Have you considered a career in family law? As a law student it can be quite confusing knowing which part of the law industry you want to work in. Beth Nunnington, on behalf of Duncan Gibbins Academy, interviewed Sally Gore, a barrister in family law, to find out more information:
A Career in Family Law – Former Cambridge Student Sally Gore Explains:
Q. Why did you choose to follow a career in family law?
A. I wanted to work with people. I didn’t really fancy crime but I was interested in both family and in administrative/public law. I opted for a family law pupillage because at the time, everyone saw being a ‘human rights lawyer’ as the glamorous option so I decided there would be more competition for the public law pupillages and I didn’t fancy spending years not getting one. Now I’m lucky enough to have a practice where I do a mixture of family law, judicial review and mental health/community care work so I am able to combine my interests.
Q. How did you get into it?
A. I took the family law options at University and on the BVC. I also wrote my undergraduate dissertation on forced marriage and I did mini pupillages at sets that did family work. I then did pupillage at two specialist family law sets, one of which was 14 Gray’s Inn Square where I was fortunate enough to be offered a tenancy. I’ve been there since 2007.
Q. What do you like best?
A. At 14 Gray’s Inn Square, we are very lucky because even the most junior members of Chambers have the opportunity of doing good quality work at an early stage. We have a good mix of financial cases and public and private law children work. I also do the non-family public law work that I’ve already mentioned. The variety and the quality of the work as well as the opportunity to do challenging cases and build a busy practice quickly is one of the best things as well as the mixture of publicly funded and privately paying work. Not all sets offer these sorts of opportunities to junior barristers.
Q. What is the worst / hardest part about pursuing a career in family law?
A. Working in an area of law where resources are tight and everyone, whatever their professional role in a case, is very overstretched and deadlines for things that need to happen in the case in-between hearings are constantly missed. This is something that you have no control over because it depends on other people being able to fulfil their role in the case on time. As the barrister presenting the case in Court, ultimately it is your responsibility to ensure that you have everything you need – all your papers and documents are in place and you have all the relevant information before the hearing. This can be quite stressful and involve a lot of last-minute running around and some late nights. Having said that, it definitely gets easier as you get more experience.
Q. What hours do you work? Is there any room for a social life in a career in family law?
A. The hours vary enormously depending on the complexity of the case and the amount of papers that you need to read for any given hearing. As most family work is court-based, you are at the whim of the Courts. Like every other public service, the courts are incredibly busy so if you’re unlucky you can find yourself waiting around almost all day before you even get into Court. This then throws off your preparation for the next day.
At the same time, you are self-employed so it is up to you how hard you work. Our clerks are quite amenable to us signing ourselves out of Court on days when we have a lot of paperwork or preparation to do. You can also choose how often, and for how long, you go on holiday. Many barristers take two weeks off at Christmas and the whole of August as well as other holidays or random days off throughout the year. Most professions don’t give you that much flexibility.
Everyone can have a social life if they want one. As a Chambers, we spend a lot of time ‘socialising’ together at the end of the day. It’s a myth that barristers don’t have time to have a life – probably a rumour started by a failed barrister!
Q. What is the most interesting case you have worked on?
A. I do a lot of public children work which involves parents who have been taken to Court because of concerns about their ability to care for their children. Often the children end up being removed permanently from their parents’ care but the cases where they are able to stay with or go back to their parents are always very rewarding.
One case that stands out for me is a case where I represented a mother and there was a decision by the magistrates to remove the children on an interim basis (pending the final decision in the case). I wanted to appeal but because we finished Court so late, I had to appeal to the out of hours Judge on duty by telephone. I eventually got through to her at around 9 pm and she agreed to stay the order (this meant that the children remained at home until she could consider the decision at a proper hearing attended by all parties). She ordered everyone to appear in front of her in the High Court a couple of days later and after two days of negotiations at Court, the Local Authority eventually conceded and allowed the children to remain with my client. It was very dramatic whilst it was unfolding but I’m very glad I decided to try appealing that decision!
Q. If you hadn’t chosen a career in family law, what would you do instead?
A. I’d probably be spending more time on my mental health and community care practice, or I’d be an academic.
Q. Have you got any advice for a student wanting to pursue a career in family law?
A. Take all the family law modules on your degree and on the BPTC. If you want to do a masters course, try to do it in family law. Apply to all the specialist family sets for a mini pupillage. If they are not able to offer you anything, apply to mixed sets that do family law. If you are having a gap year, try to find a paralegal job or an outdoor clerking role for a solicitors’ firm doing this kind of work.
Be able to explain in an interview why you want to do family work as opposed to something else. Try to do some voluntary work that will give you some experience of family law such as working for the National Centre for Domestic Violence. There are also a lot of schemes for volunteering in orphanages and organisations working with children overseas.
Other schemes such as FRU (the Free Representation Unit), though not strictly related to family law, are always well-respected. Marshalling with a judge is also a good idea. Be realistic but don’t be unduly put off by all the horror stories about funding and the demise of the publicly funded Bar!
The views expressed here are the interviewee’s own and are not those of any organisation.
Sally has recently published a book titled the Children Act 1989 Local Authority Support for Children and Families and covers a detailed examination of the legislation.
A Career In Family Law – What DG Academy SaysA career in family law can be very rewarding and if you feel this is the field of law you would like to work in then it is a good to idea to gain as much work experience in this sector as possible.After a week at a family law firm you may decide you either hate it or absolutely love it – either way the experience will be hugely beneficial and will help you to make decisions in your future education and career – as well as giving you something to discuss in a job interview!DG Academy also interviewed Sally about her legal career path and why she chose becoming a barrister over a solicitor.For all our latest articles, news, videos, job updates and work experience follow us on twitter @DG_Academy or if 140 characters isn’t enough chat to us on our Facebook.If you are considering a career in family law and have any comments then please tweet us or email firstname.lastname@example.org
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