What is family law? A guide for aspiring solicitors

Last updated: 18 Aug 2023, 13:57

Family lawyers have to be confidants, investigators, litigators, negotiators and drafting experts, explains Nathaniel Groarke – a partner at Irwin Mitchell LLP.

The shadows of a family group in a black and white photo

Family law is fast paced; it is contentious and emotions can run high. Lawyers deal with people often at their lowest ebb. It is an exciting area of law that will stretch and challenge you. Find out more about family law as a solicitor with this article by Nathaniel Groarke , partner and head of the Manchester family department at Irwin Mitchell LLP . Nathanial graduated from the University of Glasgow in 2004 with a degree in history.

What is family law?

Family law covers all aspects of a relationship, from dividing up the family assets to putting in place appropriate arrangements for children. Increasingly, it deals with wealth protection, through pre- and post-nuptial agreements. Family law also covers high-profile, publicly funded and complex childcare cases. There is no typical client; anyone can need the help of a family lawyer.

A typical case can involve analysis of family finances, which can mean delving into twelve months of bank statements, trying to trace assets strewn across the world or liaising with experts who can advise on how best to meet a child’s needs. Most cases are resolved within 6 to 12 months, although sometimes cases can last for years. The number of cases you work on will depend on the area you work in. In my field, which is generally financial cases, solicitors will have anywhere between 15 and 30 live cases. These cases can range from highly contested court cases dividing up complex assets, to more amicable pre-nuptial negotiations.

Meet Nathaniel

Nathaniel Groarke, partner and head of the Manchester family department at Irwin Mitchell LLP, talks targetjobs through working life in family law for trainee solicitors.

Nathaniel Groarke, partner and head of the Manchester family department at Irwin Mitchell LLP,

What do family solicitors do?

Teams usually comprise a partner or senior associate assisted by a solicitor or junior member of the team. Family cases often touch on a number of legal issues (for example, property sales, employment issues or complex tax arrangements) and so working with other departments is common.

The hours can be long in the run up to an important hearing and emergencies may mean conversations late in an evening or over a weekend. These are the exception rather than the norm. At other times, historically in the summer months, work can be more predictable and you can be out of the office by 5.30 pm.

A family lawyer might have to be a confidant, investigator, litigator, negotiator, advocate and drafting expert, all in the same week. This variety makes the job interesting. However, the downside is that cases can suddenly take a turn for the worse. Humans are unpredictable and dealing with this, and explaining developing challenges to clients, can be very hard.

What is life like as a family trainee?

Trainees often get involved in cases at an early stage. They can attend court with a barrister and a client, draft applications and statements, and be involved in the preparation of cases for hearings (which can range from preparing the court bundle to instructing the right barrister). There is plenty of opportunity for early responsibility. Of course, trainees are constantly supervised and, with that support structure in place, there is no reason why they cannot contact clients, attend hearings and generally get a full understanding of how family law works.

What skills do you need to be a family solicitor?

  • Compassion
  • Problem solving skills
  • Negotiation skills
  • An eye for spotting deals

Types of law practised family

  • Family
  • Trusts
  • Contract (pre-nuptial agreement)
  • Pensions
  • Private client
  • Property
  • Insolvency
  • Commercial
  • International

How much can I earn in family law?

You will likely undertake family law as a seat on a training contract as part of a rotation and may specialise later. You can take a look at our article on How much you can earn as a trainee solicitor to get a broader picture of how much law firms pay trainees, but it’s not uncommon for firms with UK offices to offer £50,000 to trainees in their first year, rising to anywhere up to and above £100,000 upon qualification.

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This describes editorially independent and impartial content, which has been written and edited by the targetjobs content team. Any external contributors featuring in the article are in line with our non-advertorial policy, by which we mean that we do not promote one organisation over another.

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