Debbie Laidlaw is a family lawyer in the Stowe Family Law Leeds office. In this special feature, she describes a typical working day in the life of a busy solicitor
I and other solicitors here at Stowe Family Law act for clients who are suffering a relationship breakdown and looking for advice in relation to their legal rights as a spouse; civil partner or cohabitee. Some come to us for help with arrangements for their children and some are looking to protect themselves in relation to potential financial claims, either before or after a marriage or civil partnership. Some worry about divorce costs. My role is extremely varied and each day very much depends on the instructions I receive from my clients or the latest developments in their cases.
However, a typical day for me usually runs along the following lines.
I arrive at the office at around 8.30am. I drink a cup of Yorkshire tea while reading through the emails received overnight. Given that many clients are at work themselves during the day the majority of my correspondence with clients is by email since this is most convenient.
Around 10am I may meet clients at our offices before, for example, attending a local barristers chambers for a conference regarding a financial settlement. A conference is held with a barrister to discuss a client’s case in detail prior to a court hearing or to formulate a strategy. Such conferences enabled my clients to meet their barristers prior to the day of the hearing when typically clients are on edge and find it difficult to provide clear and concise instructions.
I may return to the office around 11.30am and check post, emails and return any calls received while I was out of the office. I will often dictate a note of the conference with the barrister, setting out the advice and the additional steps or action to be taken in advance of the hearing.
Around 12.30pm I may meet a client who has made an appointment for 30 minutes free advice at one of our family legal advice clinics.These sessions were launched in 2009 to provide initial advice to those in need, particularly following the economic downturn and the relatively recent withdrawal of legal aid in April 2013.
I usually pop out for lunch and coffee around 1pm.
Around 1.30pm I may attend another client meeting, perhaps to take instructions and discuss the preparation of a prenuptial agreement in advance of a forthcoming wedding. Following such meetings I usually dictate an attendance note and would also prepare a draft agreement or a letter to the client setting out my advice, depending on the nature of the meeting.
At 3.30pm it is generally back to responding to emails and letters received in the post. I may also return any telephone calls missed while away from my desk in meetings.
The 4pm is often spent preparing for a final hearing in an ongoing case. This might relate, for example, to living arrangements for a child following divorce or separation. This would includes preparing a hearing bundle containing all relevant information, preparing any documents required to assist the court and speaking with my client about recent developments to enable me to prepare the documents accurately. I may also need to draft instructions to the barrister who will be representing the client at the actual court hearing.
5.30pm typically finds me checking my diary to determine my workload for the following day and discover whether any further steps need to be taken prior to leaving the office.
At 6pm I may attend an evening seminar at, for example, a barristers’ chambers. At such events, the barristers will summarise key updates to the law and share knowledge of the ways in which local judges have dealt with cases recently.
And finally, at 7pm I will attempt to run home from the office – energy levels permitting!
Dealing with the breakdown of a marriage or relationship inevitably has an impact upon the wider family unit. Although the focus is often on the parties to the marriage and the resolution of financial matters, children are often the ones that suffer the most and receive the least support. Relationship or family breakdown is a particularly emotional experience even for the majority of well-adjusted adults and the reality is that many children find it difficult to adjust to such a huge change in their lives, especially if they have experienced conflict between their parents. So I try whenever possible to provide my clients with information on support for both them and their children – for example separation therapists and explanatory books for children. .
As a family lawyer I aim to provide my clients with advice on all the options available to them and their family. I am often surprised by the common misconception that court acton is the only way to resolve family disputes. I am a firm believer in providing emotional support to my clients and consider this to be as valuable as advice on the legal process. It all counts towards helping them obtain the best outcome and start a new chapter in their lives.