A year at Stowe Family Law, 2019
It only feels like yesterday that I was writing about a year at Stowe Family Law in 2018 and yet here I am, reviewing 2019 and just a week away from 2020.
Last year I wrote about the political chaos over Brexit and Donald Trump gaslighting America with his fake news and lies and sadly nothing has changed there but things have certainly changed at Stowe.
It has been another pivotal year in the growth and development of our business with highs and lows and a lot of hard work along the way.
So without further ado let’s jump into some of the highlights.
We started the year with Resolution’s Mediation Week and there were some very well-deserved nominations at the Manchester Legal Awards for the whole North West team and Helen Miller from our Altrincham office. At the end of the month, Alice Wightman joined us at our Chancery Lane office in London.
February started with the news that Sarah Barr-Young, Maria Coster and Camilla Burton-Baddeley had been recognised nationally by Resolution. Later in the month, Sarah Jane Lenihan achieved Family Law Advanced Accreditation from The Law Society. And we had two new starters with Jane Hockless joining us at the Beverley office and Claire Chisnall in Ilkley.
In March, we celebrated the first-year anniversary of the Bristol office and the team launched The Bristol Break-Up Club. The team in London teamed up with Citizen Advice Bureau to offer free legal advice. There were three more new starters with Laura Webster joining the team in St Albans, Aaron Bailey in Winchester and Gabrielle Read-Thomas in Altrincham. At the end of the month, we sponsored the Wilmslow 10K with a team of ten representing Stowe.
Welcoming Joanna Newton to the team in Bristol was quickly followed by the opening of an office in York, our 19th as we continued to build on our strong presence in Yorkshire.
We were also shortlisted for Large Firm of the Year award at the Harrogate Excellence in Business Awards and enjoyed celebrating this achievement at the gala dinner.
Looking at the wider family law stage, in April the Government’s then Justice Secretary David Gauke announced its intention to reform divorce law by taking away the requirement to provide a “fact” for divorce whether it be by reference to behaviour or a period of separation.
Needless to say, this declared intention to reform was welcomed universally by family law professionals who have seen how the “blame game” often serves to make difficult situations even more contentious.
May started with the opening of our 20th office in Huddersfield and Rachel Joyce joined the team in Beverley and Laura-Faye Trainor, the team in Birmingham.
In June, the Mental Health First Aid and Champion training programme were rolled out across the firm as part of Stowe together, with over 30 of our colleagues undertaking the course from across all our office locations. The team in Leeds took on the Leeds Legal Walk and it was the annual charity golf day in Harrogate.
June also saw the government introduce the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill to the House of Commons; the start of the legislative journey but which was destined to hit a few buffers on its way.
We welcomed Niamh McCarthy to our team in Esher at the beginning of July along with Louise Chipchase, who as Managing Partner opened our 21st office in Cheltenham.
August began with the news that Katie Kilburn from Wetherby had achieved Resolution’s Specialist Accreditation. Whilst the BBC was filming at the location of our very beautiful Bristol office for the Agatha Christie Christmas special.
In Leeds, Shanika Varga and Hannah Ross successfully launched the Leeds Junior Family Lawyers networking group linking up with local barristers chambers to provide training and providing a great opportunity to develop friendships amongst their peers.
As the schools went back in September, Emma Newman celebrated a well-deserved win of the Family Lawyer of The Year award at the Surrey Law Society Legal Awards Ceremony.
Over in Bristol, Jemma Slavin and Rachel Fisher were shortlisted for two Bristol Law Society (BLS) awards: Lawyer of the Year for Jemma and Junior Lawyer of the Year for Rachel.
October is also conference season so we headed to Birmingham for our second year.
The environment in which legal services are provided continues to evolve. The event saw the launch of our new three-year strategy for growth covering our vision, purpose and ambition and how we will get there.
At Stowe, we are committed to harnessing the strength and depth of knowledge that we provide as the UK’s largest specialist family law team. And 2020 will bring some very exciting changes which will continue to improve the working environment for our team and add further value and excellent outcomes for our clients.
At the annual conference, our CEO Charles Hartwell signed our Time to Change Employer Pledge to signify our commitment to supporting the wellbeing of our colleagues who handle the stresses of the people we serve, together with their own personal burdens.
The rollercoaster of political life in 2018 saw, in October, the disappointing news that both the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation and Domestic Abuse Bill had been axed due to Parliament being prorogued.
The question of prorogation brought into the public’s gaze one of the country’s greatest family lawyers, Lady Hale, resplendent with her spider brooch, who delivered the Supreme Court’s decision on this thorny issue. A former barrister from 1 Kings Bench Walk Chambers and Yorkshire born and bred, her rise to the very top of her profession has been an inspiration to many young lawyers and in particular her championing of greater gender equality across the profession.
Our 22nd office opened in November in Chelmsford with Seb Burrows joining us Managing Partner. In St Albans, we sponsored the impressive space-themed Son-et-Lumiere, Space Voyage. The great and good of Harrogate joined us for a networking event and Natasha Ord joined the growing team in Reading.
With a General Election called, the election pledges regarding family law and divorce law reform were contained in the manifestos of the Labour and Liberal Democrat parties.
Whilst missing from the Conservative manifesto, Lord Chancellor Robert Buckland confirmed in a tweet that they intended to re-introduce the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill.
And now here we are at the end of December. At the time of writing, Melanie Quinn has joined us at the St Albans office and Jennifer Hudec at the Manchester office. We then welcomed Lucy Birch to our team in Chelmsford and Phoebe Hill to our London Victoria office.
This month, we also welcomed the news that ministers have revived plans to introduce no-fault divorce and it was included in the government’s background notes to the Queen’s speech. The Domestic Abuse Bill has also been brought back to the table. I hope that 2020 will be the year that we finally see this much-needed reform introduced.
Family law developments
Earlier this year, there was the announcement that civil partnerships would be extended to opposite-sex couples (previously only available to same-sex couples) with the first opposite-sex civil partnerships taking place at the end of this month.
It will be interesting to see how many couples regard civil partnerships as a more appropriate option to marriage and whether cohabiting couples who had previously decided not to marry choose to embrace this alternative “arrangement”.
However, what is urgently needed is law reform to provide clarity and at least provide minimum rights to cohabiting couples especially to protect the financially weaker parties who often find themselves extremely vulnerable when their relationships end.
At Stowe, we will continue to push the need for this reform and in the meantime educate people as to their legal rights and responsibilities under the current patchwork of laws.
Stowe in the community
Back to Stowe and throughout the year we have worked hard to give something back to the communities where we have offices and further afield.
We have sponsored the Ilkley Literary Festival, Wilmslow 10K, Yorkshire Children of Courage Awards, The Hat Festival in Winchester, St Albans Film Festival and the Reading Santa walk amongst others.
Our people have run half-marathons and 10K’s, thrown themselves out of planes, slept rough, baked cakes and given up their time to support charities including Rosie May Foundation, The Children’s Sick Trust, Gloucester City Mission, Sue Ryder, Leckhampton Court Hospice and The Access to Justice Foundation
Well, what a year. Thank you to all our team for their hard work, commitment and dedication to our business and our clients.
Lastly, may I thank you as readers of this blog for your loyal following and wish you all a peaceful, healthy and prosperous New Year.