with a lawyer and I'm not
particularly happy (not to say outraged) that to answer a simple
question they require £95 + VAT for 30 minutes Skype session.
Maybe it is a common practice in law industry - in my industry (web
development) we share our knowledge in an open-source manner.
The rate you were charged is actually reasonable for such a limited engagement. Few lawyers are willing to even consider providing any advice on such a limited basis. Most would try to limit their clients to cases generating thousands of pounds in an in person visit. Lawyers are in the business of selling knowledge and time, not documents and results. An open-source approach would undermine their business model just as much as it would for the movie industry or the recording industry.
While I appreciate professional legal advice (I know it is required) I
have a belief that by obtaining some knowledge first I'll be in a
position to ask better questions.
This belief is not necessarily very well founded in this context.
The reality of information about the law is that the raw data has limited usefulness. One of the main things that a legal education provides is an ability to "issue spot" so that you know what points need to be researched and where to look for them. Without the overall context that a legal education provides, knowing what issues you should be looking for is difficult or impossible, and this is particular true in Anglo-American common law systems, where the law is embedded in an opaque network of appellate cases rather than laid out more or less completely in a carefully organized statute.
Also, you are almost completely unqualified to distinguish between a simple question and a hard one.
Just as it is difficult for a non-expert to know what is difficult or impossible for a computer to do (e.g. turning raw image input in the models of reality is very hard for computers but easy for people, while intense calculations are simple for computers but hard for people), it is often very difficult for a non-lawyer to know what is an easy or hard legal question.
For example, the rights of neighboring home owners when trees start to grow across property lines seem like simple questions but are actually extremely complex legally, as is another simple question such as explaining what a book means in IP terms as a book migrates to a new platform. But, some seemingly complex points (e.g. detailed questions of tax law or civil procedure) can have very simple and clear answers.
Finally, keep in mind that in a situation like spousal alimony, if you've done as much research as you state, it is very likely that a definitive answer that you are looking for simply does not exist. There a lots of legal questions that do not have clear objective answers.
This is because trial judges in family law matters have wide discretion in a lot of the fine points of alimony decisions, much of it exercised at the trial court level that does not generate binding legal precedents and is not widely available to researchers. Therefore, there is really no substitute in evaluating how judges will exercise that discretion for the collective experience of an attorney who has been through the process many, many times before the particular group of judges who are likely to handle your individual case.
In sum, while I understand your frustration, a lot of it is rooted in common, but inaccurate assumptions about how the legal system works.