What is your position and what do you do on a day-to-day basis?
I am a partner and Head of Family at Forsters. Day to day I run a busy practice – a mix of money and children, mediation, negotiation and litigation – and manage a brilliant team of one other partner, five (soon to be six) solicitors and a trainee, plus our three secretaries (who, in truth, are the engine room of the team).
How long have you been in this role and what brought you here?
This autumn sees the 20th anniversary of me becoming a family lawyer. I joined Forsters 2 years ago, after a happy 17 year stint at Manches (latterly Penningtons Manches), in turn preceded by a short period as an NQ at a niche practice. My path into law was fairly conventional–comprehensive school, law degree at Oxford, LPC at the College of Law, two years training in the City and qualified when I was 24, becoming a partner shortly after I turned 30 – now a very long time ago.
Any memorable stories from your career so far?
Too many to mention; practicing family law brings a new story every day and I feel privileged having a window into people’s lives. But my two memorable stories are not directly client-related. The first relates to the first time I had to give a Valedictory at the High Court, for Sir Paul Coleridge and within three weeks of becoming Resolution Chair. Public speaking is not my forte and the sight of rows of judges, from the Supreme Court down, standing in front of me, and very eminent counsel and solicitors packing the court-room behind me, almost made me faint! But it was a very happy occasion and, for me personally, one I was glad to survive, even if they never became second nature.
The second was an occasion when I was almost caught 'moonlighting'. I was due to be at a private FDR one Monday morning and had arranged to meet the client and the rest of the team in the opposing solicitors’ offices at 9.30am. I had watched Manchester United lift the FA Cup the weekend before and on the eve of the FDR, I got a call asking me to go on to the Victoria Derbyshire show at 9.30am the next day – clashing with my private FDR - to give a fan’s view about the win and the then imminent appointment of Jose Mourinho. I worked out that I could go live to the nation at 9.30am and still be at the private FDR by its start time of 10.30am with no-one being any the wiser, though leaving the client, our counsel and my assistant to continue discussions from our Con the week prior for the first hour of the day. I left the BBC on time and at 10.20am I got to the offices where the private FDR was to take place thinking that I had got away with it, only to discover that the TV in reception was showing the Victoria Derbyshire show and I would have been on it just as both legal teams and the private FDR judge were turning up… I never did say anything about it, and we did go on to settle the case!
What is the best and worst part of the day for you?
I am very much a morning person, so that is the best part of my day, when I will try to arrange any 'involved' meetings and do my more cerebral drafting. Equally, the worst part of my day is 5.30am, when my alarm goes off...
What keeps you motivated?
I am fairly self-motivated and driven by trying to ensure that the team is meeting targets whilst actually enjoying the work they are doing and the colleagues they are working with. Those who know me will also testify to the fact that I live from one overseas trip to the next and the promise of imminent travel also keeps me motivated day to day; my big trip currently in the planning is a holiday in Australia in the autumn, my second trip Down Under this year, though there are also smaller trips in the pipeline to Switzerland, Scotland and the Italian Lakes.
Tea or coffee?
Coffee in the morning, tea in the afternoon. But generally one coffee, on the train in the morning, does it for me.
What would you say to anyone thinking of a career in your field?
Go for it! Family law offers a wonderful array of opportunities. Though we (and more important, those needing legal advice) have been hit hard by the legal aid cuts 5 years ago, the lawyers who are thriving are those who are adaptable–offering pro bono services to some, unbundled legal services to others, and the full Rolls Royce service to those who can afford it. Whilst divorce rates are diminishing, there are huge growth areas–modern families, surrogacy, nuptial agreements (preparing them and no doubt, in years to come, challenging them), advice to cohabitants, etc. A new generation of family lawyer is evolving–a dispute resolver, who will find pragmatic and creative solutions where possible, and litigate–in accordance with the Resolution Code of Practice–where needed. Every day, it is a privilege that people let us into their lives, sharing the most intimate details, and entrusting us to help them find a way through one of the most difficult periods in their life. And do get involved with YRes, which provides a thriving support network around the country.
What song do you listen to the most?
The songs on my iPod shuffle are many and varied. If I had to choose one - Foo Fighters, The Pretender, gets me in 'the zone' for the day ahead. 80s Pop is my main genre though.
Who inspires you within the world of family law?
Where to start? Lady Hale for being Lady Hale; Nigel 'No Fault' Shepherd, for being a hard act to follow AND precede when I was Resolution Chair; Jane Craig, for showing me how a team should be run, before I took on the challenge myself; Liz Trinder, for all her tireless work to make no fault divorce a reality; Bob Greig and Rebecca Giraud, for the wonderful work they do with parents through Only Dads/Only Mums; and Kim Beatson, for her no-nonsense pragmatic approach and being a true northern lass.
How do you enjoy your time outside of work?
Two words - travel (see above); and football (ditto, though the pain of being at Wembley to see United lose the FA Cup this year is still raw). For those who don't follow me on Twitter, I am invariably on a plane to a far-flung destination and a lifelong Manchester United supporter (and occasionally combine the two).
What book would you recommend to others?
I'm not a voracious reader of books; most recently I read The Secret Footballer. Generally I tend to have a travel guide book in my bag at any given time.
What would be your alternate career?
I quite fancy myself as a Match of the Day pundit or a modern day Judith Chalmers in Wish You Were Here. If not, being in politics appeals.
If you could change one thing about the family justice system what would it be and why?
If I could change one thing about the family justice system, it would be accessible to all - funded advice at an early stage, signposting out to DR services where appropriate, quicker/more streamlined court resolution where not. The law and process would be more readily comprehensible. Mediation would be more mainstream. Private law children cases would be triaged early and it would not be possible for one parent to use delay as a weapon. Online dispute resolution would be used at appropriate stages and where parties had to go to court, it would be more civilised and humane than at present. And our judges would be better supported (and there would be funding for more of them).
What has winning the Family Law Award meant to you?
Rosie (Schumm) and I were absolutely thrilled to win London Family Team of the year. For both of us, joining Forsters and reinventing the family team has been daunting but incredibly rewarding. We feel fortunate to be surrounded by a talented group of young solicitors and an amazingly supportive wider partnership. To be recognised with the Family Law Award, by the leading publication for family lawyers, judged by people we respect hugely, and only 18 months after I took over at the helm, meant the world to us. Nominations close soon for theFamily Law Awards 2018
All Family Law A day in the life of... profiles can be found here.