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What is your position and what do you do on a day-to-day basis?
I am a chartered legal executive and a director/shareholder at the Family Law Company. I am also Team Leader for our divorce and finance team, which is a group of 10 lawyers and support staff. Each day is incredibly varied - a mixture of client and legal work, my management responsibilities and leading my team. Outside of the office I have various roles, including being a Trustee for the Citizen's Advice Bureau (CAB) and previously teaching at Wessex Law Academy. Additionally, I work with young people to inspire those who wish to pursue a career in law. No day is ever the same, and I often wish there were more hours in the day!
How long have you been in this role and what brought you here?
I qualified as a chartered legal executive in 2008, although I have actually been working in family law for about 15 years. I have been a Team Leader for 2 years, and director/shareholder for about a year. My upbringing spurred me into law: I was born to teenage parents, and whilst they supported me fully, some in education did not. However, I always had a passion for law and was determined to succeed. I have been blessed with supportive colleagues, both inside and outside of my firm, plus fellow board members who recognised my potential and gave me the confidence and opportunities to achieve as much as I have.
What are the people you work for/with like? Any memorable stories?
In the area of law we work in, it is especially important to have a good team who can support each other when times are hard. I am so fortunate to work with such great people who all have such a passion for family law.
I remember one summer party which was a barge trip along Tiverton Canal. There was local cider on the boat and we were due to stop for fish and chips - unfortunately, one of our directors didn't tick the right box and we ended up with just cheese and crackers, which wasn't quite enough with the cider...It turned out to be quite a messy night, and the poor director never lived it down!
Another memorable time was when our colleague, Jill Read Brown, won an award, and when she returned to work we were all waiting in reception to surprise her with party poppers. We ended up setting the fire alarms off, frightening her and resulting in the fire brigade having to come out...
What is the best and worst part of the day for you?
The best part of the day for me is early morning - managing a chronic illness means that when I wake up I need to think positively and nurture a 'can do' attitude. This is the time when I tell myself what I am going to achieve that day. My next best part of the day is lunch time! I love my food, and my colleagues and I often go out to eat together (and we often play table tennis in the office - ssh!). The worst part of the day I'd say is around 4pm, when your brain says it's only 2pm and you realise you still have so much to do!
What adjectives best describe you?
Top of the list is positive - I like to look for solutions, and definitely have an upbeat attitude. I'd also say I'm hard-working and determined.
What keeps you motivated?
People - in every role I fulfil, it's the people. At work this is the clients I get to help, seeing the change in them after leaving the office after a first appointment; even their body language is much more positive. My colleagues are inspiring and encouraging. At the CAB, I am motivated by the volunteers and the time that they give up to support those needing advice. In my role of teaching and mentoring, I am motivated by the students and how hard-working they are - their fresh enthusiasm is inspirational.
Tea or coffee?
What would you say to anyone thinking of a career in your field?
Go for it! It's challenging, but so rewarding. I'd advise getting work experience at local firms to see if it is the right career for you. Join local groups such as your local CILEx branch to meet others who are working in the field. Most importantly, don't let anyone tell you that you can't have a career in law for any reason. If you are prepared to work hard and have a positive attitude, you can achieve anything you wish.
What song do you listen to the most?
Roar, by Katy Perry. I love the lyrics!
How do you enjoy your time outside of work?
I love food and travel. I also try and make as much time for family and friends as I possibly can.
If you could change one thing about the family justice system what would it be and why?
A couple of things: first, like many others, I'd address the changes and cut-backs to legal aid. Family lawyers, by their very nature, want to help others, and therefore will always go above and beyond regardless of funding; but the cut-backs in funding have had a detrimental effect upon people receiving legal advice. Family law is so emotive and clients so vulnerable, all should be supported no matter what their means. The current situation means that a party without funds is often at a disadvantage, which is unfair. So many people now rely on organisations like the CAB which are all funded by charitable donations. Donations are difficult to obtain, putting further pressure on them. In an ideal world, we should have a justice system that everyone can access, regardless of finances.
Secondly, I would change the fault-based divorce/dissolution petition - it would be great for couples to be able to petition for divorce immediately upon separation without having to start proceedings that require them to lay blame at the other's door. Quite often this will cause unnecessary conflict and upset at the start of the case which could otherwise be easily avoided. Donna is shortlisted for Chartered Legal Executive or Paralegal of the Year at the 2016 Family Law Awards. To find out more and place your vote, please visit theFamily Law Awards homepage.
To book your table for the Awards ceremonyclick here.
If you are interested in sponsoring an award please contactBecky Wall.