#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 follow one of our lovely but formidable Founding Directors, 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.
“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.
This month you meet our newest recruit, Ayse James, who works as a Paralegal. Ayse is in the final weeks of studying for her Legal Practice Course (LPC), so she is balancing work with classes, coursework and exams. She is grateful for the support of the Directors, who are allowing her to work flexible hours during this busy time.
“I’m employed to work 2 full days a week, which did fit perfectly with university. Now I’m coming to the end of my course, my timetable is changing weekly and it would have been difficult for me to continue working if I wasn’t able to change my hours weekly as well. I don’t have a lot of work experience, but I can’t imagine many employers would be this flexible.”
Ayse starts her day at 6.15am when her lovable dog Boo jumps onto the bed to say hello. She gets ready then heads downstairs for tea and porridge with her Dad, their daily ritual. At 7am, Ayse leaves home with a bag full of statute books and makes her way to university to attend a Family Law lecture. She arrives at 8.30am and catches up with fellow students, discussing how everyone got on with their class preparation.
Today’s highly emotive class is on Domestic Abuse and lasts for two hours. They discuss non-molestation orders and occupation orders in context of fictitious clients and assess whether the clients would be successful in applying for them. Ayse has assisted in applying for such orders in her role at work, so she is less shocked by the examples than some of her classmates.
“Something you learn very quickly in family law is that domestic abuse can happen to anyone, regardless of age, social background, gender or ethnicity. According to statistics released by Women’s Aid, a victim of domestic abuse will usually experience 35 incidents before seeking help.”
After class Ayse walks to the office, arriving around 11.15am. Her first task is usually to collect and sort through the day’s post, but today she only needs to file the letters that have already been opened. She then has a quick briefing with Louise Allard to plan the rest of her work for the day.
Ayse’s priority is to file a Parental Order for Louise’s clients who have had a child using a surrogate mother in another country. The Parental Order is essential for the clients to gain parental rights for the child in UK. Until the Parental Order is granted the clients are in a legal limbo caring for a child that they do not have legal responsibility for. There are strict timelines for applying for Parental Orders so everyone is keen to move quickly and Ayse therefore files the Order in person at the Family Court.
On her return to the office, Ayse joins Louise Allard to take notes at a new client meeting. The client has been separated for some time, but is still living in the family marital home because he has not had the funds to establish a second home suitable his children.
“This is an increasingly common tale in London where house prices are so high that it is difficult, for all except the very rich, to establish a second local household suitable for children to have shared residence. As joint residency is believed to be in the best interests of most children, parents can find themselves in a difficult situation when they separate.”
After the meeting, Ayse takes a short lunch break, eating the sandwiches she brought from home in one of the building’s communal areas. Back at her desk, she drafts a letter of engagement to the client for Louise to review.
Ayse then accesses a list of chattels that is being divided in a Civil Partnership Dissolution. (Chattels is a legal term covering items of personal property that are clearly identifiable and movable, such as furnishings and artwork.) She has been acting as an intermediary between our client and his former partner as they agree the division of joint assets and needs to review and update the information based on emails she has received overnight. This is a lengthy process but one that she feels is in the best interests of the client.
“The best-case scenario would be for the parties to sit down together to do this, but the process of agreeing how to split the joint assets from a relationship can become very emotional. If this is the case, it can be more effective to negotiate via an intermediary who will keep everyone focused on the task at hand.”
The final hour of Ayse’s working day is spent researching statistics on the impact of divorce and separation on mental health for an article that Sabrina Bailey is writing. This leads her to an interesting study released by UCL (University College London) about the impact of separation on children at different ages. This interests her on both a professional and personal level.
“My interest in family law began when I took it as an elective at degree level and grew further when my parents got divorced. I know firsthand the effect that separation can have on everyone in the family as it is a massive change to adjust to and can be like a grieving process. I recognised the professional support that my parents got from their solicitors throughout the process and how much it helped them moving forward. It made me consider what it would be like to help people going through a similar situation and helping them go through the changes to start their new life too.”
At 5.15pm, Ayse prepares her handover then gets ready to leave work. She makes her way to Chancery Lane for her journey involving two tube lines and a train home. Her Dad collects her from her local station at 7pm with Boo in the back seat of the car.
After dinner, Ayse reviews her notes from this morning’s class, then prepares everything she needs for her classes the next day, before taking Boo for a walk.
“Many of my fellow students think I’m crazy for working at the same time as studying as the LPC is so intense. Although my days can be long, they are interesting and the experience I’m gaining is priceless. For example, in my family law class I learned the importance of a particular form when disclosing financial information. I have dealt with this many times at work, so rather than learning something new I was consolidating the knowledge that I had learnt in practice.
Not only does my work aid my studies, the real life experience will help me to start out as a better lawyer.”
Today we meet our very own superwoman, Paralegal, law student and Mother of four, Victoria Oya.
Victoria works two days a week supporting the Directors in legal and administrative work, gaining valuable experience whilst she studies to become a Solicitor. As a lone parent, she works hard to maintain a life balance that prioritises her family, whilst enabling herself to grow both 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.
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.
|Disclaimer: Some identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of clients.|