Legal dramas are quite likely to make lawyers laugh out loud or shout at the TV in frustration due to the ‘why let a good story get in the way of the facts’ approach. Reality programmes can accurately show the day to day life of many occupations, for example, the police and medics, but let’s face it – no one is likely to make a reality programme featuring ‘High Street’ solicitors anytime soon.
So, what’s it really like?
For me personally, I can’t remember a time I wasn’t interested in law and justice. I volunteered for several years at a Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) in my home town and didn’t attend university until my children were in their teens, which I would highly recommend. I think being a mature student with life experience was a real asset, particularly in my chosen field of family law.
Never a dull day
My work is never dull or repetitive as every case is different even if the facts seem similar – different circumstances, personalities, assets, number and ages of children. I once had a student sitting in with me who observed that about 50% of my job is like counselling. It’s true that I often see clients at their most unhappy and vulnerable, so my CAB training was vital in teaching me to ask the right questions and listen without judgment. It’s also a privilege to be entrusted with the most intimate details of my clients’ situations and given the opportunity to help them move forward with their lives.
My day usually starts by dealing with emails, post and phone messages, and prioritising my work for the day. However, it’s very easy for my plans to be completely derailed by one email or phone call concerning a situation that needs urgent attention. This can result in other cases being re-prioritized, and if a court application is necessary, then work on one file can take up a disproportionate amount of the day.
What is Court really like?
Face-to-face or telephone meetings with clients can last from a few minutes to a couple of hours, depending on the nature of the case. Work generated from a single meeting can involve setting up files, sending letters or emails and drafting documents such as divorce petitions, financial settlements, pre and postnuptial agreements, court applications or a straightforward change of name deed. I may have to attend court which is usually quite different to clients’ expectations – less formal and no wigs or gowns. I try to keep cases out of court and negotiate a settlement if possible as our legal system can be very adversarial and will almost certainly increase conflict between parties, take longer and cost more, none of which is good for families.
Keeping standards high
My day also often involves keeping up to date with developments in family law and undertaking professional training; there are many rules and regulations governing solicitors and law firms that we must ensure we comply with. These rules set the ethical and professional standards expected of solicitors.
I work in our open-plan office in Oakham with colleagues from our Wills, Trusts and Probate department, so when we close at 5.15 pm I make the most of the quiet – no keyboards, phones, photocopier or noisy kettle – and use this time to catch up with clients by phone or email, which is often more convenient for them if they have been unavailable in the day at work. I also often use this time to review and draft complex documents before going home.
Being a ‘High Street’ family solicitor may seem less glamorous than working in a large city firm (and is nothing like the TV drama ‘The Split’!) but ultimately the law is the same. It is a demanding and sometimes stressful job, but the work is so rewarding I can’t imagine doing anything else.