Life as a trainee in the family department

Trainee Solicitor, Rebecca details her experience of working in the SA Law family department

Family Law is a dynamic and challenging area of law. It entails resolving disputes in the context of divorce and finances as well as children. As a trainee you are entrusted with early responsibility from the outset which may sound daunting but you have the guidance of experienced solicitors to ensure that you are on the right track. I am fortunate to be part of both a successful team and great working environment.

I learnt very early on that the way you deal with each case differs despite any similarities you may find with other cases. There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to family law. Moreover you are dealing with clients who face extremely difficult relationship breakdowns. In this regard, it is paramount that you are able to not only understand the complexities of the case but its sensitivity. It is also important to build a good rapport with clients as they need to be able to trust you.

Although I am often involved in varied work, I get the opportunity to be involved with cases from start to finish which allows me to see the results of the hard work that I have put in. The work that I do on a daily basis ranges from drafting Forms E, Forms H, financial schedules, Statements of Information, researching complex areas of law to preparing for hearings and attending at Court. I am often adhering to Court deadlines and I have been able to learn how to work well under pressure. I drafted an article for the Family Law Journal quite early on in the seat in an area of family law that was unfamiliar to me. I enjoyed the research element because I was able to expand my legal knowledge. Furthermore drafting the article allowed me to develop my writing skills.

I found it particularly useful to see the way fee earners adopt different techniques when dealing with a variety of clients. I have been fortunate enough to have a lot of client contact (sometimes on my own) including client meetings and telephone conference calls. I have noticed that I have grown in confidence when speaking to clients.

One of the most interesting yet unfortunate cases I am working on involves a client who lacks mental capacity. The case involves divorce proceedings and resolution of finances. The case is unusual given the facts and we act for our client through a Litigation Friend. I was tasked with researching the law regarding mental capacity in the context of divorce and the requirements for issuing the application to appoint a Litigation Friend. I was able to find the relevant information and make the application to the Court. It is a complex area of law given that a person’s capacity to consent can change. You also have to bear in my mind the limitations placed on the Litigation Friend in terms of the decisions they are able to make and the advice that you provide. The final hearing for this particular case is just at the end of my seat in family law but I have been able to stay on in family team for another week to enable me to attend Court and learn more about the final stage of the proceedings and outcome.

A good understanding of family law will certainly enable you to develop transferable skills which will be beneficial no matter what area of law you choose to specialise in. It requires effective time management and a high degree of flexibility given that situations can change at any time. The work is often demanding in nature but equally rewarding.

Whilst working at SA Law I have been able to benefit from the support and guidance of colleagues across the firm which makes the transition between each seat so much easier. SA Law has an open door policy which encourages a friendly working environment. I aim to utilise the skills I have acquired to continue the path to a successful career in law. 

© SA LAW 2018

Every care is taken in the preparation of our articles. However, no responsibility can be accepted to any person who acts on the basis of information contained in them alone. You are recommended to obtain specific advice in respect of individual cases.