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A day in the life Of...
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A day in the life of ... Gillian Rivers

Date:17 JUN 2019
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Gillian receiving her award for Pro Bono Lawyer of the Year at The Family Law Awards 2018

What is your position and what do you do on a day to day basis?

I’m a Partner in the family law team at Penningtons Manches, and I’m also the Chair of Penningtons Manches Charitable Foundation. On a day-to-day basis I manage my client base working closely with associates and, where required, other partners within the firm. I also oversee the initiatives of the Foundation.

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

I started my post-qualification employment 25 years ago in a firm on the Hampshire/Berkshire borders where I developed a family law practice. After five years as a partner I moved into London where, until very recently, I have maintained my practice. I have recently relocated to my firm`s Guildford office. I have enjoyed working with a variety of different people over the years. My pro bono work started about five years ago and spans a broad remit, but my personal focus is in relation to the prevention of slavery and people trafficking.

Any memorable stories?

So many anecdotal stories spring to mind but, I suppose, the one that burns most painfully in my memory is when, having conducted my own advocacy in Aldershot and Farnham County Court, I forgot that the seats in the Courtroom were cinema, fold-down, style. I was fully gowned for this particular hearing and having finished my Marshall Hall type testimony, I sat with a flourish only to completely miss the seat and fell into a crumpled heap on the floor. Proceedings had to be suspended for a few minutes while I was hauled to my feet by my rather bewildered client and, not least, to give the Judge a few moments to regain his composure.

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

The worst - the commute to work!  The best - when I know I have helped clients on the road to financial and emotional recovery and assisted them to fulfil their hopes and, in some cases, exceed their dreams.  

What keeps you motivated?

I have always been an entirely driven person. I do not know what little gremlin lives in my brain but once I have an idea or develop a passion for a particular thing, then my motivation gains its own momentum and is generally unstoppable!

Tea or coffee?

Both but at different times of the day. I am very traditional so coffee in the morning, tea in the afternoon and coffee after dinner. Mind, you, always decaff after dinner!
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What would you say to anyone thinking of a career in your field?

I think there are many misconceptions about a career in the law really entails. I would never actively dissuade anybody from qualifying, but they need to understand exactly the sort of lifestyle that it would generate for them. Being a solicitor can offer such a diversity of roles so knowing how you see your life in the future is important. My advice over the years to all the young lawyers is do not let this job consume you. It is a job that has no end and it is important to set down limits and boundaries right at the start.

What song do you listen to the most?

Dave Brubeck’s Take Five. Faure requiem, Pink Floyd, Tchaikovsky, T-Rex, Brahams, Pasty Cline, Bach, Andrea Bocelli, Ludivico Einaudi, Maria Callas, War of the Worlds, Elgar, the beat goes on…in short, all music, any music!  Life without music would be dreadful. I hope never to be invited onto Desert Island Discs!

Who inspires you within the world of family law?

Lord Denning; initially, as a student I was drawn to him because of his overarching sense of fairness and the remarkable way in which he tried to develop the law to ensure that it was accessible to all, understandable by everyone, and fair and sensible outcomes were achieved. In subsequent years I have been inspired by many people. I work with so many wonderfully talented, kind, gifted and very intelligent colleagues and I shall always be grateful to my them for their unswerving support, inspiration and fun. 

How do you enjoy your time outside of work?

Listening to music and trying to create music on Sebastian, my alto saxophone. I love to draw and paint. I love to sew and often make garments for my family. I love to be outdoors and although I am not able to ride horses anymore, I still enjoy being in their company. I have an ancient springer spaniel and we enjoy our time together in the garden. I have a fabulous, and very large, family and most of my leisure time is spent in their company.

What book would you recommend to others?

George Orwell’s 1984. It opened the door to so much more than just the content of that book.

What would be your alternate career?

A street artist in Tuscany for six months of the year and the other six months a session musician at Ronnie Scott’s.

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

I would reverse the lack of access to justice. The death knell for public funding sounded as far back as 1998 when the Legal Aid Board morphed into the Legal Services Commission and brought about franchising. Public funding is now almost at an end and those who cannot afford to pay for representation have access only to a second class system of justice. What a shame the legal profession did not follow the vision of Aneurin Bevan in his architecture of the NHS.

What does winning the Pro Bono Lawyer of the Year award meant to you?

It is wonderful to know that the importance of giving back to the community has been acknowledged by LexisNexis. I have always had a very strong sense of social justice and have worked for many years to try to give a voice to those who are hidden in the silent shadows of their own lives. I always hated bullies at school and was first to defend someone. And I am not alone, there are very many lawyers who give freely of their time and this award is for them too.