Monday, 29 April 2013

The end of an era

So today is my last day at work.  I have worked at this firm for nearly 7 years.  I have had times when I have loved my job here.  I have made some good friends and I know that at least one of my colleagues will be a friend for life.

But there have been dark times.  There have been times when I've felt bullied.  There have been times when I've felt my professional ethics have been in direct conflict with my job.  There have been times when I've felt the conflict between being a mummy and being a lawyer so acutely I've felt I might rip in two.

I've learnt a lot in this job too: about life, about the work I do, about the professional I want to be.  I've also learned that actually I do have something to contribute and that people will listen to my opinions.  Twitter has given me the most amazing gifts.  The gift of confidence that actually I'm good at what I do and worth listening to, a whole new world of contacts, and I feel like I've had some proper mentoring in a way that I never had in my "actual" career.

My resignation was not an amicable thing.  The senior partner has taken it very personally and accused me of having very deliberately embarked upon a course of action to get some training paid and then leave.  She was quite rude and unpleasant when I resigned (by e-mail not in person) and has then not seen me or spoken to me since I resigned.

For my part I will miss some great people but I've known for some time that this job is not where I want to be personally or professionally.  So I'm scared about doing something myself but I'm also excited that I will control the work I do and the ethics of what I do.  I feel properly happy in a way I haven't for a while.  I can already see that I'm less stressed, and am shouting less at my husband and my children.  Long may this continue!

Lastly, thank you to everyone who has played a part in the journey of mummylawyer.  I will still be tweeting and I might even still blog.  I will be keeping this anonymous account.  I have a professional account that I will use for work (it's probably less fun but potential clients may be slightly unnerved by me ranting about my children blocking the loo again).  I really couldn't have got this far without the kindness of strangers.  Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Saturday, 22 December 2012

Is it too early for a 2012 round up?

I started blogging at the start of this year.  By most bloggers standards I have been rubbish.  I think this is the first blog I've done in nearly 6 months.  But for me it was about a journey I felt I was starting rather than wanting to be part of the "blogger club".  I wanted to change my working life and, if I'm looking back honestly, other parts of my life too.

I kind of knew where I wanted to get to and where I was but that doesn't mean you have clear directions as to how to get from where you are, to where you want to be.

Reading back blogs and thinking about things I also think that there is a large element of me having thought that someone would dump the life I wanted in my lap.  I wouldn't have to make tough decisions, I wouldn't have to worry about money - it would just all magically happen. Yes I know.  I'm rolling my eyes too.

This year has been far from what I'd planned.  After the difficulties of the last few years I thought it would be the year that everything came together and a new start.  A touch naive really.  But there and again if you don't have optimism what are you left with?

I have been reminded this year about what is really important and I think there have been many lessons.  I watched a very good friend go through an agonising time and have to deal with that.  We lost someone very unexpectedly and without chance to say goodbye.  We also learned that a family member is very ill and 2013 will probably see us have to say a very painful goodbye. 

I have also watched my children grow and develop and try to make sense of the world.  My son is 5 and is reading and writing and learning things every day at school.  My daughter is 2 (going on 6) and has definite opinions about what she likes and dislikes.

I've been learning that there are never any easy answers.  But I've been reminded that we all only have one life and when we get to the end do we want to see a list of missed opportunities and regrets?  No.  Absolutely not.  I've also learned that the help people will give you, if you ask, is amazing and wonderful.  And really there's nothing wrong with asking for help (repeat: there is nothing wrong with asking for help).

So I am making plans and I am starting to take steps to take control of my life and to try to achieve the life I want, the work/life balance I want.  Me.  I'm doing it.  Because, really, who else should be in control of my life?  Life cannot be unstressful but you can try to just get stressed about the stuff that really matters.  You need grit, strength, determination, optimism, positivity, love and support.  I reckon I've got all that if I can just remember that.......

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

I'm open to ideas........

I have not blogged for ages.  This probably makes me one of the world's worst bloggers.  I know I don't do enough to "get it out there" but for me the blog was a lot like the freewriting I did when I was suffering with depression.  I just write and see what comes out (note to readers there is some form of edit process, believe it or not, in that I do read the posts back before publishing.  Honest).  With the freewriting I used to show it to my husband (a very hard thing to do at first) and then we'd talk about it.  I'm conscious that he loves me very much and so his opinion will take that into account.  Whereas with blogging you're asking strangers for their opinions.  But I'm stronger now and I can take it, and if you want some real proper answers to stuff you can't just keep asking your nearest and dearest can you?  I mean that's like living in a protected bubble.  It's all very nice but it's not "real life" and I need to function in the big girls' world.

So I'm blogging about this and throwing it open to everyone.  Please let me know any thoughts that you have.  I'm a big girl I can take (OK try to be kind).

I will be 35 next week.  Not a particularly significant birthday but I find anything that ends in a "5" or an "0" often makes me do a kind of evaluation of my life (a bit like the tombola at the school fair but you get a life assessment instead of someone else's junk).  Professionally I am not really doing what I wanted with my life.  Don't get me wrong I am a solicitor and that's all I've ever wanted to be in life from about the age of 12 (I won't share my career ambitions prior to 12 as they were a touch, er, flighty).  But I never wanted to make lots of money (obviously as I've grown up I've developed certain expensive tastes and I have 2 children so money is good but not the be all and end all).  To me it was about standing up for people who couldn't stand up for themselves.  It might sound a bit trite but honestly that's it.  Initially I wanted to be an employment lawyer but fell in to family law where I have stayed.  On a recent course someone said that all family lawyers are rescuers and I think that that's true to a large extent.  It certainly is for me.

Somewhere along the line it all got a bit difficult because frankly I have this habit of soaking up other people's problems like a sponge and as any small child will tell you if you soak up enough stuff into a sponge it gets pretty heavy.  I'm getting better at it and I've certainly come a long way since my work related mini breakdown and depression.

But I feel that I am not being the sort of lawyer I want to be.  This is partly my working environment because it's become all about costs and fees targets and less about the people.  This depresses me and doesn't really inspire me to do the best job.  I'm very much about the people.  But I also have to take some of the responsibility.  Don't get me wrong I'm not commercially unaware.  Lawyers form businesses.  Businesses need to make money.  But I believe passionately that if you do a good job for people and put their best interests at the forefront of what you do then they will recommend your services, be happy to pay for it and you have a very good business there.

So I've been thinking a lot lately about what I want from a job, from life and what I should be doing.  A lot of thoughts have gone round in my head.  I'm not happy, but will things be better in another job?  What if I can't work the same hours or part time because I want to be there for my children as well.  I have not had a pay rise for a long time and bluntly me and my husband could do with more money coming in.  Don't believe the hype about lawyers all being rich bastards cos it just ain't true.  Some are, many aren't.  These thoughts have gone round in my head and round (often at 3 a.m) and, well, it's hard to make sense of that kind of stuff.

So then it got me thinking that really it's about priorities and what are mine?  I've thought about this a lot and really my priorities are ordered as follows:

1. My children

This is far and away the priority.  Yes I could probably get a job somewhere else as a solicitor and I might even find it a nicer place to work.  But flexible working in lawyer world is rare and usually something you have to earn rather than being given it on day one.  For me I am not prepared to work more hours than I do now.  Don't get me wrong I am flexible and will often do bits from home and speak to the office most days I'm not in and I always make sure the work is done.  But my son is generally only taken to school and picked up by me, my husband or my Mum.  My daughter spends 1 or 2 days a week in nursery and the rest of the time she's with me, my husband or my Mum and that's the way I want it to stay.  I must stress that this is in no way a judgment on parents that work full time because I really don't believe in that kind of stuff.  It's a decision my husband and I made about what is best for our children based on them and our circumstances.  That's it.  I believe everybody does what's right for them and their children.  End of.

2.  Ethics. 

I know and I'm a lawyer!  Seriously I have very strong views on what I think is right and wrong and what's fair and what's not fair.  I am not prepared to compromise that.  I will not issue proceedings to make a firm money if it's not right for the client.  I don't believe in shafting colleagues to get ahead yourself.  I am a huge believer that you reap what you sow.  So this is something I won't compromise on.

3.  Money. 

As I said earlier this is not the be all and end all but sadly we do have to pay bills and the sad reality is that we have more bills to pay and I want to make sure my children are provided for (note for their futures and for their interests and wellbeing - I don't mean they need an ipad each etc).

So these are the conclusions I've come to.  I've searched a lot and can't find a job doing what I do now in a better place on the same hours for double the money (go figure).  So what the hell do I do?  I've talked a lot on twitter and to various helpful people about going it alone and there is a part of me that is pretty fired up for that.  But I'm also really scared.  I'm scared because I need to pay bills every month and I need an income every month and I'm not sure setting up on my own would do that.  I've also seen it go wrong.  Plus I don't really want to be a lawyer on my own.  I feel I would be tied to it and it wouldn't give me the flexibility I need to pick it up and put it down.  I love the idea of setting up my own mediation practice but although I am a mediator I have not done sufficient mediation to make this a sensible idea.

So I'm a bit stuck really.  My husband tells me we have a plan but that's not really true.  It's a bit of a "well do that and then see" type thing.  To be honest I'm more of a bullet pointed list type of girl.  I absolutely love being a mummy and my home life is pretty darn lovely (well save for when you discover they've tried to flush another loo roll down the toilet but I digress) but my professional life is really not doing it for me and I need a change of direction or a kick up the arse or just something.  But I'm not really sure what that something is.  If anybody has any thoughts/comments/ideas/pearls of wisdom then please share.  Because right now I'm open to ideas.........

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

You want me to .....WHAT?

Yesterday I tweeted about the fact that I was coming under pressure from the management of the firm where I work to undertake work with the primary objective being to generate fees.  So in a nutshell this means pushing clients into lengthy, acrimonious battles rather than doing things in a more amicable way.  I am being discouraged from referring them to mediation as we may only get work drafting an agreement out of this which generates much less fee income.

From an ethical perspective I would feel more comfortable murdering chickens in our reception (given I eat chicken this seems more acceptable).  My role as a family lawyer sees me deal with people at their worst, in very difficult and upsetting situations.  I strongly believe that my role is to help them as best I can and set them on course for the rest of their life.  I am always mindful that people generally feel better leaving the process feeling OK about the outcome and not spitting poison at their ex partner.  In cases where there are children these people will have to have a relationship for the rest of their lives and it needs to be civil.  In my mind I always think about the children's weddings.  Will these ex partners be able to be there for their child on their special day and behave appropriately?  My very strong view is that it's my job to try to assist them to make that happen.

I also believe that people generally feel better about decisions if they've had some input into them.  So if they've discussed a settlement with their ex partner (in mediation, directly or through their lawyers) then they'll probably feel more OK with the outcome than if a Judge has told them what to do.  Again it's my job to advise them about all this.

So to do something that is likely to not be in a client/family/child's interest to make money is something that goes against every molecule of the person I am.  I cannot put it strongly enough.

If we leave the ethics for a moment, it doesn't even make business sense.  If as a firm we want to survive in what is now a very difficult market, then we need to send away people that are vaguely contented and happy with their outcomes.  They are then likely to recommend us.  If we send away people that don't feel happy with what's happened and who are scarred by the experience (not to mention much poorer than they imagined) then they are not going to recommend us and so we are not going to get future business.

I don't in any way think this applies to family law or even just law.  This is about good ethics in business.  It is perfectly possible to have a profitable and thriving business and behave in a decent and honest way that benefits your clients/customers.   There are businesses out there that prove this.

Family law is changing and I sincerely hope that these costs focussed/outcome ignorant lawyers are left by the side of the road.  In all businesses if you're not providing a service that people actually want then your business will simply not survive.

To anyone going through a relationship breakdown I urge you to find a lawyer that will actually deal with things in a sensible and helpful way that focuses on you and your family and not on what money they can make.  Resolution is an organisation that represents family lawyers and has a code of conduct about dealing with matters in an amicable way.  You can find such a lawyer through their website at

If you think you've seen a lawyer that wants a battle and the costs then please find another one. This is your life and your money.  Use it wisely.

Monday, 2 April 2012

This is the start of a journey....

So you start blogging and it seems like a good idea and then it's just another thing to feel guilty that you haven't done.  I haven't done a blog for a little while and various ideas have gone round in my head from the very big to the (probably) tediously tiny.  Plus the problem for me is that I think if I do a lawyer related post will that just be boring for non-lawyer readers and if I do a more personal/mummy/domestic post do any lawyer readers just think "oh for goodness sake".  Then I remembered it's my damn blog (note this is probably an analogy on my life).

Anyway the blog.  So many people have a fat story, right?  Very few people are the shape they want to be and it causes them anything from annoyance/wardrobe changes to tears and serious angst.  I think I'd probably put myself in the latter category.  I have had issues with my weight for as long as I can remember.  Although if I look back to my 14 year old self measuring body parts and stressing over not quite being a size 12, I wonder what she'd think of the plus sized me.

My weight has fluctuated a bit but I have had 3 periods of massive weight gain.  The first being university where I found out that apparently drinking shedloads of alcopops and flavoured vodka followed by eating pizza at 3 not conducive to being skinny.  Who knew?  I did lose about a stone in my last year at university and felt a lot better (you think I'd have learnt something from that but no).

Secondly, I hit a fairly major wall in life in 2003 when I had a sort of nervous breakdown and ended up off work for a bit and on anti-depressants.  During this time I drank a lot of wine most evenings and then spent most days eating junk food to try to keep the hangover at bay.  I saw a counsellor as part of my recovery and she was very helpful in dealing with the issues that led to how I felt.  But I stopped seeing her because I thought I felt better and because it was expensive and I was skint (I could've got counselling on NHS but that was during the day and not really something that fitted round work.  Yes I hear what you're all saying but when it's your first job after leaving uni and you applied for 100 and only got one and then had to have some weeks off because you'd gone a bit mental you aren't going to ask for the afternoon off every week so you can see a counsellor).  This was a shame because I think if I'd have done more therapy at the time then I might possibly have saved myself more weight gain and more pain but there we are.

The third period of weight gain was after having lost about a stone in my 20s I then went on to have children.  I gained over 3 stone in my first pregnancy.  I lost a bit of it but I was a stone heavier when I found out I was pregnant with my second child to when I found out I was pregnant with the first.  I'm now 2 stone heavier than that. 

I know a lot of people think "for goodness sake, stop whining.  If you're fat, eat less and exercise more".  Well yes alright but just because you know the theory doesn't mean you could fly a plane.  I absolutely hate the way I look most of the time.  For a long, long time I also thought that I was a lesser person and that I had less to give the world because of the fact that I couldn't stick to a target weight.  There are times when I look at myself in the mirror (unavoidable in our bathroom unless you shut your eyes and then you stub your toe on the sink) and I want to hack off flesh with a knife.  Obviously that's a very cheap form of liposuction, and quite messy.

I have known for some time that I really do need to do something about this.  If not for my own happiness but for the sake of my children as the idea of me leaving their lives prematurely is not one that I can handle and that spurs me on more than anything. 

But I have never really known how.  I know I want to lose weight.  I know the theory of eat less and actually move that lardy arse but yet when I have a bad day I will still have a glass of wine and all the chocolate I can find.  Why would I do that when I want to lose weight?  I am slowly realising the answer lies in comfort and food being there for me when I feel others are not.  Food is always there.  Even if it's not in the house it's pretty easily obtained given I live near Waitrose and not 500 miles from civilisation.

This journey was in part started by @MummyBarrow and her starting to blog about her journey.  She also made me aware of @ThinkingSlimmer and I have been using the slimpod to re-educate my subconscious.  I'm now aware of when I am full and I am really aware of my subconscious telling me when I've had enough.  That said I'm still not always acting on these messages.  This leads to some kind of weird internal debate (did anyone used to watch Herman's Head back in the 90s?).

I am not going to post a weekly update on how I'm doing because I don't actually like talking about it.  I have a thing up in the kitchen about my goals and people who have been to our house ask me about it and I really hate talking about it.  I feel so uncomfortable.  Does this mean I am likely to fail?  I honestly don't know.  I'm blogging about it so I'm not completely keeping it to myself but blogging means what I say is on my terms. 

Anyway as it says in the title this is the start of a journey and I may well catalogue more of it on this blog but it will be the feelings and discoveries and not the numbers.

Monday, 5 March 2012

Can't we change this? Just a little bit.

Two things have happened to me recently which I have thought a lot about.

On Saturday during a family trip swimming I managed to leave OH's gilet/bodywarmer (when I said gilet the receptionist said "I'm sorry I don't know what that is") in the changing cubicle with his iphone in the pocket and our door key.  Very sadly instead of handing it in someone took it so OH is having to sort out a new phone and we've had to change our door locks and I've had to buy a new gilet for him.  So I suspect that lapse of judgment will have cost us something in the region of £200.  This is not to mention the inconvenience, the stress, the paperwork, the phone calls and the argument.

But what makes someone find that and think "oh goodie I'll take this".  I found £20 in my home leisure centre about 6 months ago and I handed it in to reception.  My logic was if I lost £20 I'd be pretty darn upset and I wanted to save somebody that.  But am I just being naive?  Is this the way the world is now? Every man and woman for themselves and all that?

The other thing was a conversation with a good friend.  She told me she was coming home one night along a single carriageway near her home (50 or 60 limit, I can't remember) and this woman suddenly just stopped on the road in front of her.  My friend waited.  Then flashed.  Then flashed again.  Finally she beeped.  The woman waved her to go round.  As my friend drove round her the woman made a rude gesture.  I was actually a bit shocked.  I mean how can someone be so rude when they have just done something monumentally stupid and (I think) illegal and someone has reacted to this in what I think was a fairly sensible, and not particularly confrontational way.

Both these things highlight to me that these people could think no further than themselves and their own lives.  The person who took OH's things just wanted them and didn't give a second's thought to what this might do to other people.  The woman in the car just wanted to stop, to hell with what inconvenience and danger that might cause to other road users.

This kind of thing absolutely winds me up beyond belief.  They sit against other examples of people throwing litter on the floor, letting their dogs poo on the road and leaving it and an extensive list of other such things.  It's selfishness in the extreme.  It's not evil, it's not someone who is intent on a life of crime.  It's just selfishness.

I have for a long time believed passionately that if everybody just considered how their actions affected others for just a few seconds then the world would be an immeasurably better place.  We were taught at school that you should treat others as you would like to be treated and it's something that was reinforced to me by my parents, and something, I hope, I am instilling in my children. 

I know that there are people out there who have not been treated well by their parents or their peers or society generall,y but I also believe that you are in control of your life.  You may have made some bad decisions up until now.  But really what kind of world do you want to live in?  I have found that if you show kindness to people, you get kindness back.  I'm not talking about massive things.  You can just hold a door for someone instead of letting it slam on them.  You can put your trolley back instead of leaving it impeding a parking space.  You can let somebody out at a junction.  Imagine if half the world did something like that every day.  Wouldn't that be incredible?  It starts with just a few people, thinking about how their actions and how they affect others, and just doing something nice.  That could then trigger other people to think and do something nice and so on. 

So come on people how about it?  What kind of world do you want to live in?  Think about it.  Please.

Monday, 27 February 2012

Family law is a soft option? Are you having a laugh?

I have heard various people saying family law is a soft option during the course of the 10 years that I have been practising family law.  This has always got my goat as they quite clearly do not understand the technicalilites and the difficulties involved in this particular area of law.

This has been a gripe that has rumbled in the back of my mind for a while.

However, it has moved today to a volcanic explosion in the front of my mind upon hearing that the senior partner at the firm where I work referred to family law as being "common sense, it's not rocket science".  Yes fellow family lawyers, I kid you not.  My working world changed dramatically last year when the partner in charge of family left.  This means we are now a department without a partner in charge and, as most practitioners will know, this usually makes you a black sheep in any firm.  Your message is not heard and it's particularly not heard when the partners think your job can be done by any idiot.

Our senior partner is a litigator and, in my experience, some litigators are the worst at seeing family law as a soft option.  I completely and profoundly disagree with this (obviously I'm a family lawyer but I think with good reason).

I think family law is exceedingly complex.  I don't want to get involved in some kind of playground tittle tattle and that's not why I'm saying this but I think there are other aspects of litigation that are far more formulaic.  I understand many firms dealing with repossessions have a very standardised process and this work is often dealt with by unqualified staff (not that I'm for one minute saying unqualified staff aren't up to a fee earners job because I was for the first 4 years of my career and unqualified paralegal and trust me I offered more than my weight in gold at times).  This does not make them easy but it means that there is a clear process for each one.  In personal injury there is information in Kemp and Kemp (if my memory from my LPC days is correct) as to what compensation should be awarded for what injuries.  A practitioner then has to look at what losses a person has suffered.  It's not a simplistic job but there is information and clear guidance in respect of each claim.

In family law financial matters there is simply no flow chart, or book you can go to that tells you what money your client should be entitled to.  It's a question of gathering financial information (which can in itself be difficult and complicated where one party is being obstructive) and then applying a number of factors (which must each be weighed differently).  Only once this has been done can you advise the client as to what is a fair outcome.  This is usually a ballpark of between x and y rather than a concrete figure.  Even then your opposite number may have undertaken the same exercise and arrived at a different conclusion.

In matters concerning children there can be a variety of issues to be dealt with and ironed out before agreement can be reached.  There may be serious issues concerned abuse or abduction.

In all family matters there are clients going through a variety of emotions and struggling to cope with the biggest upheaval of their life whilst giving clear instructions about important issues.  In some cases that client may never have dealt with these types of decisions before.

There simply is no formulaic approach.  Yes there is a procedure for making applications to the Court and yes we have some standard forms but the variables are huge and make each case different.  Even with 2 cases with similar circumstances (i.e roughly the same amount of money, same length of marriage, similar incomes and ages) one person may instruct their solicitor that their priority is to obtain better pension provision whereas the other may wish to remain in the former matrimonial home despite what this may cost them in pension terms (I'm not saying that would be a sensible step simply highlighting the different ways clients can approach their situation).

In one case the parties may be keen to try mediation.  In another case it may scream to be dealt with collaboratively.  In another case you may have a client who has been the victim of domestic abuse and who is very vulnerable and does not wish to have any direct contact with her ex partner.  Whilst this does not make mediation impossible (I recently attended a seminar talking about shuttle mediation) it does flag various issues of concern for the client's welfare and mean these will be at the forefront of your mind in advising about options on how they might proceed.

Through all this we have to balance the needs of our clients to achieve a fair and sensible outcome, to ensure that whereever possible they are still able to talk about issues going forward (and particularly their children) and that the costs they have paid are reasonable and not disproportionate to the assets involved.  We have to have some very tough conversations with people that don't want to hear things.  Suggesting to people that perhaps they could use some assistance with their parenting skills during this difficult time?  Flagging with someone in a sensitive way that perhaps they should speak to their GP about matters and consider whether counselling might assist them?

We also may wear many hats: lawyer, collaborative lawyer, mediator, opponent, advocate.  We are not simply litigating.  We straddle contentious and non-contentious work. 

Doing all this on an hourly basis and family law is a soft option?  Anyone who says that wants to walk a day in a family lawyer's shoes because you clearly don't know the half of it.