I have spent the last 30 years working only as a divorce lawyer. Before then I regularly handled commercial litigation, some of it international, and I had become accustomed to the tough cut and thrust that came with taking on lawyers worldwide. It wasn’t easy; in fact it was extremely stressful, but commercial lawyers aren’t paid to have feelings. They are paid to win.
After my son was born in 1988, however, I had to juggle work with my new responsibility as a mother. Something had to give! I could no longer travel as before, I couldn’t go to court as much, and I had the responsibility of an office to run – as well as a young baby, a husband and a home to look after. At the same time, perhaps because I had become a parent, I found that I was becoming more involved with family law cases. It is a fascinating area of the law, involving real people with real problems, and I slowly realised that I was well suited to it. I immersed myself in family law. I also read widely around the subject, because I genuinely wanted to help. I wanted my clients to be happy and move on from the despair of marital breakdown.
I also believe that motherhood provided me with revealing insights into the real-life ups and downs of being a parent and managing family relationships when wholly dependent children were involved. I discovered that life was far from easy, and so I decided to advise my clients from my own perspective: “There but for the grace of… go us all”.
It is a fact that life never goes to plan. There are always surprises waiting for us, some happy, some sad. All of us, without exception, will experience the ups and downs of life. But how do we handle them? That is what is important.
The years have since passed by in a flash – and thousands of clients have passed through the doors at Stowe Family Law. I have learned a lot from what I have seen and experienced as a divorce lawyer.
The worst changes to my work that I have experienced have all occurred recently. When I began to practice, all my clients had access to a lawyer. The poorest paid nothing, because legal aid was free. “Mid-range” clients were still able to secure legal aid, but made contributions. Everybody had access to a lawyer and therefore everybody had access to family law, which was designed to be administered by lawyers and adjudicated by judges.
Times have now changed so much, that hundreds of thousands of people can no longer have access to a lawyer. Instead, they must try and access justice on their own. Family law legal aid has been all but destroyed and I consider this to be a shocking and shameful indictment of our society. At the time of writing, the Government is doing its best to help its citizens help themselves to family law – but its efforts are lame and limp, and its guidance is flimsy.