#BalanceForBetter #PositiveVisibilityforWomen @IWD2019
To encourage positive visibility of women and show how balance really is better, we will be profiling each of the amazing women who make our work at Allard Bailey Family Law possible.
This series, covering a day in each of their lives, will provide a unique insight into the cases they are working on and the approach they take to help our clients.
Allard Bailey Family Law was founded in 2016 with the ethos of empowering people through flexibility. We employ a range of agile working practices to enable our colleagues to have balance in their lives, whilst providing a high level 24/7 service to our clients.
This month we learn more about a day in the life of Joanne Hall, a Senior Consultant Solicitor who began her career in her native North East England. Joanne moved to London to join a boutique litigation firm in Mayfair, specialising in international divorce and family work, before being headhunted to the role of Legal Director in a leading City family firm.
Around this time she met Allard Bailey Family Law’s Founding Directors, Louise and Sabrina, after originally connecting with them in the legal Twitter-sphere!
“I was immediately attracted to their entrepreneurial style and their flexible model, which makes sense for busy clients and encourages individual flair. It seemed a refreshing and modern way to practice law so I took the leap in January 2019 and haven’t looked back.”
Joanne gives us an insight into Family Court proceedings, variation of maintenance orders and defending allegations in children proceedings.
Striving to achieve a healthy balanced lifestyle, Joanne starts her day at 7.00am with fruit and cereal before checking her emails to see if anything urgent has come in overnight. As it happens, today’s urgent matter came in late yesterday afternoon and she will be attending the Central Family Court later in the day to challenge a prohibited steps order and non-molestation order application. Joanne makes final preparations for the hearing by liaising with one of the firm’s paralegals and calling the client.
The client is a father and French national working in finance in the city and the application concerns allegations that he will wrongfully remove the child from the jurisdiction and that he has been abusive. The allegations are strongly denied, but the application was made without notice by the mother seeking urgent orders. Instead of making any orders, the court has listed a hearing at short notice to hear from both parents. In this case, Joanne has instructed an expert barrister overnight and worked with the barrister and the client to file a position statement countering as many accusations as possible and giving assurances about the shared care of the child in the UK.
After updating the client and the barrister, Joanne leaves home at 9.00am walking through the city into the office.
“I like to walk in as it is good strategic thinking time. One of the things I find most beneficial about agile working is the ability to work to your natural rhythm, which helps produce best work for clients, rather than being chained to a desk which isn’t reflective of our modern lifestyles. I can also usually time it to avoid the throngs of commuters at Bank, which I used to have to push my way through!”
At 10.00am Joanne catches up with Victoria, one of the firm’s Paralegals, to check she has everything she needs to finalise today’s court bundles (one or more folders containing copies of all of the key documents in the case).
“I’m really grateful for Victoria’s support today. The party bringing the matter to court would usually prepare the bundles, but the other party hadn’t done so and there is some additional paperwork which is relevant to the application. Despite the short notice, Victoria and I ensured there was a bundle available for the court to best represent my client. Although we have a paperless office policy, the family court doesn’t accept e-bundles yet so it is great that we have experienced paralegals to assist and manage costs for the client.”
Fifteen minutes later, Joanne joins Sabrina and Louise for a quick catch up over coffee. Joanne is an accredited expert in complex financial matters, and she sets to work finalising a strategy note on a variation of maintenance case.
“There are an increasing number of divorced parties with maintenance agreements or orders that no longer reflect fairness or the current law. For example, I previously acted for a client in the High Court who had been paying his ex-wife a high level of maintenance for almost 20 years after a short marriage of 4 years. I didn’t act for him originally, but he came to me to ask if that was fair. There were no children and both parties had moved on to financial independence. We successfully applied to court to dismiss that arrangement entirely. It’s an extreme example, but there are many people who could benefit from a cost proportionate review if their circumstances have changed.
People understandably get litigation weary, but a review of their maintenance arrangements can be very valuable if they are paying an extortionate rate or equally not receiving enough to meet their needs.”
At 12.30pm, Joanne shares the strategy note and then heads off to court. She stops at Pret to pick up lunch for herself, the client and their Barrister, before joining them in a private meeting room at the court building for a pre-trial conference.
“My client is a parent who has been accused of abuse and not acting in their child’s best interests. In his case we can produce enough evidence at this early stage to undermine the allegations and reassure the court that the child is not at risk.
It is a very sensitive area and one which has received recent media scrutiny. However, only a Judge can determine what is true or not at a finding of fact hearing or a final hearing after considering all the evidence. We work hard to properly present the facts at an early stage, whether our client is making or defending allegations of abuse, so that we can encourage everyone to act in the best interests of the children and avoid delay and unnecessary litigation.”
As a result of our statement and submissions, the Judge directs the parties to take time outside of the courtroom to agree arrangements for their child. The client is very pleased that the parties are able to reach an agreement, which is then endorsed by the Judge.
The client and Joanne walk back to the office together at 4.30pm. When the client heads off, Joanne catches up with Louise and Sabrina. She then reviews her emails from the afternoon, makes a phone call and prepares to leave. She is meeting a former client for a catch-up at the nearby Rosewood at 6.30pm. The client is a female entrepreneur who Joanne assisted to discreetly achieve a financial settlement on divorce outside of court.
“One of the most rewarding parts of being a family lawyer is seeing clients who have gone through serious emotional turmoil move forward with their lives and go from strength to strength.”
Today we join Louise Poulton, a part time Senior Consultant Solicitor who previously worked for a large multi-practice firm, to find out what it is like working from home.
Louise also gives us an insight into divorce and separation where there is coercive behaviour and/or mental health issues, what it is like for female breadwinners and the importance of Cohabitation Agreements.
“Balancing my career with my family, whilst still finding time for myself is a juggling act (as all working parents know) but with the business model in place at Allard Bailey, I feel that I have struck the right balance for us all.
There are many reasons why we have a paperless office, but the benefit to me is that on days like today, when I am meeting a client close to where I live, I don’t need to physically be in the office. I can work just as well and just as hard wherever I am. It’s a refreshingly modern approach that saves me from a 2-hour commute.”
Whether she is working or not, Louise’s day usually starts in the same way. She rises early to enjoy a few moments with her husband, before waking their children around 7.15am. They have breakfast as a family as often as they can during the week, which is important as there are occasions when they may need to work late or attend client functions in the evenings.
Within an hour, Louise heads in the direction of school with the children, whilst her husband joins the morning commuters on their way to the city. Louise says the key to getting everyone out on time in the mornings is to make preparations the night before.
Louise is back at home before 9am. She makes herself a coffee then heads to her office for a call with Sabrina. They discuss the details of a new enquiry, a referral from another lawyer, before Louise makes her pre-scheduled call to this potential new client.
“This lady currently lives in France but her husband moved back to England some time ago. At the moment, their relationship is fairly amicable and she would like to know if he or she should issue proceedings in France or in England. We discussed the jurisdictional requirements for issuing a petition in England and whether she has a stronger financial case in the English or French courts. England has a reputation for being favourable to wives and often this can lead to forum shopping. In this instance, for a number of reasons, I suggested that proceedings should commence in England.”
After checking her emails, Louise reviews a joint letter of instruction to a psychiatrist who is being asked to assess a female client’s mental well-being and prepare a report for Court. In such cases, both sides review the information given to the psychiatrist to ensure that it is fair and balanced.
“We are instructing a psychiatrist in this case as my client’s mental health has deteriorated due to the breakdown of the marriage and the recent loss of a parent. She is currently on leave from work on medical grounds and is keen to get back to a job she enjoys. However, she is finding her depression and anxiety insurmountable. If she is unable to return to work soon, this could have an impact on her future earning capacity. In that scenario, her mental health should be taken into consideration in settlement discussions and, ultimately by the court if an agreement on financial matters cannot be reached consensually.
Relationship breakdown can be one of the most stressful experiences in life with long term repercussions for a person’s mental health, especially if the relationship has ended due to domestic violence. It can, therefore, affect the approach that we adopt in proceedings. If our client, or their ex-partner, is suffering from the stress of their personal situation, or has any other mental health issues, we need to be aware of this.
I try to remain pragmatic and sympathetic in order to achieve a fair outcome for both parties. With greater focus now on mental health and well-being, it is imperative that we are alive to all of the circumstances that can impact upon a client’s well-being. We should encourage them to seek help from suitably qualified professionals who can provide them with the appropriate coping mechanisms or treatment programmes.”
Louise’s next call is to a female client whom she is advising on a Child Arrangements Order. She is calling to confirm that the client’s previous instructions still stand after her children’s latest contact session with their father.
“My client separated from her husband as the result of his ongoing coercive behaviour. Although there is no evidence that he has behaved in a way that is harmful to the children, his behaviour towards my client has been erratic and manipulative in the past. We have a hearing fast approaching where the arrangements for the children will be discussed, particularly with reference to the time the children will spend with each parent. I wanted to make sure that my client is still happy with the proposals we have recently discussed, before I prepare paperwork and brief Counsel.
Unfortunately, coercive and controlling behaviour within families is more commonplace than you think. It is often only recognised by the victim once they have exited the relationship. I always advise clients to keep a diary of any unacceptable behaviour and to retain any evidence of abusive behaviour (such as emails or text messages) in case it is needed at a later date. Of course, clients should always be made aware of the protection they can seek from the courts in the form of an injunction, if the behaviour warrants such action.”
Two hours of paperwork completed, Louise takes a short lunch break and enjoys a little sun in the back garden. At 1.30pm she leaves the house to meet a potential client to discuss difficulties which have arisen with her partner.
“I live in the commuter belt and some of my clients, who are the spouses or partners of city professionals, prefer to meet locally. I’m happy to do this as it saves us both an unnecessary trip into London and I often find that they are more at ease in familiar surroundings.”
They meet in the comfortable environment of the local coffee shop. Although every family is different, the overall themes of this situation are increasingly common.
“This lady has been with her partner for many years and they have children together. They never wanted to marry and, as she says, they didn’t see any reason to. Now that their relationship is in difficulties, she realises that the law does not provide cohabitees with the same level of protection as married couples. Her partner has a successful position in the city and she is frightened by the prospect of being on her own with a modest income.
They could have entered into a cohabitation contract. Such contracts can record each parties’ rights and responsibilities during cohabitation, as well as providing details of the arrangements the parties would like to be in place at the end of their relationship. Cohabitation agreements can be useful in avoiding costly litigation if the relationship turns sour, as it can document the parties’ beneficial interests in a home they once shared as a cohabiting couple.”
Louise returns home for a 3pm telephone conference with a male client, who now lives in New York, and with his barrister who is based in London. They discuss preparations for the upcoming financial remedy hearing and the husband is keen to consider the possibility of a settlement.
Unfortunately, there are concerns about non-disclosure of assets by the wife as the value of business assets disclosed by her are dubious. They discuss the possibility of asking the court for permission to instruct a Forensic Accountant as a single joint expert to prepare a report addressing these issues.
“Although it is still far from the norm, I am seeing an increase in the number of cases where the wife is the main breadwinner. Where this is so, she could be liable to pay spousal maintenance to help with the husband’s income needs. Although men are more usually the paying party when it comes to a maintenance claim, many high earning women are surprised to find that maintenance claims can be made against them too.
Spousal maintenance is different from child maintenance and there is no standard ‘formula’. There is an expectation that both parties will maximise their earning capacity, but with more women in successful and lucrative careers than ever before, some are finding themselves paying maintenance for their husbands to enable them to get back on the road to financial independence.”
This is Louise’s final case of the day as she needs to leave at 4pm to collect the children from their respective ballet classes and football training.
Once home, she encourages the children to finish their homework before preparing dinner for the family. Agile working enables Louise to continue to work in a career that she loves, helping people through some of the worst and best times of their loves, whilst giving her the opportunity to spend more time with her children. An equal priority for her, especially during their formative years.
This month we meet Angela Medin, a Consultant Solicitor who joined the firm a year ago. Angela discusses the improvements that modern technologies have made to client service; why more people should have a Pre or Post-nuptial Agreement; and the emotional difficulties surrounding child contact arrangements.
Angela works part-time, often from home, and is an advocate of flexible working because she believes that it benefits everyone.
“I often represent professionals, such as bankers, directors, doctors, entrepreneurs and other lawyers, many of whom lead time-pressured lives. Working flexibly allows me to work constructively with clients who are not always available during traditional office hours, whilst ensuring I still have time for myself. This balance is important as it means my clients can get a quick turnaround from a lawyer who is alert and on-the-ball.”
Angela decides which days she is going to work depending on her case load, Court deadlines and what she has planned in her own life. On the day we meet, Angela is splitting her time between home and the office. She joins a Pilates class at her local gym at 9am, then logs on to her computer at home at 10.30am.
After checking her emails, Angela contacts a new client who would like advice in relation to a Pre-nuptial Agreement.
“Most people find it hard to consider the possibility of their relationship ending whilst they are happy, but there is no better time to consider provisions that are fair to both parties. Not only does it help to avoid costly litigation should the worst happen, it can also lead to healthy conversation about relationship expectations.”
Angela then updates a Form E for another client, which forms part of the disclosure process in financial proceedings. After this, she begins drafting a Statement for a client who is engaged in a protracted dispute to dissolve his civil-partnership.
At 12.30pm Angela leaves home to meet a friend for lunch, before heading into the office to meet a client.
“Modern technology makes my life so much easier. As a lawyer, there was a time when I would have been laden with documents, but we have a paperless office so all I need is a laptop and a secure internet connection.”
Angela’s client is the mother of two young children and needs to negotiate maintenance, housing and contact provisions with the children’s father.
“Arrangements regarding children are always emotional. In this case, the other side would like as close to a 50/50 contact arrangement as possible, but it is unlikely that this will be practical. The children attend a school close to where the mother lives and the father works long hours, so he would not be with them even if they were legally in his care. We always consider the needs and welfare of the children first, no matter who we are representing, to try to find a solution that is in their best interests.”
After the meeting, Angela seeks out Sabrina (featured in this blog in March) to discuss a settlement proposal made by the other side in a high-value divorce case and asks her opinion on some of the specifics of the negotiation relating to the division of investment assets.
“One of the advantages of working at Allard Bailey Family Law is that, although the Consultants primarily work independently, we always have access to the Directors and other Consultants, so our clients benefit from additional points of view.”
Angela then sits down to finalise the terms of a Consent Order relating to a financial settlement for one of her professional clients, a doctor.
“This client is in surgery or with patients for most of the day and he does not have much free time to focus on his divorce proceedings, so I do what I can to progress his case. In order to work around his commitments, we have in the past scheduled telephone meetings to commence before 8am. Some lawyers might prefer not to do this, but I can work from anywhere I have privacy and I know that I am able to take the time back later in the day.”
Louise Allard, co-founder and Director, appears beside Angela’s desk as they are due to attend a seminar together at 5.30pm. The hot topic of the day is Spousal Maintenance. They will share any legal developments with the other lawyers at their monthly team meeting.
The seminar is hosted by another law firm, which kindly provides drinks and nibbles afterwards, so the pair stay to network and catch-up with colleagues at other firms.
Arriving home a little after 8pm, Angela is greeted with dinner but comments that this is not always the norm.
“My husband used to be the cook in our household as I had less time and, to be honest, I was a terrible cook. Now that I have time to put more energy into my home life, I like to try new recipes from around the world and I have surprised everyone by finding that I can be quite good at it.”
We kick-off this new monthly feature with A Day in the Life of Sabrina Bailey, one of our founding Directors.
Working as the Director of a law firm can be stressful, with long hours. As Sabrina says:
“It’s very hard to plan your day as you never know who might need emergency assistance.”
She is not exaggerating, Sabrina’s eldest child has Type 1 Diabetes so the emergencies she faces are very real. She stays motivated by the knowledge that her hard work makes a real difference to the lives of her clients, who she represents through both the best and worst times of their lives. More than that, she is making a difference to the lives of her colleagues who are empowered to do well, while still having a life outside the office. In fact, there are only two people who can be found in the office on a daily basis as everyone at Allard Bailey Family Law works flexibly.
How does Sabrina balance this responsibility with her other full-time role as the Mum of 3 children under 12?
“I have to be flexible in my approach and able to adapt quickly to whatever the day throws at me, be that an issue in the office or at home. I’m also honest with myself and others about what I can and can’t do. I’m not trying to be Superwoman, I’m part of a team. I work closely with my fellow Director, Louise, and share responsibility for the children with their Father.”
Sabrina usually starts her day at 5.30am with a strong coffee. She gets herself ready for work and reviews any emails that have come in overnight, before waking her children at 6.45am.
On this day, they had to be up and out of the house early as her middle child, aged 9, has swimming before school. After dropping the youngest to nursery, she walks to the station. As soon as she is on the train, Sabrina’s smartphone is out of her bag and she responds to any urgent matters.
At 9.10am, Sabrina arrives at the very modern WeWork building that Allard Bailey calls home.
“Having our office in WeWork means we can get the benefits of a large firm, great meeting spaces and a location just 2 minutes from the Family Court, with lower overheads. This means we can keep our fees at a more reasonable level than some other firms.”
Eating the avocado bagel she bought on the way in, Sabrina immediately calls one of the Consultant Lawyers who has a legal query. Once her colleague’s issue has been addressed, she begins work on an Emergency Enforcement Application in Financial Proceedings for a female client.
“Cases like this make me sad. Our client was married for over 20 years and desperate to work, but her husband insisted that her role should remain exclusively within the home. Now he’s left her for someone else and is refusing to pay the maintenance that she has been awarded. Without any work experience or training it’s very difficult for women in this situation to find work above the minimum wage and their confidence is affected on all levels.
There is a warning in this and similar cases. The Court can take the view that the financially weaker partner needs only a short period of maintenance while they retrain, but they will eventually need to provide for themselves. Had my client worked like she wanted to, she wouldn’t be in such a vulnerable situation now.”
Sabrina briefs the firm’s Paralegal, Victoria, to go to Court to get the Application issued. She then begins working on a Statement for a foreign national, who is the Mother of two children with a British man and wants to return home now that the relationship has ended.
“Relocation cases are very difficult as both parties have legitimate reasons for their strong views and emotion often plays a role in that. Mediation can be helpful in these situations to help each party understand the reasons for the other person’s position, but it’s more difficult to find a middle ground.”
Sabrina works on the Statement until 1pm, when she leaves the office to attend an Adoption Party with a bag of gifts.
“I’m excited about this party as it’s the first time I’ll get to meet the children. They were formally adopted by their new Dads in November and had their Celebration Hearing at Central Family Court this morning.”
The party for 35 close friends and family takes place in the function room of a pub. Everyone is smiling and it is clear that the brothers have been adopted into a warm and loving home.
“I’m particularly happy to have helped this family as it’s not always easy for siblings, especially older children, to find a new home together. There are actually 3 times as many children waiting to be adopted in UK as there are adopters and most adopters want babies.”
Visit National Adoption Week for further information about adoption in the UK.
With a happy smile fixed firmly on her face, Sabrina leaves the party and returns to the office. She has a 4pm conference with Counsel in preparation for a financial hearing involving European assets. The question of the day is whether the hearing will take place before or after Brexit and what difference that is likely to make to the client.
Sabrina leaves the office at 6pm, once again responding to emails on the train, and arrives home a little after 7pm. She switches seamlessly from lawyer to Mother as she baths her 4 year old, before reading her a story and putting her to bed.
She prepares a snack for her older children and eats dinner herself, whilst discussing their days and helping with homework. Regular snacks are particularly important for her eldest child to help him recharge and manage his blood glucose levels. Sabrina uses an app to monitor his levels throughout the day, so she’s always keeping an eye on him even when she’s not there.
The children are in bed by 9pm so it is time for a cheeky glass of wine and a final review of emails, before cleaning away the debris from the day and turning in herself.
“I love being a Mum and a lawyer, but it can be challenging, especially when you have a child with additional health needs. In my view, you shouldn’t have to choose between the two and that was a big part of my motivation for creating a flexible working environment.”
All of the women at Allard Bailey Family Law work flexibly for different reasons. Next month you will learn more about one of our Consultant Solicitors.