What does a family lawyer do? By Debbie Laidlaw

Stowe Family Law|August 30th 2014

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.

Debbie is a Partner at the Leeds office. She is a specialist in all aspects of family law including divorce, finances and children disputes. She has worked closely with Court of Protection clients and is a member of both Resolution and Young Resolution.

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  1. Paul Apreda says:

    Very interesting and useful article. Two significant elements spring from this. Firstly it’s very revealing of the role that barristers play in the working day. It could beg the question – why pay a solicitor to brief a barrister when you could do it yourself and save the cost of the solicitor? The second issue is the extent to which solicitors are the right people to be providing emotional support for clients. We do that – without charge – and we have training for our Emotional Support volunteers to be able to do that effectively. Also, we’d argue that an organisation such as ours is by definition more credible to provide emotional support to clients (or service users as we call them) as we have a set of values that they are more likely to connect with. Having said that we believe that legal professionals have a very important and rapidly changing role in family issues and we are building ever stronger links with them both on a one-to-one level ans through our relationship with Law Works where our support meetings are registered as Legal Clinics when we have a local solicitor attending to give one to one Free legal advice. I hope that’s helpful. Paul

  2. Nordic says:

    In my personal experience, good barristers are worth their fees.They can do stuff that the LIP cannot.
    Again in my personal experience, solicitors are not worth their fees. They are overpriced paper pushers, unable to provide any real advice without referral to counsel but often an active source of conflict between the parties.
    Barrister fees may be only 20% of the total legal bill but they often deliver 80% of the value.

    • Marilyn Stowe says:

      Dear Nordic
      Can’t let that just pass! You are wrong. A good solicitor will prep the case and get it to the stage that either a solicitor advocate or barrister can deliver in court. The two jobs are different but complementary. Ive had some terrific results with work Ive done then handed to the barrister and we both got the client home. Without my work especially on the discovery side it wouldn’t have happened. Not arrogance, just fact. I did what I was paid to do and did what a barrister simply doesn’t have the skills, expertise or set up to do. Don’t knock us, we’re worth it.

      • Nordic says:

        Dear Marilyn

        As I said, the above reflects my personal experience. I also admit to being unfair in so far that the outcome for me (a male) could have been much worse had it not been for my solicitor. The one thing they did of real value was to keep me “whiter than white” and manage my anger as I progressively discovered the medieval and, by Nordic standards, hugely unfair, biased and destructive family law system in this country. A system in which the paramount consideration evidently is fees, not children. I could have crashed and burned as a result of this anger and I suspect many fathers do. As things has panned out post my divorce, such an outcome would have an unmitigated disaster for my kids.
        Beyond anger management, all I ever received of advice from my solicitor was tactical advice. When I pressed for a clear answer, they would at some stage resort to “it’s all down to the judge on the day”. Sometimes I might get some anecdotes about specific judges which only reinforced the random chaos my family had become immersed in. The only real advice I got came from my barrister, but the access to him was tightly controlled and jealously guarded (by my solicitor). I also saw first-hand how the solicitors (not mine) incited and prompted strife and conflict between the us and exploited our emotional vulnerability. Your industry is full of cowboys that do tremendous damage to children and their parents and, as an industry, make even investment bankers look principled.

        • Yvie says:

          “I also saw first-hand how the solicitors (not mine) incited and prompted strife and conflict between the us and exploited our emotional vulnerability. Your industry is full of cowboys that do tremendous damage to children and their parents and, as an industry, make even investment bankers look principled.”

          My son had a similar experience with his ex. wife’s solicitor Nordic. To say I was totally shocked by her strategy is an understatement to say the least. My son’s solicitor informed his that because his ex. wife would find it difficult to pay for a barrister, she had been sent to by her solicitor to a women’s refuge for battered and abused children, presumably to instigate allegations against my son. The two children were subsequently interviewed at school without the knowledge of my son, following which his ex. wife wrote to the Judge withdrawing her allegations. How so-called professionals can behave in this manner is beyond me, as my son could have been deprived of his children and the children deprived of a loving, caring father, as a result of this women’s unethical actions. The outcome was that my son retained his shared residence order and half the school holidays were added to it. An incidental outcome was that my son’s ex. wife did not pay her solicitor’s bill. I know this to be true because they wrote to my son asking for his permission to put a charge on his ex. wife’s house (my son’s name is still on the mortgage).

  3. Yview says:

    When my son’s ex. tried an ex. parte application against my son, which was instigated by her solicitor on non-existent grounds, my son’s solicitor somehow got it re-arranged to a normal hearing with both parties present. He is still paying his bill, but looking back he knows that his solicitor and both his barristers were worth their weight in gold. Without them he would have had to face an extremely hostile and aggressive solicitor and he may well have lost the shared residency of his children.

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