Family law: area of practice (barristers)
Family law is a broad area of work concerning child protection issues and disputes between family members. It can range from local authority intervention in childcare arrangements to complex financial disputes between divorcing couples, cohabitees or more distant family members. This area of work touches upon anyone who might have a dispute within their family so barristers come into contact with a wide range of people and cultures.
A family law barrister’s work
There is an emphasis on resolving disputes with the minimum of anxiety and expense; as such, in the early stages of any case the courts will try to mediate a settlement between the parties with their barristers’ assistance. If this procedure fails then the parties will have to fight it out and a battle ensues, which may take over a year. A new set of procedural rules that came into force in April 2011 further underline the importance of mediation within the family law forum.
A typical week would involve being in court almost every day plus advising on paper and maybe holding a conference in chambers. It can also entail quite a bit of travelling, as hearings are often conducted in the court closest to where the parties live: a good alarm clock and a travelcard are a must.
High-profile and important family cases often make mainstream news, especially those with a celebrity flavour. An example of this is the case of Radmacher v. Granatino, the decision in which was handed down by the Supreme Court. This matter involved an examination of the effect of pre-nuptial agreements, and was followed up by a report from the Law Commission. With this jurisdiction, and London specifically, becoming known as the ‘divorce capital of the world’, ancillary relief cases will often involve international parties and issues.
The ramifications of the downturn are yet to be fully felt. While the amount of work is largely unchanged, the impact on clients’ ability to pay their bills and the wideranging reduction in legal aid fees pose their own particular problems. There is a great deal of uncertainty within the profession as to the effect of the legal aid reforms. Obviously, a practice that balances both publicly and privately funded work will help to insulate the individual practitioner from a sharp decrease in legal aid work.
As a pupil
The hours worked in the first six months depend upon pupil supervisors’ diaries: busy days and not-so-busy days are common at the family bar. A traditional task for the family law pupil is to have a first go at some court documents: each case requires a chronology and statement of issues. This is a good way for pupils to learn about divorce paperwork and prove their skills to their supervisors.
Pupils are often given the opportunity to take charge of cases in their second six months. This means that the buck stops with them, and so brings a fair amount of responsibility and excitement, but help is always at hand.
Types of law practiced
- Inheritance and probate.
Good family law barrister have…
- A thick skin: family disputes are often unpleasant but barristers should be able to distance themselves from the emotional dispute so that they can focus on advising properly.
- A flexible approach to people: not everyone is the same and it is a good idea to realise that people lead their lives in many different ways.
- Swift and effective presentation: the majority of hearings are listed for no longer than an hour so it is essential to get the right points across in the time allowed.
AMBER SHERIDAN is a barrister at 29 BEDFORD ROW CHAMBERS. She studied politics at the University of Edinburgh before undertaking the GDL and BVC in London. She was called to the Bar in 2008 and practises in all aspects of family law.