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A day in the life of ... Sarah Phillimore (family law barrister)

Mar 19, 2019, 17:56 PM
A day in the life, Sarah Phillimore, family law, barrister, transparency, family justice system
I am a family law barrister who works mainly in care proceedings. I represent all parties. I think it is important to get as clear a view as possible as to how the system operates.
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What is your position and what do you do on a day-to-day basis?

I am a family law barrister who works mainly in care proceedings. I represent all parties. I think it is important to get as clear a view as possible as to how the system operates.

How long have you been in this role and what brought you here?

I have specialised in family law since 1999 but the focus has been on care proceedings since about 2011. I was faced with a choice between family and crime in 1997 and made what turned out for me to be the right choice. I came to Bristol in 2010 to escape the insanity of London house prices and have found a much better quality of life.

What are the people you work for/with like? Any memorable stories?

Usually the professionals are dedicated and hardworking people who have a sense of humour (because they need one). Sometimes you meet people who don't seem that well suited to family law, and I think I will remain diplomatic and say that can be an interesting experience - but fortunately not a common one.

Lay clients are often having the most difficult experience of their lives and you have to be aware of that. But I am constantly impressed by the good humour and generosity of my lay clients and will remain particularly grateful to the client who sent 48 tubes of Smarties to me after a difficult case. That is probably the nicest thing I ever found in my pigeon hole at work!

What is the best and worst part of the day for you?

Best part of a day is a cross-examination that is going well - you are making your points and getting the answers you want.

The worst part of the day is knowing that it isn't going well: you are shortly about to go down in flames, and you will have to guide your client through that.

What adjectives best describe you?

Persistent. If you like what I am doing, this will be a positive quality. If you don't, it won't...

What keeps you motivated?

I enjoy the work and find it generally interesting with a wide social importance. I am also fascinated by people, their relationships and what motivates them.

Tea or coffee?

Coffee. I am suspicious of people who claim to enjoy drinking tea.

What would you say to anyone thinking of a career in your field?

Be sure you know yourself, your qualities and your skills. If you aren't interested in people or the wider social implications of family law, you won't enjoy it and you won't do a good job.

What song do you listen to the most?

I don't really! I get bored after a couple of listens and want to move on to something new. This probably explains a lot. But I don't skip 'Debaser' by The Pixies if that comes on the iPod as I walk to court.

How do you enjoy your time outside of work?

Arguing with people on the Internet. I have been running the Child Protection Resource website since 2014 and that has been a very rewarding experience in terms of broadening not just my understanding of the law, but my understanding of how people engage with it, too.

If you could change one thing about the family justice system, what would it be and why?

Greater openness and transparency about court proceedings. More willingness to engage with questions of how we do this, and yet keep children's identities out of wider circulation. My arguing with people on the Internet has had a very positive impact on my ability to think about what family law decisions really mean for those who have to go on and live with them. We have to open up - literally and metaphorically - about what we do, or we can't expect to earn and keep the trust of the general public.

The forthcoming Child Protection Conference on Friday 3 June 2016 in Birmingham looks to promote useful and engaging discussion on subjects such as transparency in the family justice system. The Conference is organised by The Transparency Project, of which Sarah Phillimore is a member. Tickets are available here.

You can follow Sarah on Twitter: @SVPhillimore

As part of this feature we are asking a wide range of people who have links to the court system and family law to respond to the above questions and give us some information about what their role entails. We hope to get a wide cross section of people  to this end, if you would like to contribute please email
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