After a career spanning nearly 5 decades, former Resolution chair David Salter recently retired as joint national head of family law at Mills & Reeve.
Family Law invited Salter to reflect on a long and diverse career, during which the legislative framework in family law changed dramatically.
In the first instalment of a wide-ranging, 2-part interview, Salter opens up about the highlights of his career, the major legislative changes he witnessed over the course of half a century, who he looks up to in family law and which rules or law he would change in a heartbeat.
Salter: Well, I have not fully retired. I am still doing my judicial sitting and legal writing, I’ve still got things to do! [laughs].
Family Law: Looking back on your long career in family law, what would you say has been the absolute highlight?
Salter: Two obvious highlights would be being Chairman of the what was then the Solicitors Family Law Association, (SFLA), now Resolution. I was Chairman from 1997 to 1999, during which period the accreditation scheme was introduced. I was the first Chairman of the accreditation committee, and of course at that time the SFLA was to undertake a lot of work in relation to reform of pensions on divorce, which has always been a niche area in which I have specialised. We were pressing for the introduction of pension sharing, which eventually came into force in 2000.
Family Law: There you helped to change the law. And any other career highlights you are particularly proud of?
Salter: I suppose the second highlight really would be when I was elected President of what is now the International Academy of Family Lawyers. I was President from 2010 to 2012. During that time, we set up an international programme to give students an opportunity to travel abroad and work with senior family law professionals, with a view to stimulate their interest in family law. Our concern was that a lot of top talent moved into the City and maybe less so into family law.
Family Law: It’s interesting you said that one of the reasons why you set up this scheme was to generate and stimulate interest in family law as a practice area, and to halt or slow the flow of talent into more lucrative areas of law. Do you think that is still a concern these days?
Salter: Yes, I think so. With legal aid having been removed in so many areas, the actual number of family lawyers is reducing. And I think that a lot of people who are highly qualified still prefer a career with some of the bigger, commercial firms. I think they do not appreciate what family law can offer: what is a very intellectually challenging and stimulating environment. It touches on a range of disciplines, [such as] taxation, trusts. It is not simply what it sometimes is wrongly perceived to be merely social issues. It is much more broadly based than that.
Family Law: What should the family law community do to change that perception?
Salter: It is very much a question of how universities and law schools, and the larger law firms, get their message across, and in their recruitment processes. It is also for the professional bodies such as Resolution to play their part.
Family Law: What has been the one major change over the course of your career, in family law generally?
Salter: The speed of communication; now we live in a world of instant communication, everyone expects an answer immediately. When I started it was letters we sent; the fax was not even there yet.
Family Law: If there is anything you could change in family law, in the immediate, what would it be?
Salter: No fault divorce, and there is every sign at the moment that will, finally, come to be. I am not going to take part in the consultation, not individually, but Resolution is.
"Sir Alan Ward always reminds me there is usually a virtue in a sense of humour, even in the most difficult set of circumstance" - David Salter
Family Law: Is there anybody you have come to admire or look up to in the family law community?
Salter: I have to say, Sir Alan Ward, who is a retired Lord Justice of Appeal. I have known Alan Ward ever since he taught me at Cambridge. At my invitation he came up to Yorkshire to speak for Resolution when he was first appointed. What do I admire about him? He has that human touch. He always reminds me there that there is usually a virtue in a sense of humour, even in the most difficult set of circumstances.
Family Law: Finally, what would you say to the next generation of family lawyers?
Salter: Preparation is all. And never forget you are dealing with people’s lives.
Family Law: Would you say that is more the case in family law than in any other practice area?
Salter: I think it is. It could be said of other areas such as immigration law and so on, but it is certainly true of family law.
Tomorrow - Family Law and Salter look ahead, discussing wat the new year may have in store, as Brexit is knocking on the door and live streaming of court proceedings could take off in 2019.