Jennifer is a Family Partner and was previously the Director of a boutique family law firm.
She joined our team in January 2021 so that she could spend more time working directly with clients.
As a full-time solicitor Jennifer has a busy case load and gives us an insight into how a solicitor can support someone through the mediation process and why she will always tailor her service to meet the needs of each individual client.
She also discusses the complexities of divorcing with a business, overseas assets and pension sharing, explaining how a pre-nuptial agreement could reduce costs and distress.
“I enjoyed leading and developing a team at my old firm, but my true passion is empowering people during difficult times. I was drawn to Allard Bailey’s flexible approach as it allows me to spend more time helping clients so that I can give everyone the support they need in the way they need it.”
As Jennifer joined the firm during the pandemic, she worked almost exclusively from her home office and continued to do so when the restrictions eased.
“I’ve been able to make some really positive changes to improve the way I work for clients. Removing the commute from my typical day means I have more time to dedicate to clients and the increased use of video conferencing means they don’t have to travel to meet with me if they don’t want to. Like me, many of my clients are Hertfordshire based so it is also helpful to have an office in Hertford as an alternative to travelling into London.
Where possible I use video conferencing instead of phone calls now too. As we are dealing with such personal matters, I like to have the extra level of contact with clients, especially those who need more support.”
Jennifer’s typical day working from home starts around 7.30am, as she checks her emails and plans her time whilst eating breakfast. She fields anything urgent and responds to simple requests before making a cup of tea and heading to her office.
Jennifer’s first video call today is to prepare a client for mediation, which has been scheduled for the client and her spouse to agree the financial details of their separation before finalising their divorce.
“My client gave up her career to support the family, caring for their two children and running the home, whilst her husband worked long hours. This worked for them when they were married, but now they need to separate their finances and it is pretty daunting for my client who has limited earnings potential and no pension in her own name. In contrast, her husband has reached a senior position in the city and has a substantial pension to see him through retirement.”
With input from her client, Jennifer has already negotiated with the husband’s solicitor to narrow down the parameters of their financial settlement. The mediation is to settle the final details so that the financial agreement can be drawn up and sent to the Court for approval.
“Financial arrangements on divorce often get stuck on small details which can mean a lot of going back and forward between solicitors. These sticking points can usually be resolved quickly if you get people in a room. There are different ways to achieve this including round table meetings with the solicitors present, but we felt mediation was appropriate in this case.
My job this morning is to ensure my client is fully prepared for whatever way the conversation might go, willing to make appropriate compromises and knows what they might be, so she is able to stand her ground on the points that are most important to her.
We have already obtained a report from a pensions’ actuary to provide advice about the various ways of addressing the pension disparity between my client and her husband. My client was able to discuss the options with me and it has been agreed that there will be a Pension Sharing Order in her favour so that she and her husband will have similar pension income on retirement. Pensions are complicated assets that it is important not to overlook.”
Jennifer is online with her client for an hour and ends the conversation feeling positive about the potential outcome.
“I enjoy this collaborative approach where my role is really to support and empower my client. Going through a divorce is one of the most stressful and emotional journeys and I want to get my clients to the other side feeling as positive as they can and able to move forward with their lives.”
After refreshing her cup of tea, Jennifer begins another video call to discuss finances with a client who is filing his own divorce.
“It is possible to complete your own divorce and agree finances and child arrangements between you. The Court actually prefers that parents do this for child arrangements if possible, but it is sensible for a solicitor to review the legality and fairness of financial agreements to ensure that assets are being divided both appropriately and in a way that is legally actionable.
Many firms are unwilling to provide this unbundled service where you only assist with specific aspects of a divorce but my ethos, and the firms ethos, is to tailor my service to provide the level of help that each person needs.”
In contrast, Jennifer’s next client is feeling overwhelmed and needs a lot more support to move forward with his life.
“You rarely find two people in the same place at the same time when a relationship ends and this couple could not have been further apart. My client was taken completely by surprise when his wife filed for divorce and is understandably very emotional about it. His initial reaction was to contest the divorce, which only added to his heart ache.”
Although it is possible to contest a divorce, this can difficult to achieve in practice and will increase legal fees. Also, a divorce can be granted without consent after a period of 5 years’ separation. Therefore, if one spouse wants a divorce it is sensible to consider whether there is anything positive to be gained from opposing it.
When it became clear that this marriage was going to end one way or another, Jennifer’s client realised that he was not emotionally able to deal with it himself and instructed her to help him with both the financial and child arrangements.
“In the first instance, my job is to help him process what is happening and look at things objectively so that he and his wife can reach a sensible agreement that enables them to move forward with their lives, whilst meeting the needs of their child who has also been struggling with the separation.
At his request, I try to shield him as much as I can and will WhatsApp or email to let him know I need to speak to him so that he can mentally prepare. If I receive correspondence from the wife’s solicitor on a Friday afternoon, I might hold off telling him until Monday morning so that we can talk about it as much as he needs to before responding, rather than leaving him to think about it over the weekend when I’m not around to offer support.”
After completing the video call, Jennifer checks her emails then breaks for lunch. She cooks herself poached eggs on toast and heads outside to eat in the garden.
“My lunches are much healthier since I’ve been preparing them myself at home and I can feel the difference it’s making.”
Forty minutes later she returns to her office with a cup of tea. Her first act is to prepare correspondence to the solicitor on the other side of a divorce where the couple owned and ran a very successful business together. Although the husband had founded the company, he brought the wife into the business and made her a partner after they were married. It was their only income as a couple. Now they are divorcing they need to agree the approach to valuing the business, either as an income stream or a capital asset.
“Divorcing with a business throws up various challenges that I need to work with my clients to overcome. Often both parties are employed in the business as well as owning shares in it and so there are complicated practical and tax issues to deal with if one person is to be extracted from the business. It’s important to consider all of the options and work out the best way of dealing with a business asset, in the context of the rest of the assets and the client’s priorities."
Jennifer’s next client has extensive investments including three properties located in different continents, so she must be mindful of the tax implications of separating the couple’s finances. They have agreed to mutually instruct an international tax expert but are struggling to agree who that should be.
“In both these cases are couples who once worked well together, but now find it difficult to agree on the smallest points. A pre-nuptial or post-nuptial agreement would have helped by giving us a starting point for negotiations. They don’t have to be specific, but it would have and been more cost-effective in the long run if they had set out the principles for what would be ringfenced and the methods that would be used for valuation. It might not be romantic, but they are useful in more ways than people appreciate. When you share business interests or investments it’s a really sensible step to agree your position when you are on good terms.”
At 4pm Jennifer takes a break and goes for a walk in the local woods, admiring the wild flowers then spotting a deer before making her way home again. She has an out-of-hours conference with a Barrister and client at 6pm as the client works during regular office hours.
“I have lots of busy clients and working from my home office makes it easier for me to be available to them at a time that works for them, whilst still being able to do the things I need and want to do for myself, like my daily walk.”
Jennifer’s client is seeking permission from the Court to move overseas with her child. She can show that the move would result in a job, better housing and a wider support network for mother and child, improving their position considerably but is all too aware that it is difficult to obtain the Court’s agreement for a child to be removed from the country if the Father objects, even if he has little to no contact.
The conference is to discuss the likely outcome of the scheduled final hearing and the pros and cons of moving forward. To protect the client and her daughter, they have prepared proposals for contact arrangements for both a successful and unsuccessful outcome, which are detailed and well thought-through.
“I have been honest with my client from the outset that despite her strong case, the chances of obtaining leave to remove the child are slim. She needed to try for her own peace of mind though, so I’ve done all I can to put her in the best possible position whatever the outcome, ensuring all the legal paperwork is in order and matching her with a Barrister whose skills and personality suit her needs.
The Barrister will present the client’s case to the Court, so it was important to find someone she can have confidence in whilst also finding them approachable.”
To move overseas without the permission of either the Father or the Court would be Child Abduction, which is a serious criminal offense.
Once the video conference is over, Jennifer joins her husband for dinner, followed by an online stand-up comedy show - another positive to come from lockdown.
“I have found that working with Allard Bailey enables me be more client focused and to tailor my approach to the needs of each particular client. This supportive approach provides my clients with the best achievable outcomes and a better overall experience.”
A day in the life of Aswini Puvitharan
Today we follow Aswini Puvitharan, a part-time Consultant Solicitor and qualified family mediator, who joined the firm in September.
Aswini highlights the circumstances in which a person might apply for a non-molestation order, the difference between mediation, arbitration and collaborative settlements to divorce, and the role of Pre-nuptial Agreements in a legal system in which they are not legally enforceable.
Aswini is returning to her career after having her second child and begins by sharing some of her hopes and fears, as well as her motivations for choosing this firm.
“I wasn’t planning to return to work so soon, but I met Louise and Sabrina at the beginning of summer and was immediately impressed by their modern and empowering approach. I was worried about returning to a traditional 9-5 environment, as not only can that be hard to manage with a young family, it is not always the most effective way of working. Now I can provide a flexible, quality service to my busy professional clients, without compromising the needs of my family.”
Aswini’s day begins at 6.30am when she gets up with her one year old. She gets ready for work before waking her son to get him ready for school. It’s only a short walk to school so she’s back at home by 8.30am and enjoys 45 mins playing on the floor with her daughter before the Nanny arrives to begin their handover.
At 9.45am, Aswini leaves the house and begins her 1-hour commute into London. She’s going straight to a networking event in Soho and listens to music while she mentally transitions from Mum to Solicitor mode. Louise, one of our founding directors, joins Aswini at the event which has been held for a mixed group of around 40 people.
“It has been a while since I’ve attended anything like this and I was feeling a little nervous so it’s good to have Louise here as my mentor.”
After an hour, the pair have spoken to most people at the event, so they walk to the office via the local sandwich shop and chat about how Aswini is settling into life at the firm.
“I am enjoying being back at work again and having a work-life balance. The whole team have been great at helping me ease back into work and it helps that both Louise and Sabrina understand what it is like to return to practice after having children.”
They arrive at the office at 12.15pm and say quick hellos to everyone who is in today, before sitting down to check their emails.
At 12.30pm, Aswini joins Louise again to meet a client who is going through a particularly difficult divorce.
“There was coercive control and violence in the relationship so she has a non-molestation order against her husband, which should have ended all contact between them. However, he seems to be using these proceedings to try to intimidate her and she is finding it incredibly distressing. In such cases we would always ensure that the client is regularly updated so that they know what is happening and are in control of the situation.”
On her return to the office, Aswini calls a new client who is keen to achieve an amicable divorce to discuss the options for reaching an out-of-court settlement.
“There are three routes that a client can take. In mediation the couple attend a series of meetings with an independent mediator at which they will attempt to resolve issues relating to their children or finances with the assistance of the mediator.
Another route is collaborative law where the couple work with their respective lawyers with input from other professionals, for example accountants, counsellors etc to negotiate a settlement. This usually concludes with a round-table meeting with some of the advisors, at which they will attempt to finalise the agreement.
Family arbitration offers an alternative to a courtroom for couples who need a third party to make the final decision in relation to financial and/or children’s issues. It is a more flexible and informal environment and offers people the opportunity of resolving disputes more quickly.
In my opinion, if a couple remain on good terms and are eager to avoid hostility and costs then mediation would be the best way forward.”
At 2pm, Aswini meets a new client who would like to put a pre-nuptial agreement in place to protect his business in the event of relationship breakdown.
“Some people find it difficult to consider the end of a relationship at the beginning, but my client has been married before so he is realistic about the possibility and wants to protect his business, as well as avoid unnecessary litigation should the relationship fail.
A pre-nuptial agreement is most relevant to those who bring the greatest wealth into the relationship or anyone with inherited assets they wish to keep within the family line. Although they are not legally enforceable in England, judges will often uphold them if certain precautionary steps are taken, for example they must be made more than 6 weeks before the date of the wedding. If an agreement is signed any later a court could well rule that it was drawn up while one of the parties was under duress. If that was the case, then a post-nuptial agreement, signed after the wedding, would be more appropriate.”
After the meeting, Aswini debriefs Louise and Ayse, one of our lovely Paralegals, before leaving to collect her son from school.
She makes the most of this 121 time with him, taking the scenic route home and chatting about his day. Arriving home at 4.30pm, Aswini scoops up her daughter and spends some time playing with both children before preparing their dinner.
Once the children are fed, bathed and in bed, Aswini responds to a messages from her trainer confirming her session for the next day.
“On recommendation of a friend, I tried boxing to get back in shape after having my son. I’ve trained 2 or 3 times a week ever since and I love it. Not only am I stronger than ever, it’s the best stress relief I’ve ever experienced!”
Aswini then logs on to her laptop and works until her husband arrives home around 8pm. He goes upstairs to kiss the sleeping children, before sitting down to eat dinner and catch up on the day.
“It’s not unusual for my husband to get home after the children have gone to bed, which makes me feel even more privileged to be able to choose how and when I work. It does mean that I have quite a lot on my plate, but motherhood has unlocked another level in me and I am far more productive and efficient when I am working so that I can concentrate on spending quality time with my kids when I’m not.”
A day in the life of Louise Poulton
Today we join Louise Poulton, 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 for couples choosing to live together without getting married.
“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.
A day in the life of Victoria Oya
Meet our very own superwoman Victoria Oya. At the time we followed Victoria she was a Paralegal and law student. She has since completed her Legal Practitioners Course and started her training contract, the final step in becoming a qualified Solicitor.
As a Paralegal Victoria worked two days a week supporting the Directors in legal and administrative work, gaining valuable experience whilst she studied.
As a lone parent to four children, she works hard to maintain a life balance that prioritises her family, whilst enabling herself to grow professionally and personally.
“It’s a fine balancing act and I often liken myself to the woman that has many spinning plates on the go. Both directors are parents themselves so they are incredibly understanding of my priorities and supportive in my transitioning from a stay at home parent to a legal career. I feel having working parents at the top of a family law firm offers an insight that our clients benefit from, particularly when it comes to getting realistic and robust Child Arrangements Orders in place.”
On the days she is in the office, Victoria gets herself ready for work then tends to the family’s dog, Frank the Pug, before waking the children at 7am. It’s a finely-honed routine and she enjoys a quick but lively breakfast with them, whilst downing her first cup of coffee, before the doorbell rings at 7.15am.
Victoria needs to know that her children will be safe while she’s away, so she employs a part-time Nanny who gets them all to school and takes over the household duties. It is the Nanny at the door. After a quick handover and goodbyes to all the children, Victoria dashes to the train station. She meets her friend on the platform and is handed her second cup of coffee. They catch up on life until Victoria’s phone rings and she fields the first of many calls from her children asking where they’ve left various items they need for school, including PE kits and permission slips, which she’s already put in their bags.
Victoria’s train arrives in London at 8.30am, the same time as her children leave home to go to school, so she enjoys an uninterrupted 30-minute walk to the office and uses some of the time to call her best friend.
“I like to walk to clear my head and make the mental transition from focusing on my kids needs to what I’m doing. I’m also in competition with a friend to do 10,000 steps a day so I know I’ll always hit that on London days!”
When Victoria arrives at the office, she heads to a large communal area in the lobby rather than her desk, makes herself a coffee and sits down to read a book on Child Law. She is studying the Legal Practice Course (commonly referred to as the LPC) and makes the most of every free moment to keep on top of her studies.
“Studying family law around my children has been a struggle but a privilege. As a divorcee and lone parent myself, I’ve been through the process personally so I know first-hand what a rollercoaster ride it can be. When we take on a new client we feel honored they’ve chosen our firm to support them during such a difficult time and the fact that I can help navigate them through the minefield makes all the hard work and studying worthwhile.”
Just before 9.30am, Victoria heads upstairs and says hello to everyone who is in the office. She switches on her laptop to check her emails and would usually review the firm’s legal practice management platform for updates on the cases she is assisting with. Today is different as she has an urgent request from Louise Poulton and needs to go straight to the Central Family Court to issue time-sensitive divorce proceedings.
“It’s a major advantage to us and our clients that we are based so close to the Central Family Court. Instead of waiting days for the post, I can file applications in person and be back at my desk within 10 minutes. Many firms will spend much longer than that on the phone just trying to confirm that an application has arrived and then charge that time, as well as the postage costs, to the client.
In this case, the timing was very important as the client became aware that her ex-partner was going to move overseas and she wanted to ensure that divorce proceedings would take place in this jurisdiction. It would have been a close call if we needed to rely on the post.”
Back in the office, Victoria has a planned catch up with Sabrina, who she works with primarily. She then sits down to make a series of phone calls to confirm that Counsel has been booked for clients with upcoming hearings.
Her next call is to a mediator to set up an initial meeting for a client.
“We are a resolution focused firm and as most of us are parents, we are conscious that both parties will need to work together until the kids reach 18, although it’s quite often longer! Mediation, if it is safe to do so, is essential to this and a requirement in most cases before heading to Court. We have good relationships with a number of local mediators who will fit around our clients to avoid any delays.”
Phone calls completed, Victoria grabs a healthy snack, then begins preparing a Court bundle for a financial remedy case that will be heard in Manchester.
“Although a large proportion of our work is for clients based in or around London, we have clients all over the UK and indeed all over the world.”
At 1pm Victoria takes a short walk to London’s historic Leather Lane market and treats herself to lunch from one of the street food vendors. She enjoys the hustle and bustle at this time of day, so she sits down to eat in the courtyard, soaking up the sunshine and the atmosphere. After texting all the children to check they are ok, she re-opens the Child Law book she was reading earlier and starts making notes.
On her return to the office, Victoria completes divorce applications for three clients, which are reviewed by Sabrina before being sent to the clients for approval.
“Divorce is a bit like a death, but without the body. No one envisions divorcing when they marry so there can be a grieving process, regardless of who applies for the divorce, so it’s really important to handle matters as sensitively as possible without heightening the emotions of either party or adding fuel to the fire.”
Next, Victoria prepares a summary of Court proceedings for a client based in Portsmouth. The document she prepares serves as a reminder of what was done for the client and why, as well as the stating the outcomes in plain English. As Court Orders are often full of complicated legal jargon, Victoria firmly believes it is important for clients to have something straightforward they can refer back to.
“When I got divorced, I felt overwhelmed by the process and the legal terminology was like another language – in fact some of it is in Latin! I felt as though I couldn’t understand the important changes that were happening in my own life and ended up purchasing a book about family court to guide me through. Once I understood it, I found it so fascinating that I returned to University to study Law myself. I am in the final stages of training to be Family Law solicitor.
I vowed that I would always go to great lengths to make things as clear as possible for my clients and that I would only work at a firm that shared this ethos. If I can take away just one overwhelming factor in the turmoil of divorce, then I feel I have done my bit to help.”
Victoria spends the following hour coordinating a statement to Court to move forward divorce proceedings which have been ongoing for two years. There are various exhibits to be collated and she needs Sabrina’s input to finalise everything.
“This particular divorce was being handled by another firm and the client felt forgotten and frustrated that progress wasn’t being made. Two years is a very long time for a divorce application to be open, even with court delays. We hope to be able to finalise the divorce by the end of summer so the client can start moving forward with her new plans.”
At 5:30 it’s time for Victoria to begin her journey home, so she provides a summary of work to Sabrina and Louise, then has a handover with Ayse James, our second Paralegal. She takes the afternoon’s mail to the local Post Office on her way to the train station, where she gets a coffee for herself and her train buddy.
As she does so, she jokes
“My colleagues often laugh about my coffee obsession pushing me through the day. I love coffee; I’m an unashamed coffee snob. A dream holiday for me would be to take a trip around the world visiting plantations.”
Arriving home, Victoria is grateful to be greeted by a delicious home cooked dinner prepared by her “incredible” Nanny, who leaves soon after. She sits down to eat with the children and enjoys hearing tales of their day mixed with the usual sibling banter. After dinner, Victoria has some one-to-one time with each of the children to catch up with them, giving them the privacy to discuss anything they want to with Mum without being heckled by their siblings.
At the teenager’s bedtime the wifi gets turned off to ensure there are no distractions. Once they are all in bed, Victoria does a final clear up, checks the children’s school bags are ready before hitting the books one last time in preparation for university the next morning.
A day in the life of Louise Allard
It is not often that the words formidable and warm-hearted go together, but you will see they apply equally to our joint Managing Partner, Louise Allard.
“I’m one of the lucky few who can say they love their job. I grew up watching legal dramas like LA Law and this is all I’ve ever really wanted to do.”
100 years since women were first allowed to become solicitors in UK*, nearly half are female. The law would seem a natural career choice for an ambitious woman with a passion for helping others. So why was it the glass ceiling that spurred Louise to co-found her own firm? In this day and age, does it really exist?
The fact is that although women account for nearly half of all solicitors, they hold less than 20% of senior positions.
Some women blame overt sexism within the profession, some men say that women lose their drive after having children. Louise believes that it is a lack of flexibility in working practices, which has caused women to choose between career and family – or have that choice forced on them.
“This is a problem that has affected women more than men because women tend to take the lead role in parenting. As the millennial generation grows in the workforce it is an issue that will be felt by everyone.”
She agrees that change is happening, but it was not happening quick enough for her.
“I have devoted a lot of time to my career and didn’t intend to do any less after I started my family. I wanted to continue moving forward and working full-time, but I needed some flexibility to balance my work and family commitments. My family was happy to give me this scope, but my employer was not. The only flexibility open to me was to work part-time, but that wasn’t a real option. Part-time solicitors were perceived as lacking commitment so the opportunities for progression all but disappeared.”
Louise was stuck between the proverbial rock and a hard place and believes that it was both unnecessary and counterintuitive. The environment she has created with her co-founder, Sabrina Bailey, is fully flexible with an emphasis on empowering people to be their best – at everything.
“I wanted to create the kind of environment that I would have thrived in, based on simple trust and respect. If you respect that everyone has a life and responsibilities outside of work and trust them to prioritise their commitments, they will ultimately be happier and more effective at work. There is no reason why someone working flexibly would be less productive than someone who is stuck to their desk from 9 – 5. It’s quite the opposite.”
Louise and her family enjoy the benefits of a flexible working environment as much as the team around her. There are days she takes her children to school and gets to the office at 10am and days she gets in at 8.30am but leaves earlier.
Louise starts her day at 6.30am and she enjoys half an hour of peace with her husband before he leaves for work. She responds to an email that has come in overnight from a client in Singapore, then begins preparing packed lunches. Her children start appearing in the kitchen from 7.15am and are joined by Alice, the family’s Au Pair, at 7.30am. Louise ensures everyone has started eating breakfast before leaving for the office at 7.45am.
It is only a short walk to the bus stop where Louise catches the bus, which she rides most of the way to Chancery Lane. She walks the last 10 minutes to clear her head and arrives at the office at 8.30am. As the first person to arrive, Louise unlocks the door then takes out her laptop, before heading to the communal kitchen to make a coffee.
After reviewing her emails, Louise makes final preparations for a roundtable meeting between parties in a divorce, which is scheduled for 10am at Barristers chambers. Her client is the husband in this high value divorce where there are 2 dependent children.
“This collaborative approach is a step on from mediation and something we actively encourage, especially where there are children involved. If the parties can sit down together and reach agreement with guidance from their legal representatives, contracts can be drafted and they can avoid prolonged and costly litigation through the courts.”
Louise says that the key to a successful roundtable is preparation and approach.
“For this process to work, you need to have as much information as possible about each party’s needs and motivations, as well as an offer on the table to discuss. In this case, our client is extremely pragmatic and wants to avoid unnecessary conflict for the sake of the children. His wife appears to have a similar mindset, so as long as they are prepared to make some compromises, I’m confident we can find an amicable solution that works for everyone.”
Before leaving the office, Louise touches base with Ayse, one of the firm’s Paralegals, and briefs her to prepare a court bundle for Children’s Act proceedings. In this case Louise is representing a mother who was living with but not married to the father of her child. Their relationship has ended and she is struggling financially, but unable to return to work as the child has additional needs.
“Although my client was with her ex-partner for a long time and gave up her career to raise their child, she isn’t entitled to any financial support for herself now they have separated. As lifestyles change and marriage declines in popularity, an increasing number of women who give up their careers and ‘take one for the team’ are finding themselves in financially vulnerable situations.”
In all cases the person with day-to-day responsibility for a child can apply for financial support and housing for the child, but they need to find a separate income to meet their own needs.
“The law is clear, but that doesn’t make it any easier for my client. If she returns to work, she will need to employ a full-time carer for the child. Not only is that not financially viable, it is not in the best interests of the child who has a very close bond with Mum. We are therefore seeking a financial arrangement with the father that reflects the child’s additional needs and enables the mother to maintain her position as the child’s full-time carer.”
Louise walks the short distance to the Barristers chambers and meets with her client briefly to ensure he is still happy with the approach they have discussed.
She leaves chambers at 1.30pm and walks back to the office via Leather Lane where she buys a salad for lunch. On her return to the office Louise gets some good news. She is representing the intended parents in an international surrogacy case and their Parental Order hearing has been listed in High Court. A Parental Order is required in UK to transfer the legal parental rights from a child’s surrogate/birth mother (and in some cases her husband) to its intended parents.
“It is a stressful time for our clients, the child’s intended parents, who are trapped in a difficult state of legal limbo caring for a baby that is their biological child, but they do not have any legal rights as parents.”
As the law stands you cannot start the Parental Order process in UK until 6 weeks after the child is born and the process can take up to a year.
“Both the intended parents and the surrogate mother are exposed, and it can’t be in the best interests of the child. What happens if the intended parents change their minds?
As the people caring for the child don’t have parental rights, they cannot authorise medical treatment if the child suffers illness or injury, so there can be unnecessary and potentially harmful delays.”
This is expected to change in the next few years as The Surrogacy Arrangements Act 1985, which governs surrogacy in UK, is currently under review. Louise is hoping for significant change to reflect current practices.
“The law on surrogacy in UK was written over 30 years ago and a lot has changed since then. The 6-week delay was intended to give surrogate mothers a cooling off period, so they could give proper consent, but medical advances mean that surrogacy with a genetic link to the surrogate mother is now extremely rare, so it is no longer necessary or appropriate to have the cooling off period.
If the process could begin at conception, rather than birth, we could vastly reduce the amount of time that the child is left in limbo. In an ideal world the intended parents would be listed on the child’s birth certificate at birth, eradicating the limbo and protecting everyone, especially the child.”
Now that the hearing has been listed, Louise moves quickly to prepare the necessary paperwork, aiming to turn it all around in a day.
She first informs the intended parents then contacts the surrogate mother, who is based overseas, to take her instructions by phone and prepare her Statement of Intent for the Parental Order. Once the Statement is completed she emails it to the surrogate mother to sign and return. As soon as this is done, Louise will send this Statement, as well as Statements she has already prepared for the intended parents, to the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS). CAFCASS will need to visit the intended parents and prepare a report for the High Court, a process which usually takes 12 weeks.
Louise leaves the office at 5pm and heads home to spend time with her children. Within 15 minutes of her walking through the door, they are all in the park making the most of the sun before the winter evenings start to draw in. They’ve already eaten dinner with Alice, but it’s still warm enough for ice-cream so they run to the ice-cream van for dessert.
They are home when Dad returns at 7pm and the family enjoy some time together before the younger two go to bed at 8pm. Louise and her husband then sit down to dinner and catch up with their eldest son before Louise heads to the gym for a 9pm session with her personal trainer. Showered and exhausted, she’s home again and in bed by 10.30pm.
“I think just about everyone in London struggles with a work/life balance, but if we all took a more flexible approach to the work that we do and to where we do that work then we give ourselves the physical and mental space to meet our needs, the needs of friends and families and actually the needs of our clients. It serves everyone better if we can support each other to make space to achieve all we want to achieve.”
*2019 is the centenary of the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919, which allowed women in UK to join the professions and paved the way for women to become lawyers for the first time.
A day in the life of Sabrina Bailey
We kick-off this new monthly feature with A Day in the Life of Sabrina Bailey, one of our founding partners.
Working as a Managing Partner 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.”
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.”