Stowe Family Law: being a trainee solicitor

This post will serve as both my first post on the Stowe Family Law trainee blog, as well as a marker that I am around half way through my training contract. Throughout my time at law school, or even since leaving law school and spending time with non-lawyer friends, stereotypes often emerge surrounding the work that I do.

As such, I intend to use this blog post to dispel three myths that those not-in-the-know believe to be true.

Myth 1: Trainee solicitors are photocopying experts

Throughout law school, I heard horror stories of trainees spending hundreds of hours in copy rooms. I have often heard of training contracts at some firms being nothing more than lessons on the functionality of those large, copy-scan-printers. After a year of working in the London office, I can attest to being able to do some wizardry with a photocopier. Double siding. Focussing images. Enlarging. Reducing. Paginating in Roman numerals (a personal favourite). However I also spend a great deal of time wading through distinct tasks in a Partner’s case-load, waist deep in complicated law; learning.

Stowe encourages self-starters, who have a desire to practice and learn the law. I have been fortunate enough to attend conferences with very experienced barristers every week, and learnt areas of family law that are not run of the mill. I have been given work by very experienced solicitors on areas of law that they were unfamiliar with, and while under their diligent watch, made applications that I would not have made in larger city law firms. In a nutshell, my workload is both wide-ranging and complex. However, I can still photocopy with the best of them.

Myth 2: It’s all about the money

One thing that I have particularly benefitted from at Stowe, which is very different from other practices in London, is that I am encouraged to learn. If a solicitor in the London office is doing something that they haven’t done before – something that they find difficult or unusual – I am often asked if I would like to help or keep an eye on what they are doing. In this regard, a large part of my day is spent doing non-chargeable work. Learning.

I am not, as many of my non-lawyer friends would have me believe, bleeding clients dry. That is not how the legal profession works. It is certainly not how Stowe Family Law works.

As a firm which focuses on the trainee experience and encourages young lawyers to become very good at their job, it’s not all about the money. Stowe understands that sometimes it’s a nurturing hand that makes a trainee become a great lawyer in the future. It’s about reaping what they sow.

Myth 3: Lawyers are soulless

This is one of my favourite myths. Most people think that when we clock off, leave the office and head home, we switch off. That may be the case in some areas of law, however it certainly isn’t the case within family practice. Since starting as a paralegal at Stowe back in May 2014, I spend most of my waking hours thinking about other peoples’ issues. How a situation can be ameliorated for X. How we can ensure that Y has a good family Christmas. Family lawyers do not switch off.

For more information on trainee contracts see this post: Time to Review Stowe Family Law training contracts.

I hope that this post has proven useful in some small way. Be it for a law student thinking of a career within family law or for one of our clients to glean a small insight into what the firm’s trainees actually get up to. I hope to help lift the veil a little more in future blog posts.

Stowe Family Law Harrogate and litigants in person

Stowe Family Law Harrogate and Litigants in Person

By Shanika Varga of Stowe Family Law Harrogate.

Litigants in person- the unrecognised victims

Since the introduction of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO) legal aid has been restricted to only covering family law cases which involve domestic violence which can be proven, most other private matters are now out of scope. This has resulted in a significant increase in litigants in person in divorce and financial proceedings and proceedings relating to children.  The National Audit Office (NAO) has reported a 22% increase in cases involving contact with children and a 30% increase across all family court cases in which neither party had legal representation.

A litigant in person is someone who conducts legal proceedings on their own behalf without a legal professional. It is very often the case that a LIP will have sought legal advice at some stage during the proceedings, whether it be that they instructed someone to start off with but simply couldn’t afford the legal fees, that they started proceedings as a LIP but then sought legal representation further down the line or that they receive ad-hoc advice out of court but self-represent during hearings.

Litigants in person have been referred to as the ‘victims’ of the legal aid cuts but from my personal experience it is all the parties that are involved in a case where one person is unrepresented that become victims of the cuts to Legal Aid.

In the past 12 months I have been involved in several matters where one party was self-representing. The issues that were brought to my attention were numerous. One of the concerns expressed prior to LAPSO coming into force was that the inevitable increase in LIP may clog up the courts. Research conducted by the NAO showed that hearings involving LIP’s take around 50% longer on average.   During a recent Children Act hearing, the unrepresented parties’ failure to adhere to orders that had been made resulted in the Final Hearing being adjourned due to evidence not being available. This meant the matter was relisted for the earliest possible date, this was 4 months later! Not only that but the District Judge decided that because one party didn’t have legal representation, the time estimate for this hearing should be increased from one day to two days. It was quite evident, that this was necessary, the unsuccessful hearing was exhausting. The unrepresented party continued to interrupt both the District Judge and our client’s barrister, hadn’t brought any of the documents they were previously ordered to and had even failed to bring the court bundle that was sent to them by ourselves only days before, which included a very clear letter stating these documents must be brought to Court. Although the District Judge remained patient and gave the LIP the required leeway, the frustration was clear. What could have been an effective hearing had the LIP had legal representation was now a full wasted day…

The victims? The LIP, our client and most importantly the children! The LIP likely left that hearing more confused than when they entered. Our client now had to pay for an ineffective hearing and had the added cost of attending a further, now two day hearing! Not only this but the Family Procedure Rules dictate that the onus is on the represented party to prepare court bundles and documents, even if they aren’t the party that made the application as is the usual practice, thus resulting in more costs! But more disappointingly, the children were no closer to what could only be described as acrimonious and difficult proceedings coming to an end. Although it is practice to ensure that children do not become involved in proceedings in order to protect their emotional welfare, it is extremely difficult to keep them completely shielded. Children are perceptive and pick up on their parents emotions and actions, even with no mention of court hearings or proceedings a child is likely to be aware of mood changes or strained interactions, no matter how well a parent thinks they are concealing these feelings. The longer the proceedings continue, the longer the children are left with uncertainty and the longer they are exposed to the inevitable stress and upset their parents are feeling as was the case in this situation.

Late last year I attended another Children Act Final Hearing. The matter had been ongoing for a year. As is often the case, our client didn’t feel as though they could deal with the proceedings without legal representation and with something as precious as their child’s future didn’t feel it would be right to go ahead without assistance, who could blame them? Much to our client’s relief the matter settled on the morning of the Final Hearing, but unfortunately there was a feeling of disappointment that matters had gone this far. The unrepresented party commented that an agreement could be reached sooner had they been received certain advice, or in other words had they had a solicitor. I would go one step further and question had they been able to access a solicitor via legal aid, would they have even issued the application? It may well be that they would have done so anyway, but it is fair to say that had they obtained legal advice, it is highly unlikely that they would have issued the application on the basis they did, the unrepresented party sought a division of time which the court’s were very unlikely to order and any good solicitor would have advised exactly that. Furthermore negotiations would have been more successful had there been a solicitor representing them. It is very often the case, that without guidance, a LIP will dig their heels in, when faced with correspondence from a solicitor there seems to be a tendency to either bury heads and ignore or push back harder. With the assistance of a solicitor, a difficult situation can be resolved much quicker as a solicitor will provide the much needed voice of reason.

Another issue that I witnessed was the amount of unnecessary applications made when one party was unrepresented. In the Children Act matter mentioned above the court went as far as making an order pursuant to S91(4) of the Children Act 1989. A S91(4) order is made in cases where there is a history of unreasonable and repeated applications. Where the above criteria is met, in the future should either party wish to make a further application, they would first have to make an application to the court seeking permission to do so. Only if permission is granted, would they be able to then make the substantive application. This type of order is used only as a last resort. In the aforementioned case, within the period of 4 years there had been 4 applications made in respect of the child arrangements.  This was clearly a case where a S91(4) was required. But again, I asked myself whether this would have been necessary had the unrepresented party had legal advice. I again encountered this issue during financial remedy proceedings, one party was unrepresented and two applications were made in the space of 8 weeks, the first application was so poorly made that the District Judge advised that although they wanted to make the order they simply couldn’t, the second application weeks later, although successful, was completely unnecessary, had the party in question obtained legal advice in the first instance, the initial application would have been successful without the need for a second hearing! These applications resulted in additional stress and costs for our client.

What has been evident through my involvement with cases where one party in unrepresented is that what is already an extremely difficult process becomes even more so. Increased costs for the represented party, unsuccessful negotiations, lengthy and sometimes unnecessary hearings and more heartache for all those involved, it surely cannot be said that the only victim is the LIP in these cases?

Photo by Alwyn Ladell via Flickr

Story of the no fault divorce

No fault divorce: don’t blame me!

Hello readers,

I have previously written a post about this subject, but it is becoming more relevant than ever. I thought, therefore, that I would update you as to the position in respect of the ‘No fault divorce’. On 13th October, Richard Bacon MP recommended an amendment to divorce law which would enable divorcing couples to make an application for a no fault divorce, on the basis that they both agree that there is no fault to lay at the feet of either party for the breakdown of the marriage. The proposal would allow a divorce “when each party has separately made a declaration that the marriage or civil partnership has irretrievably broken down without a requirement by either party to satisfy the Court of any other facts“. On 13th October 2015, MP’s passed the first reading of the No Fault Bill.

Discussions and proposals to introduce a no fault divorce, have spanned over nearly 2 decades; so this is by no means a new idea. However, when legislation providing for a no fault divorce was passed in 1996, the law was eventually repealed, when a change in Government meant that the provisions were never actioned.  There have been countless debates about whether a move to a no fault divorce would diminish the sanctity of marriage by making it easier for people to divorce which may then increase the number of divorces. However, it now seems as though we are taking a step, in what I suggest is the right direction. Mr Bacon himself has made it clear that he does not wish to make achieving a divorce easier. Instead, he would simply like to create a no fault option for couples who are divorcing.

The current law states that there is one ground for divorce, which is the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage. This ground must then be supported by one of 5 facts, which are as follows:

  1. Adultery;
  2. Unreasonable behaviour;
  3. Desertion;
  4. 2 years separation with consent; and
  5. 5 years separation.

It is easy to see that in the absence of 2 years separation and adultery, the only ground to be relied upon is unreasonable behaviour if the parties wish for the divorce to proceed immediately. However, it is an unreasonable behaviour petition that can often provoke unnecessary hostility and acrimony. This can even be the case where parties have initially expressed a wish to handle the proceedings in a conciliatory manner. The fact of the matter is that even if the marriage has broken down naturally, one party will ultimately have to be blamed. In this sense, the current law can be confusing. This is particularly so when parties are acting as litigant in person (without representation).  Solicitors are trained to make the particulars as benign as possible, drafting the particulars of behaviour in a subtle and sensitive way. However, even with the help of a solicitor, arbitrating blame where there is none can set proceedings off on the wrong foot, often to the detriment of any children involved.

I will keep you all updated on the progress of the No Fault Divorce Bill and welcome your opinions on the matter!

Photo by Nancy L. Stockdale via Flickr under a Creative Commons licence

The many faces of the family lawyer

Recently, I have been involved in quite a number of matters which required a much higher level of sensitivity due to the individual facts of the case.

I found myself having conversations that I didn’t ever expect to have whilst I had my ‘professional hat’ on. At law school we are taught how to interview a client, how to build a professional relationship with them and how to obtain instructions, but we are not taught how to reassure a victim of domestic violence or how to calm a spouse who has just discovered that their partner is cheating on them. Those are skills we have to learn and develop on our own.

Although I think there is an element of ‘learning on the job’, I strongly believe that with most family solicitors, these are skills that come naturally to them.

Family matters must always be treated with a higher degree of sensitivity, the very nature of family law is that it is highly personal. Not only are you dealing with a client’s assets but you are also dealing with their lives. When asked what is most important to most of us, although our careers will be a factor (especially in the legal sector!) most of us will say the wellbeing and happiness of those we love ranks fairly high.

Family law therefore is at the heart of people. The level in which people are invested is so much higher than other areas of law and with this comes the necessity to treat each situation not only with respect but with compassion.

My time at Stowe Family Law has really made me think about the role of a family lawyer. Family solicitors very often end up playing the role of legal advisor, therapist and sometimes friend.

Family matters are often protracted and over time a relationship is forged between client and solicitor. The nature of the relationship between solicitor and client will differ from that you would find in a commercial transaction.

A family solicitor knows the intimate details of a client’s marriage or the personal history which has led to them seeing a solicitor and very often will see the client at their most vulnerable. The family law solicitor will often find themselves in a situation where they have to change their tact constantly throughout the day, from being firm and sometimes aggressive with the other side of the matter to taking a more delicate approach with your own client.

Too much too young?

This week I had the opportunity to attend a conference in relation to a children matter. Unfortunately, when couples separate, issues in respect of the children arise. Such matters are fraught with emotion and can be particularly hard to resolve. Ultimately, there are many ways to parent children and views often conflict.

A regular consequence of such disputes is that the children will be detrimentally affected. The Court recognises that this is the case and the very principles that guide the Courts, illustrate the point further. The key underlying principle, contained in Section 1(1) of the Children Act 1989 is that when a Court determines any question with respect to:

  1. The upbringing of the child; or
  2. The administration of a child’s property or the application of any income arising from it,

The child’s welfare shall be the Court’s primary consideration.

The Children Act then refers the Court to Section 1(3) to the ‘Welfare Checklist’ of which the Court must have regard to when exercising its powers to make a Section 8 Order, such as contact. Ultimately, the Order made must be in the best interests of the child. However, as one can easily imagine, what is in the best interests of the child/children will differ dramatically from parent to parent and possible even from Court to Court. There is an abundance of case law available to the Court to further assist their decisions in respect of each of the factors contained within the Welfare Checklist. However, I chose today to focus on Section 1(3)(a) Wishes and feelings of the child.  Indeed, the case that I was working on today did exactly that.

The age of the child is most obviously an important aspect of this factor; however it is not the only aspect to be considered. We all know that sometimes children are wiser beyond their years and sometimes they are extremely immature. All children differ and so the wording of Section 1(3)(a) guides Judges to consider the wishes of the child in light of their age and understanding. The Court will, alongside considering the child’s maturity, also take into account the likelihood that they have been influenced by the other parties.

It must be noted, that although the children’s wishes can be influential they are not decisive. The weight to be attached to what the children want will be at the Court’s discretion and will not always take precedence. This is because, unfortunately, the child may not have the requisite maturity or life experience to know what is in their best interests. I know that there were many times when I was younger, that I thought I knew what was best for me but was proved wrong by my mother, teachers and the like.

For example, in Re C (A Minor) (Care: Child’s Wishes) [1993] 1FLR 832 it was held that a 13 year old girl was too young to make decisions as to who she would live with. In this case, she wished to live with her father but the Court decided that the burden of making decisions about her future was too large. However, this case can then be contrasted with Re S (Contact: Children’s views) [2002] 1 FLR 1156 the wishes of children who were aged between 12 and 16 were all respected, when the Court was faced with the task of deciding upon contact.

What becomes clear from the case law, is that each case must be judged on its own merits. The Children Act 1989 and in particular, the Welfare Checklist affords the Court’s with wide discretion. This can often infuriate clients as there are unfortunately no certainties. What is in the best interest of the child is not always clear and as such, can be a matter of opinion. On the other hand, sometimes it is abundantly clear. However, the Court will only make an Order if to do so is in the best interest of the child that would be subject to it. This is another principle of the Children Act 1989, namely, the ‘no order’ principle.

Unfortunately, I believe that the wishes of the children involved in the case I was working on, will hold little weight as they were too young to fully understand the situation. That being said, I do believe that children’s voices matter. Children are often more astute than we think! It is very unlikely that there will ever be a uniformed method of deciding what is in the best interests of a child and I am sure that the case law in respect of the children’s wishes will continue to grow …… and also conflict! I would be interested to know the readers perspective. Should children be able to decide who they should live with? How much contact they have with the absent parent? Or is that simply too much for a child to have to decide?

The Blame Game: No Fault Divorce

Baroness Hale has recently shown her support to the calls for the introduction of a no fault divorce in England and Wales, and she is not alone! Many practitioners have also expressed that they would favour a no fault divorce process. It seems that it is the general consensus that the move would be a ‘common sense approach’ to take.

As it stands, to obtain a divorce, in the absence of being separated for 2 years, a petitioner would have to cite either adultery or unreasonable behaviour as the reason for the breakdown of their marriage. I personally believe that no fault divorces could have the potential to remove a degree of acrimony from the proceedings. Unfortunately, the particulars of behaviour in fault based petitions can often enflame the atmosphere between the parties which inevitably has an effect on how the future proceedings in relation to the finances and/or children are conducted. Perhaps removing the blame element would encourage parties to remain amicable and work together towards reaching agreements.

Indeed, Resolution have commented and stated that the introduction may reduce the likelihood of cases litigating. They suggested that it may also “facilitate a constructive focus on future arrangements and responsibility in the best interests of any children”. They went on to say that a no fault divorce would be beneficial in other way as it would allow “parties should be free to achieve financial certainty quicker than they do now”.

However, on the other hand, it has been argued that the introduction of a no fault based divorce may have the potential to increase the numbers of people divorcing. At present, the importance of the sanctity of marriage is reflected by the law. Parties cannot divorce in the first year of marriage and must thereafter wait two years or otherwise rely on adultery or unreasonable behaviour. It may be the case that removing the fault element would somehow dilute the significance placed on marriage by making divorce to readily accessible.

That being said, the reality is somewhat juxtaposed to the underlying principles of the law. People who are not able to obtain a divorce on a mutual footing (2 years separation with consent) either end up living separately and waiting for those two years to pass or decide to one of the fault based facts, when they otherwise would not have done so. One must bear in mind, that just because people are not divorced…. It doesn’t mean they will stay together.

I would be interested to see what you, the readers, think. After considering the potential effects of removing the blame, I believe that costs would be saved, court appearances reduced and relationships given the chance to remain amicable!

Prenuptial Agreements, are they worth the paper they’re written on?

This week I attended a meeting where the client was seeking advice in relation to a Prenuptial Agreement (PNA’s). Taking a detailed note in client meetings is an integral part of a trainee’s role. The note enables the solicitor to manage the case effectively and attending the meeting certainly aids my learning and understanding of the law as I am able to see everything I learnt at university and on the LPC put into practice. This week that was prenuptial agreements.

So… what is a prenuptial agreement exactly? A prenuptial agreement is a contract which is entered into by the parties either contemplating or in preparation of an upcoming marriage. The agreement details what will happen to their individual assets in the event that the marriage breaks down. Most PNA’s will concentrate on the protection and regulation of assets, but they can also dictate the jurisdiction of the financial proceedings, should they occur.

I thought that I would, therefore, use this blog post to inform you all about the quasi contractual nature of PNA’s and how the Courts decide what degree of weight should be attached to the agreement. Are they worth the paper that they are written on?

The case of Radmacher v Garantino 2010 was a landmark case in the history of English divorce law. Prior to Radmacher, PNA’s had been viewed as somewhat opposing to public policy. PNA’s are not subject to any statutory guidance, however, the ruling in Radmacher resulted in the PNA’s being given effect so long as they were entered into freely and where both parties intended for the agreement to have legal effect and had a full appreciation of the consequences of entering into the agreement. That being said, the jurisdiction of the Court is unfettered and as such, varying factors can either enhance or lessen the weight that the Court will attach to the PNA as part of ‘all the circumstances of the case’ within the meaning of Section 25 (1) MCA 1973. However, the Court must also use its discretion to ensure that it would not be unfair to hold one to the agreement. It should be noted that it is clear that the Courts are now a lot more willing to attach the suitable weight to the PNA.

The judgement in Radmacher gave definitive guidance as to the treatment of PNA’s in proceedings for ancillary relief following a divorce. The case law that has since developed reveals what some practitioners would consider to be a move towards enforceability.

In the case of B v S, Mostyn J summarised the principles (as he interpreted them) that had emerged from Radmacher. To see the full summary can be found here.

However, the principles are as follows. A Court will give effect to a PNA if:

  1. It is entered into freely by each party with a full appreciation of its implications;
  2. There has not been a material lack of disclosure;
  3. It should be entered into with no element of duress, fraud or misrepresentation;
  4. There was no exploitation of a dominant position;
  5. The agreement doesn’t prejudice the position of any children of the family;
  6. The agreement is fair and does not leave one party in a position of real need;

However, it was also noted in the judgement that there must be a consideration by the Courts for the respect of individual autonomy and allowing married couples to decide what happens to their assets following divorce.

We are now 5 years on from the case of Radmacher and it is likely that the case law in this area will continue to develop. It is inevitable that many will view the outcome of Radmacher as desirable. Divorce law in England and Wales is discretionary and is thus uncertain. It is likely that people will view the ruling as a way to battle the uncertainties and protect their financial position. The underlying aim of the ruling in Radmacher was to give greater sovereignty to the parties to a marriage in deciding how to distribute their property following the unfortunate breakdown of their marriage. However, the case law suggests that the courts will carry on approaching PNA’s on a case by case basis with the needs of the parties and the fairness of the agreement being the salient consideration in the Court’s decision whether to uphold the agreement.

There is a notable move towards giving PNA’s the contractual status they are subject to in other jurisdictions. It would seem that the PNA’s have been afforded a quasi-contractual nature at present and my guess is that they will continue to gain popularity due to the new readiness to uphold them. That being said, the Court cannot be precluded from exercising its jurisdiction in financial matters and I for one don’t think that is likely to change any time soon.

Adoption on the rise

It was reported by the Department of Education that Adoptions are at their highest since 1992. There were 5050 ‘looked after children’ adopted during the year ending 31 March 2014: this is a 26 per cent increase from 2013 and a 58 per cent increase since 2010.

What is a looked after child?

Under section 22 of the Children Act 1989 a child is ‘looked after’ if they are in the Local Authorities care or provided with accommodation for a continuous period of more than 24 hours, subject either to a Care Order as per S31 of the Children Act 1989 or subject to a Placement Order as per section 21 Adoption and Children Act 2002.

This increase is despite the 47 per cent decrease in ‘Adoption Decision Maker’ decisions between July 2013 and September 2014, as reported by the National Adoption Leadership Board in December of last year following the case of Re B-S. ADM decisions are made in the second stage of adoption when all checks on the prospective adopters have been reviewed and the panel have made their recommendations. It was felt by the Board that the judgement in Re B-S created a great deal of uncertainty and resulted in the release of a myth buster in response to the comments made in the judgement, with the aim of clarifying and de-mystifying the law in this area in the hope that adoption decisions would subsequently rise and thus adoption figures would rise in turn.

Whether adoptions will rise further is yet to be seen but the increase so far has been partly attributed to the Action Plan on Adoption which was published in March 2012 and sought to reduce the time taken for a child to be adopted. The Department of Education reports that the average time from a child initially being taken into care and their adoption has reduced by 2 months. It was further reported that although most looked after children (37 per cent) are aged 10-15, those aged one to four made up the highest proportion of looked after children to be adopted. Research carried out by the Family Finding Study found that placement stability and quality was a significant factor in successful placements and this was largely attributed to younger children having fewer behavioural problems.

What is evident from the report published by the Department of Education is that although great headway has been made vast improvements need to be made in order to ensure that as many children ‘looked after’ by the Local Authority are placed in permanent homes.

Shanika Varga

My name is Shanika Varga and I am a trainee solicitor at Stowe Family Law. My contribution to this blog is to provide an honest and open account of life through my eyes at Stowe. It will provide insight into life at the largest specialist family law firms in the country and my journey as a trainee solicitor through to qualification. I hope this is of help to prospective trainees and all long suffering law students/ aspiring solicitors.

More about me:

I graduated with a 2:1 LLB from the University of Keele and went on to study the Legal Practice Course at the College of Law York after taking a year out to work in the legal sector. I completed the LPC with a distinction in all subjects in June 2014 and began working Stowe in October 2014.

Whilst studying for the LPC I made the most of the pro bono opportunities available at the centre and found that doing so really helped focus my attention on not only what kind of firm I hoped to train with but what areas of law I enjoyed and was most suited to.

I have a keen interest in cooking, I love to read (especially now my reading list isn’t dictated by which exam I have coming up next) and I have just recently found a new love for upcycling furniture.

How I became a trainee solicitor

My reasons for considering a career in the law may not be as inspirational as some. The idea was first put into my head by several of my teachers at secondary school commenting that my argumentative nature would suit the profession. This opinion was echoed by my family members and I am sure my long suffering fiancée wouldn’t disagree either.

I decided to explore this career option during my year 10 work experience. I spent two weeks at a firm in my hometown and thoroughly enjoyed my time there. Although the work was not overly legal I gained a real insight into how a practice runs on a day-to-day basis and, from then on, a legal career was my focus.

My path toward family law

I studied my LLB at Keele Univeristy and the three years flew by. Before I knew it, it was April 2012 and I was about to sit my finals. At this point, I honestly hadn’t given a massive amount of thought to training contracts. I had managed to secure a place on the LPC to start September 2012 but, after a lot of thought and consideration, decided that it would be best to defer the LPC for a year. This would give me the chance to earn some money to help pay for the LPC and to re-motivate myself. Third year really took its toll on my enthusiasm for the law!

My reason for not applying for training contracts was simply that I didn’t know what I wanted. There are so many different firm structures and areas of law that I didn’t see how I could tie myself down or make a decision without knowing more about what was out there. The law you learn at University is very different to the LPC or practice. It wasn’t until my year out working that I started to get more of an idea of the kind of solicitor I wanted to be. It was more a process of elimination than a ‘eureka moment’ but with each different area of law I experienced I could definitively say that it wasn’t for me.

Throughout University I was drawn to Family Law, choosing modules which complimented this area. However, it wasn’t until I started the LPC that I truly realised that this was the area for me.

 

When I first started the LPC..

I didn’t know what to expect. I had been told so many contradictory things by former LPC students. The jump from studying my LLB to the LPC was huge; the style of work, teaching and learning is completely different. It was no longer about how much case law you can regurgitate and so much more to do with your application of the law to facts. I was relieved, although it was an extremely intense nine months. I really felt like I was becoming a legal professional. I felt so much more prepared for starting a job in the legal sector than I did when I started.

It was during the second term of my LPC that I decided family law would be my focus. I took the family law module and I finally found a subject where everything made complete sense! All the other LPC subjects had been fairly easy to study but Family Law just clicked. This now meant that I could really focus my attention on the right kind of firm and I found that my applications had improved one hundred fold! It is so much easier to convince someone that you are right for their firm when you truly believe in what you are saying!

 

My transition into trainee life was fairly straightforward and quick.

I finished the LPC in June 2014 and started a job at a legal aid firm immediately. During my time there, I saw the advertisement for a trainee position at Stowe Family Law and sent my CV and a covering letter off, no application forms with trick questions. I was called for an interview shortly after and then attended the Harrogate office for a trial against another candidate and within a month I started.

Throughout my whole trial I questioned everything I did, even things that were second nature to me in my previous job. I think that is just the nature of the sector. We are taught from the moment that we start our LLBs, even before that when we are applying to universities, that we have to be the best.

If you were a larger fish in small pond, like I was at secondary school, it is quite an adjustment being surrounded by thousands of people just as clever and just as experienced as you are. I found that I got into the habit of constantly comparing myself to those around me. What I had learnt by the time I got my training contract though, was that this is pointless. Landing a training contract can be just as much to do with luck as ability. I very easily could have missed the advertisement for my training contract, or had a job not conveniently around the corner and not been able to sneak off for my interview in my lunch break.

What differentiates one law student from another is very often minimal and sometimes it can just come down to timing of applications or advertisements. Many law firms won’t just look at experience and ability but will look at your personality. Finding a trainee that will not only fit in with colleagues but will also fit in with the firm ethos is important to employers. They want to find a candidate that they know will approach things in the same way they would, so it is important to research firms’ reputations. If they are known to take an aggressive approach, it’s important to ask yourself whether this is the type of solicitor you want and can be. Work experience is an excellent way of gauging what a firm is like as a website will only show you so much. Actually spending a week in the environment will often show you whether you would be a good fit.

The most important thing to do though is persevere. Not many of my LPC class had training contracts when we started the LPC and I know many now that still don’t have them. It’s very hard not to give up and I had many wobbles along the way but as soon as I had a clear vision in my head of what I wanted it all became a lot easier. I was more motivated, I had more focus on what  I was aiming for and more importantly I had the confidence that it was the right move for me.