It may be an increasingly old-fashioned view in the modern age of focus on mediation, collaboration and other forms of ADR but for me, appearing at Court is what being a lawyer is all about. That doesn't mean I'm suggesting Court is the right forum to resolve some family law matters, but rather that on a personal basis, it's when and where I feel the most lawyerly.
One of the only disappointments of my (otherwise excellent) training is that I was not given the opportunity to conduct my own advocacy. Our clients were mostly high net worth individuals and Counsel tended to get involved in proceedings early on. Nonetheless, having spent a considerable time in my legal career sat behind Counsel at various civil, family and criminal courts across the land, I have always hoped to be able to develop and hone my own advocacy skills.
This week I have been truly inducted into the workings of the Liverpool Civil and Family Court. A very kind colleague had previously given me a whirlwind tour, most helpfully pointing out the Ushers with the most sway, (the key to surviving in any court).
On my first day I had two cases in the Family Proceedings Court; one to finalise a Residence Order agreed by the Court on the last occasion, and the other where we'd had no instructions in months and expected the application to be dismissed. Despite the relative simplicity of both matters, I read those files from front to back and could have quoted in detail attendance notes from months ago. Going in, I felt confident and prepared.
As everyone reading this will have predicted, of course the AWOL client turned up at Court (along with his ex - the Respondent, who was unrepresented) and of course the Bench and Legal Advisor suddenly found reasons why the Residence Order, pretty much guaranteed on the last occasion, could not be finalised. So, between taking instructions from Client, explaining the proceedings to the in person opponent, liaising with the Legal Advisors, drafting and re-drafting Orders and always (always!) remembering to say thank you and smile at the Ushers, the morning pretty much flew by. Ironically I probably felt at my calmest and most assured whilst in Court before the Bench, although I'm sure it helped not to have a professional opponent in either matter.
Client happy, Orders drafted, I was looking forward to an afternoon catching up in the office. On the way out I thanked my new best friend the Usher for her assistance throughout the morning, explaining that it was my first time at this Court. I was delighted when she told me that I could report back to the office that I had made a good first impression. I may never get better praise than that!
Back at my desk and happy to have survived my first day unscathed, I'd begun checking through my calls and emails when the call came out for someone to go to Court to issue an urgent application for a Non-Molestation Order. As you might have guessed, I was straight back out the door.
Kate Gomery has recently qualified as a family law solicitor. She works at Heaney Watson in Liverpool where she is exposed to all types of family law work but particularly publicly funded family law cases. Prior to qualification Kate spent several years doing general crime and then serious fraud work. She trained at Pannone in Manchester.