Life as a trainee solicitor in the family law department

Fri 7th Jul 2017

If truth be told, I was originally slightly daunted by the prospect of doing a seat in Family law. I have numerous friends who are either Family trainees or solicitors and I had therefore already gained considerable insight into the nature of the work and clientele prior to starting the seat. I had been told on several occasions that the sensitivity of the matters and the associated high emotions, on the most part, exceeded that of any other area of law and it was for that reason that I expected a seat in Family law to be particularly challenging. My previous seat was in Employment, an area where I had substantial past experience, so I was certainly moving away from my comfort zone.

I am now two months into my Family seat and it’s safe to say that any previous trepidation had been unwarranted. Whilst it’s true that the nature of the work often requires strength of mind and an ability to deal with difficult and sensitive issues, it is a character-building exercise that develops the ability to communicate with clients calmly and effectively even in the worst situations. Each case is based on its own facts and the next steps are often unpredictable, meaning that every day is entirely different. In my opinion, the variety of work in the Family department is unparalleled. In just two months, I have assisted with financial disclosure; drafted various Court documents; prepared instructions to Counsel and undertaken other preparatory steps for hearings, amongst an array of other work.

When I joined the Family department, there were several hearings approaching which required a significant amount of preparation – essentially, it was all hands on deck. It didn’t take me long to realise that you need to possess an innate ability to prepare bundles at the speed of light to meet strict Court deadlines if you want to succeed as a Family trainee. On one occasion, I had to prepare three sets of bundles (2 volumes in each set) in one afternoon, alongside the other work I needed to complete before the end of the day. As such, another key, transferable skill you develop in a Family seat is the ability to prioritise work under pressure, which is no mean feat when there are several hard deadlines to meet and in circumstances where there isn’t as much flexibility to extend deadlines as other areas of law.

From my experience so far, financial cases can be complex and need to be dealt with by astute negotiators who are able to achieve the optimal solution for their client. There are often numerous assets and liabilities in dispute and it is far more technical than a simple “number-crunching” exercise because, ultimately, a financial settlement will need to adequately meet the client's current and future needs. I have noticed that the difficulty is that clients’ expectations can often be far apart from the realistic outcome and therefore their expectations need to be carefully managed from the outset.

Whilst financial cases have their own intricacies, it has become apparent to me that children cases require an additional layer of understanding and care when advising clients, in light of the heightened emotions and often volatile relationships between Mother and Father. These types of cases often involve difficult conversations with clients, in circumstances where their desired outcome does not correlate with the child’s best interests. During my time with the department, I have found it particularly insightful to note the different techniques and conversational styles adopted by fee-earners in order to maintain a strong rapport with clients. It is clear that approachability and reliability are vital traits for a family lawyer, as a certain level of trust needs to be built in order for the client to truly believe that their sensitive matters are being dealt with by the right person.

It is a common assumption that Family law isn’t for the fainthearted, as you will invariably work on cases that are very upsetting in nature. However, in my view, this aspect makes it even more rewarding to be in a position to assist those who arguably are most in need of legal advice and, more importantly, for whom you are able to find solutions at an extremely difficult time in their personal lives. Undoubtedly, undertaking a seat in Family law provides trainees with essential skills to succeed in a career in law.

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