This is Kate Gomery's first piece for a new opinion column written by young family lawyers. She will be writing fortnightly about her experiences as a newly qualified solicitor working in legal aid. For more information, click here.
So, the day finally arrived. Years of part-time study followed by the whirlwind of a training contract all suddenly worthwhile as from this Monday I get to call myself a solicitor. And yes, thank goodness, after all that time, expense and effort, it does feel different.
After a lovely warm welcome at my new firm, I'm told that I'm being eased in gently. It's at this point I notice the boxes of files next to my desk all waiting for my attention and take a deep breath. My cases, my responsibility. This is when it gets real.
It's great to have a case-load waiting for me and I genuinely can't wait to get started. A brief perusal on day 1 gives me a strong indication of what lies ahead; parents with drugs, alcohol, mental health and violence issues all battling to assure the courts, the State and their ex partner or spouse that they are capable of, and should be allowed to, keep caring for their children without any risk of harm.
Although I am not naive to some of the harsher realities of life, it's fair to say that my eyes have been well and truly opened by the case files I have been given so far and I am assured by colleagues that these are by no means the most extreme cases.
Perhaps it's NQ-itis, but despite the natural reaction to be shocked by some of what I read, my main response is to feel privileged to be in a position whereby I can at least try to use my legal skills, along with a fair bit of life experience, to help give my clients and their families some chance at a better future.
So, will I become bitter and cynical about publicly funded family work and the clients and cases it attracts? Or will I retain my currently heartfelt belief that everyone deserves the right to be heard in legal proceedings and helping those most in need is the most rewarding work a lawyer can do? I do hope you will continue reading over the coming weeks and months to find out.
Kate 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.