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.

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Dirty Dozen

I'd been thinking all week about something that would make a good topic for a blog but had been devoid of inspiration.  Then I got tagged by @HaggisMummy with a dozen questions for me to answer.  That looks like fun I thought so yesterday morning I answered them and then thought of a list of really good questions for others.  Then the bloody computer shut down without warning or reason and I lost the lot.  So yesterday was spent swearing silently (children repeat everything) and then I went out for lunch with 2 very good friends and forgot about it. So Sunday morning I am back at the 'puter and let's hope it goes better this time and that I remember my amazing questions for my tag!

1.   Movie moment that never fails to make you cry

It's hard to narrow this down as I'm a bit of a weeper.  Sad films always make make me shed tears.  The one that immediately sprang to mine was Goose dying in Top Gun.  I must have seen that film 20 times but I still cry.  I also remember having to be sat forward in the cinema while watching Philadephia so my friend could comfort me as I was doing audible sobs.  Never take me to the cinema to see a sad film - I will embarrass you beyond belief.

2.  Beer, wine or spirits?

Wine, wine and more wine.  I'm not a big beer drinker (much to OH's dismay as he keeps the local real ale shop is business).  I occasionally have a shandy but I don't really like beer.  The only time I've really drunken it is when I was pregnant with my second child and then actually wanted beer along with any savoury food.  I drank cobra zero a lot (that's the no alcohol one in case anyone's worrying).  Spirits I used to drink when I was young, free, single, clubbing and drunk a lot.  Now I have a sloe gin and tonic or possible a scotch but that's really it.  But wine I love and preferably red.

3.  You have to give one up - Chocolate or crisps

This is actually pretty easy as I don't eat crisps that much.  And I could not give up chocolate.  But if you'd have said cheese or chocolate I'd have been crippled by the choice!

4.  Last random act of kindness someone did for you

Yesterday morning OH left me in bed to sleep as we'd had a bad night and been up with our 2 year old daughter a lot.  Whilst OH will get up as soon as he gets back into bed he's asleep.  I, on the other hand, will not settle until I know the child in question is back to sleep.  So I had not had much sleep and haven't been sleeping well for a while anyway.  So he left me in bed and got up with the children.  All parents know what a treat this is!

5.  Beach or pool?

I love swimming.  I have had some of the best fun messing about in a swimming pool with my sister when I was younger and now I have the same fun with my children.  You would not believe it if you met me but I actually used to be a very good swimmer and trained twice a week.  I once swam for my home town.

I do like the sea but I'm a bit phobic about seaweed.  I know.  I'm a grown woman.  I just hate the way the small bits stick to you.  When I was younger and was in the sea I'd been swimming a little way from the shore and some seaweed had floated up to the surface near the shore.  I had to wave at my Dad to bring the lilo in so I could get on it and not get covered with the dreaded stuff.  It makes me laugh when I now see my son fretting about seaweed.  I've never said anything about my phobia to them (I have tried hard not to pass these silly things on) but clearly he has it.  I also get a bit nervous in the sea with big waves as my children are still pretty little (being 4 and 2) so for this reason I'd say pool.

6.  Hairy or smooth?

Definitely smooth.  Whilst stubble looks a bit sexy it messes with my sensitive skin.  If OH kisses me with stubble my face feels like someone set fire to it.

7.  Favourite pudding or the last pudding you ate - sometimes you just can't pick one.

This is actually not that hard.  For me it would be cheesecake every time.  I just love it.  Ask Italian do the most lovely Honeycomb cheesecake.  And chocolate cheesecake combines my two favourite things - cheese and chocolate.  This may explain why I'm not thin.

8.  Least favourite body part

Now this is hard to choose.  There are so many I don't like.  I can only recall a handful of times in my life when I've looked in the mirror and thought "you look good".  Sad but true.  And yes I should do something about it.  It's on the to do list along with finding a window cleaner, sorting out my pantry and various other mundane tasks that I'm avoiding for a variety of reasons (although the main one being that looks really hard).  If I had to choose I'd probably pick my mummy tummy.

9.  Pacino or De Niro

OH is a big mob film fan so I have watched a lot of these and the Godfather is top of his list.  So I'd have to say Pacino.

10.  Activity, sport or hobby that you don't do any more that you miss

Hang on.  Just trying to remember what I did pre-children.  Hmmmmm.  Well I do miss swimming as I used to do that a lot more than I do now and it's the one form of exercise I actually enjoy.  I used to love doing it at the nice healthclub we were members of and having a steam or a sauna afterwards.  It's really not the same at the leisure centre in the baby pool.

I also enjoyed ice skating with my son the other day and would love to do it more and get better at it.

11.  Shouty angry or broody/sulky

I'm hesitating before answering this question.  Because it's a, er, touch embarrassing.  I'm both.  Isn't that awful?  Only with OH though.  With other people I'm dreadful at speaking up when something annoys me (although I have in latter years made a concerted effort to get better as it affected me quite badly).  But when OH annoys me I will blow up and shout.  Then we'll resolve it but I can't just let it go and have to sulk on it for a bit.  He on the other hand, blows up, shouts, apologises and then its done.  It's a better way to be I admit.  I have to keep working on this one I think.

12.  Tweeter who has posts you always make time for

This is really hard.  I genuinely have loved getting into twitter.  I've read some really fascinating things and spoken to some great people.  It's brilliant to be able to share experiences and just read other people's stories.  Plus I read quite a wide range of tweets as I look at legal stuff, parenting stuff and various other stuff (obviously I'm not alone in this as it's the point of twitter I think but it means I have different favourites for different reasons and purposes).  But if I have to pick the top 5 people whose tweets I always look at I would say @MummyBarrow, @MummyMcFi, @ThinkingFox, @SAHDandproud, @MinistryofMum But there are loads of other people whose tweets I enjoy and I love the fact that when you have time there's always someone saying something there.

So that's my dirty dozen done.  Twice.

Now I need to do some questions and tag someone.  Right errrr.........

1.  What book or film do you go back to and watch or read time and time again.

2.  If you had to give up TV, books or internet for a week which one would it be.

3.  What was your best holiday ever?

4.  What would you have for your last meal?

5.  You're going to a desert island and you can only take 1 of the following: Would it be booze, cheese, chocolate, crisps, salad or fruit (I'm not expecting anyone to pick either of the last 2 but who knows!).

6.  What made you start blogging?

7.  If you had to give one piece of advice to someone starting on twitter what would it be?

8.  Early riser or night owl?

9.  Summer or winter?

10.  Person in history (i.e now dead) that you most wish you could've met.

11.  What would you put into Room 101?

12.  If you could have 1 wish granted by a fairy now, what would that be?

Monday, 20 February 2012

In search of the elusive work/life balance

Having just spent a lovely few days away with OH and our 2 children my thoughts have turned a lot to the perfect work/life balance.  This is, in many respects, a search for the holy grail and I think the correct balance varies for each person and family so it's a difficult thing to get advice on.  That said I'd always appreciate any tips and advice from anyone!

On the face of it I don't do too badly as I work 3 days a week.  It used to be 2 days but I upped my days last year when my son started school and my daughter was nearly 2 because somebody at work left and they needed more bods in the office (and I thought I'd get a promotion but that never happened).  On 2 of the days I work I leave the office in time to pick my son up from school (in order to do this I start work at 8 a.m.).  My work are generally fairly flexible and I can alter hours on some days and I don't tend to get grief if I'm off work because one of the children is ill.  But that said I pretty much always do work on days that I'm not in and last week when I was on holiday I was dealing with e-mails every day.  Also, when one of my children is ill I do always go into the office for a brief period of time to ensure everything is OK.  So I still feel as if work takes over my life but that's probably more about a failing of my boundaries than work itself.  I also work 29 miles away from my house and the travelling time eats into my work and home time.  But I'm very conscious that I'm unlikely to get the same level of flexibility at any other firm.  The law is not a particularly flexible or family friendly profession despite effots being made in some quarters.  Many people I've comea cross believe you can't do a fee earning job part time.

So I'm at home 2 days a week with my children as well as at the weekend.  That's over 50% of the week.  But yet I still feel that I don't spend enough time with them.  My son is at school in the week which really dramatically limits the quality time that we have.  Plus during those 2 days in the week I'm also trying to get through a mountain of laundry and ensure that my house doesn't look like a bomb's gone off.  Admitedly I have quite high standards on the domestic front and I don't like to live in mess, I like us to all have clean clothes and my children to eat good, home cooked food.  I also never send my son to school in uniform that isn't ironed or cleaned (although I iron little else).  It would be fair to say that I am my own worst enemy and that I often wish I could let go and just not care about the mess or the washing but I really do not know how to let go.  Apparently people telling you to let go 40 million times doesn't just have some magic effect.  Who knew!

I am also extremely fortunate in that my OH sometimes only works a 4 day week so he is then at home to assist with domestic stuff plus I do have a cleaner for 2 hours a week so whatever happens I know the bathroom has been cleaned and the hoover has gone round the house.

So I do know that I am extremely lucky with the help that I have.  But I still don't feel that I have got the balance right.  I don't think I spend enough time reading with my son who is in reception class.  I feel I am stressed and snappy with my children a lot of the time.  I am already having to change annual leave days because I've booked off my whole annual leave entitlement and still not completely covered school holidays (not helped by my Mum who helps us out enormously being away on an extended holiday.  Don't get me wrong I in no way begrudge her a long holiday and I've said she should definitely go but I have to find extra childcare for a couple of months).  Obviously I can request parental leave in addition to my holiday but that's unpaid and that in itself causes issues.

For me I have never really thought that I wouldn't work after having children (and I firmly believe that each parent/family makes a decision about what's best for them.  There is no right answer).  This is, in the main, a financial decision.  OH and I could simply not make ends meet on one salary.  But outside of this I do like to do something that uses my brain and gives me some form of intellectual stimulation and makes me feel that I achieve something for me.  But if money wasn't a problem I would absolutely do something else so I could spend more time with my children.  Being away for the last few days was just brilliant.  We walked on the beach.  We had nice lunches and being away meant I wasn't tied up with laundry, or housework, I could just play and that's magical.  Whilst during the week there is play time and fun time it never feels like enough and I worry constantly about whether I'm doing the right thing by my children.

I know that I'm not alone in feeling like this.  I have spoken to lots of other working mums who feel similarly.  I also know that being a SAHM comes with its own issues and the grass is not always greener. I really don't know what else I can do.  To work less days has financial implications that we cannot currently afford.  The obvious solution is to work for myself as that would give me greater flexibility and an ability to better manage school holidays.  But I don't want to practise on my own as a solicitor.  I lack the confidence and I don't want that level of responsibility.  I don't want to be tied to a business in that way.  I'm also mindful of the fact that it can take some time for new business to pay their way and I can't afford to be without my income for any month.

So for the moment the obvious answer seems to be to chill out more and enjoy what time I have with the children.  It's not really a long term solution (or maybe I'm looking at it wrong).  The problem is that as a life long stresshead with exacting standards I really don't know how to achieve this.  But in the absence of any other solution it seems I need to learn.  So any tips greatly appreciated. Any advice on going with the flow, letting things slide and your views on the work/life balance will be welcome.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

My firsts....

So yesterday I got tagged by @NotSoSlummy on twitter to do a blog on firsts.  This is the first time this has happened to me and I was really surprised and touched.  Thank you.

These are some of the "firsts" that first came to my mind.

My first memory

I'm a bit confused about my earliest memory.  I have what I think is my earliest memory but then I can remember bits before that but I'm not sure if that's just because people have told me things and I have deceived myself into thinking I remember.  Memory is a very funny thing.  Anyway my earliest memories centre on the arrival of my sister when I was 2 years, 4 months old.  I definitely remember helping my Dad carry her upstairs for her bath.  That's the child memory.  Of course as an adult, and having my own children, I'm pretty sure I wasn't actually part carrying a little baby up the stairs, being only 2 myself.  I suspect my Dad had her and I just had my hands on her, but in my memory I was definitely helping to carry her.  I remember other odd bits about visiting my Mum in hospital but I'm not sure if I actually remember that or if it's just what people have told me.

The first time I went on a plane

This is a really exciting memory for me.  I think I was about 9, so my sister would've been 7.  My Dad started working for an airline so he got cheap flights.  Holidays before had always been driving to France and camping or renting a caravan.  Then suddenly we got to fly places.  Imagine the excitement!    The first time we went on a plane was to go to Brussels for the day.  A day trip on a plane - how flash!  Sis and I were so excited and we loved being on a plane (much better than a boat where my sister was always sick).  I just remember it as a great day out because my Dad was relaxed and we were doing something as a family.  I also remember getting a rainbow coloured cuddly toy elephant as a present for being good.  I also remember having a platter of sandwiches on a tray and a viscount biscuit on the plane on the way back and in my childhood mind that was one of the best teas I've ever had.  The whole day was just ace.

My first kiss

This is a very poignant memory for me.  The guy I first kissed was AS and it was a lovely first kiss.  He was a year older than me and I thought he was just ace.  Sadly I don't think he ever really fancied me but he had a lot of time for me and we were good friends for a lot time after until we lost touch.  I saw him again at my sister's wedding 6 years ago and that's the last time I saw him.  Tragically he passed away during a hospital procedure a few years ago.  His heart gave out.  I've always thought this was probably because he'd used it too much because he was one of those larger than life people who always wore his heart on his sleeve.  RIP you lovely, lovely man.

The first time I saw my OH, the first time we kissed, and our first ate

This is a memory I've been thinking a lot about lately as we have just passed the 10 year anniversary of our first date.  I went for a job interview at the place where I got my first job after finishing my LPC as a paralegal.  OH worked there too.  As I was in the interview I caught sight of this guy out the window putting boxes into his 5 series BMW (I've got to be honest I've always been a sucker for a nice car).  I can't say it was love at first sight, or even that I fancied him.  He wore these massive glasses with tinted lenses (when I first showed his pic to my very good Geordie mate she said "what's he wearing them for") and I remember noticing they were odd.  But at the time I remember having a sense that he was going to be important.  This could of course be my memory playing tricks again but it's nice to think of it that way.

At our office Christmas party (with me having only been in the job for 2.5 months) I got blind drunk.   We started drinking at 12 (the office didn't close till 4) and then carried on when it shut and we were getting ready for the Christmas do.  Then carried on at the Christmas do.  We fed each other chocolate cake at the dinner table (yes in front of all our work colleagues.  I still cringe at the memory) and held hands and kissed.  He tried to get me to go back to his house.  I'd like to say that I realised how stupid this would be in front of my work colleagues.  But the reality is I knew that a parcel was arriving at my flat the next day that was my mum's christmas present and I had to be there for it to be delivered or my Mum had no Christmas present (you know how you get fixated on things when you're drunk).  So we went home separately and exchanged numbers.  I spent the entirety of Christmas kicking myself and thinking I was going to have to leave the only job I'd ever managed to get in the legal world.  Not a good time......

We came back to work after Christmas and we spoke (I think we'd exchanged texts but that was it) in the office but nothing.  I knew I liked him but I was so worried about losing the only legal job I'd been able to get.  But eventually a month after the Christmas party he text me and asked me out.  To which I immediately said yes.  Our first date was on 31st January 2002 at the Coronation Hall in Surbiton, yes a Wetherspoons pub.  Classy.  I got blind drunk.  Again.  In fact I was pretty much drunk for our first few dates until a good friend pointed out I'd never work out if I liked him or not if I didn't remain sober for a date.  So our first sober date was watching Monsters Inc at the cinema.  A film now loved by our son.

The first time I found out I was pregnant

We'd been trying to get pregnant for over a year and the whole thing had left me fairly despondent - especially as some good friends of ours had seemed to get pregnant the month they'd moved in together.  I was awaiting further hospital tests when just before my 29th birthday I discovered I was pregnant.  I was utterly over the moon but OH was out.  I didn't want to tell him over the phone and I wanted to be sure.  So I had to go out and buy another test (had to drive further afield as our supermarket had shut).  Did the other test and I was definitely pregnant.  I think this was about 9 p.m.  So tried to call OH to get him to come home early from his meeting.  But his phone was off.  So I waited....and waited....and waited.  Until by about 11 p.m. I was thinking if I don't hear from him soon I'm going to have to tell somebody else first.  Eventually he got home at midnight and I told him (he was the first to know) and we just lay in bed holding hands.  We were so happy and so excited.  Then of course we had to endure the tedious wait for the first scan........

So those are some of my firsts that immediately came to mind.  Of course there's the first time I held one of my babies in my arms but that would make it a very long blog.  So now I believe I have to pass the baton on.  So.........


over to you..........

Friday, 3 February 2012

A role for mummy and daddy?

All the talk on twitter this morning about the Family Justice Review and disputes concerning children got me thinking about the role parents play in their children's lives.

My experience growing up was that my Dad worked pretty long hours and it was Mum who took us to school, doctors, dentists, hairdressers etc.  It was Mum you went to if you needed something.  Generally it was best to stay out of Dad's way in that slot of time between him getting home and us going to bed as he was often stressed and trying to unwind from a long, hard day.  Apparently bouncing children did not assist with this!  But I always remember rushing to the door to see him and I know he appreciated just seeing us even if he didn't feel able to deal with lots of "children stuff" of an evening.  I have a good relationship with both my parents and my Mum looks after my children and does the school run 1 day a week.

OH and I have a very different set up to my Mum and Dad.  OH often looks after the children 1 day in the working week because of his job.  He also waits till my Mum arrives on the day she does and drops my son at school and my daughter at nursery on one day.  I expect him to assist with the housework and running of the house and he completely accepts this.  He is a very accomplished cook and enjoys it.  He's less good with the hoover but we all have strengths and weaknesses.  So our family set up is very different to my Mum and Dad's.

OH is also more hands on with our children than my Dad was with me and my sister.  I don't think my Dad has ever changed a nappy and OH has changed thousands.  I think this reflects a changing trend and also the fact that I work and have gone back to work after both babies whereas my Mum stopped work after having me and didn't return until I was 8 or 9.  I could not do my job and manage a house myself without my parenting ability being seriously affected.

This means that OH plays a key role in our children's lives and in the smooth running of family life.  This is not always plain sailing as I am a control freak who would happily micro manage every aspect of our lives whereas OH is not like that.  Whilst I have had some "moments" (*coughs*) about all this I have had to accept that although OH does things differently to me it doesn't actually mean he gets things wrong.  He has different ways of dealing with naughty children and of getting them to do what he wants.  We both get to the same place in different ways and that's OK, as long as we respect each other's ways of parenting.  We are not an interchangeable unit, we offer different things.  Obviously I mean this to a certain extent - we both feed, clothe and put children to bed etc.

From looking at friends of mine I think it's harder when Dad is not involved as much as my OH is because I think some mums are so use to doing everything themselves that they find it hard to let Dad in when he is there and so Dad's role gets marginalised a bit.  I really do believe that Dad's are not just for throwing the children around for an hour every week.  Hard as it is (and trust me I'm still navigating this minefield) mums and dads have to work together to both play a role in their children's lives and to work out what that role is.  This is quite hard work in a happy relationship but to embark on this for the first time upon separation must be nigh on impossible.

Despite only having maybe 5 minutes every night and only really enjoyed time with my Dad at the weekends, this does not in any way mean he played a marginal role in my life.  My Dad was responsible for some of the best things I did as a child: he got me a chemistry set and we sat at the kitchen table and made things spark, he let me and my sister try to surf on a lilo in pools on holiday (thinking about this now I would stop my children straight away because the fear of a cracked head would be too great for me to watch), he taught me about different cars and makes and models (so I'm a girl that doesn't just say I like the blue one), he taught me to recognise number plates from different countries and their country stickers, and despite being a big stresshead like me he helped teach me to drive without ever raising his voice (how he did this I'll never know).

I also look at the role my OH plays in our children's lives.  I've blogged about our circumstances after our daughter's birth and how this affected their relationship initially.  But now she absolutely loves playing up to daddy and trying to get him to take her side in dispute with our son.  I seem them both light up when he comes home.  They play excitable games before bed despite me saying a billion times that they're supposed to be having quiet time.  Last weekend he collected his steam engine from his parents' so he and our son can play with it together.  He's always firm but fair and he absolutely adores our children as I do.

I'm conscious that I am extremely fortunate in that my parents are still married and OH and I are still married and very happy together.  I'm also conscious that I've been lucky enough to have a Dad that cares about me and that I'm married to a man that is interested in our children and cares passionately about them.  Not everyone is this lucky and that breaks my heart.

But even if there had been a separation in either marriage I cannot envisage a situation where I had not maintained a relationship with my Dad, or that our children would not see OH.  I'm acutely aware that people do not think straight when they're going through a separation and I see this constantly.  Absolutely it is the hardest thing in the world to make big, complex decisions when you feel like you're dying inside.  But I also believe that when you sign on to be a parent you're signing up to the big decisions.  I tie myself in knots about whether my children are eating the right food, getting enough exercise, whether I'm passing on bad habits, whether they're happy at school/nursery etc etc.  This is parenting!  The guilt, the anxieties, the waking in the middle of the night wondering if daughter is constipated (that one might just be me the other day), the constant balancing act and yes the really hard decisions.  I'm not going through a separation but not a day goes by when I don't look at my children and look at myself and think "am I doing the right thing by them".  Don't get me wrong I think that thought process would be a million times harder in a divorce and I'm very sympathetic to the problem.  But one of the most important things you have to ask yourself is what is my role in their life and what is their other parent's role?  Because 99 times out of 100 the other parent has a role to play too and you have to find a way to accommodate that.  For your children's sake.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

My top 10 things you do in the first days of being a mummy

I've been doing a lot of work stuff on my blog lately.  That's fine but work is really not all of my life and being a mummy is the most important thing I've ever done and will ever do.  A friend of mine has recently had a baby and I've been trying to offer some help and words of encouragement (whilst acknowledging I'm no expert).  It got me thinking back to the early days with my first baby and how utterly bewildering it was.  So I decided to do a top 10 things that everyone seems to think or do in the early days with their first newborn.

1.  Wonder at how the hospital have allowed you to take this fragile and tiny person home.  I mean surely you shouldn't be left alone with the baby.  You haven't got a clue.

2.  Become completely confused by how complicated breastfeeding is.  In the antenatal class there was a doll and you put it to your breast and surely that's all there is to it?  No it turns out it's quite complicated getting the baby latched on correctly.  Then it gets a million times toucher when the baby is screaming and there are thrashing limbs everywhere.

3. Decide that you will have a little outing and go shopping or something.  Baby screams almost continually.  People stare.  Old ladies ask you if the baby is hungry.  You have no idea.  You fed him/her about 1.5 hours ago so surely not.  You feel useless and inadquate.  You go home vowing not to leave the house again until the baby is 2 or something.

4.  You retch and nearly vomit when the cord drops off.

5.  You sit wondering how on earth you can bath a baby with only 2 hands.  I mean you need at least 2 hands to hold the baby and make sure they don't drown.  So how on earth can you get cloths, or wash the baby or get a towel.

6. Take picture of baby to use as your new mobile screensaver.

7. Marvel at how something so tiny can produce such a massive amount of poo as you change clothes, bedding and wash baby's back, legs, bottom and change your own clothes.

8.  Decide that there's really no point washing your clothes just because there's a bit of posset or sick on you.  You won't have enough clothes and it will generate more washing.  This is it people.  This is when the standards start to slip ;)  I discovered baby poo on my knee mid way through a legs, bums and tums class that had got missed.  Could not believe I hadn't noticed this.  I was mortified.

9.  Vow that you will not lose touch with your friends that haven't had babies yet.  But decide you can't really ring them because they're at work in the day and in the evening you're dealing with a screaming baby/asleep/lost the power of speech.  Decide you'll e-mail them instead.  A week later think you must finish/write that e-mail.  I'm convinced the invention of smart phones came from a mother wanting to keep in touch with friends, not from someone wanting to keep in touch with work!

10.  Find yourself reduced to tears over the most minute things.  Nappy won't go on straight = tears.  Baby has been crying for over 30 minutes = tears.  When my daughter was born OH put our son to bed and came downstairs to find me in tears saying "I can't go back to work, I just can't leave her".  OK, he said.  She is only 4 days old - maybe let's talk about it in 6 months?

It really is an amazing, mystical, frustrating, soul destroying, joyous, heart lifting experience and I wouldn't change for it the world.  In fact I'd do it again tomorrow............

Saturday, 21 January 2012

My advice to trainee/wannabe solicitors everywhere

During the 10 years I've been working since I finished my LPC I have noticed that people don't generally have a lot of sympathy for people in the legal profession.  They seem to think our hourly rate is what we get paid (far from it I think I worked out I get paid about 1/10th of what I charge clients) and that many of us have some family trust fund.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

Training to become a solicitor is one of the most soul destroying things in the world, I think.  It involves an awful lot of hard work and an awful lot of money.  Don't get me wrong I'm not saying this is unique to the legal profession, or that solicitors don't eventually earn good money.  I'm saying if you manage to make it there you've probably bloody earned that money.

For those of you that don't know the "normal" route for qualifying as a solicitor is you do a 3 year degree, followed by a postgraduate course called LPC (or if you haven't done a law degree you do a different postgraduate course for a year then an LPC).  The costs for that LPC were about £9,000 for the year when I did it.  It's no doubt much more now.  The cost of doing a university degree is pretty well known and varies depending on where you go (from really quite expensive to bloody hell how much).

Once you've done that you have to do a 2 year training contract to then become a qualified solicitor.  There are various problems with training contracts:

1.  There are never as many training contracts as there are LPC graduates meaning there will always be a number of people that don't get one.
2.  Training contracts are not generally well paid.  If you're lucky enough to get one that is (and trust me they are like the holy grail) then you're generally expected to give a pound of flesh in return.  Many, many people are paid less than £20k (and sometimes far less than that) for their training contract.  Trying to manage living costs (especially in London) and debt repayments on that salary is hard work.
3.  There are firms who sadly exploit trainees looking for training contracts and will try to get them to do unpaid paralegal work for a vague promise that one day they will get a training contract.

I exchanged tweets with @fmfamilylaw the other day about the importance of a good mentor when you're training.  Sadly not everyone gets this.  It's a very hard profession to get into and it's a hard profession to survive in as well.  Apparently 1 in 4 senior lawyers is not an alcoholic and that is a frightening statistic but I can see how it can happen.  Training without good support and mentoring is seriously tough and it can take its toll on even the hardiest of people.

I was one of the people not to get a training contract.  I got a 2:2 degree (by a very marginal percentage point - 1.3% off the 2:2 I recall) which meant my CV was being rejected very early on by the process many firms have to whittle down the hundreds and even thousands of applications they get.  I applied for over 100 training contracts.  I had a few interviews.  At one firm I got down to the final 4 for 2 training contracts but still didn't get it.  I had work experience and I'd worked in a firm of solicitors for a year between my degree and doing my LPC.

Being rejected by that many firms is really hard not to take to heart.  For a long, long time it knocked my confidence and made me wonder if I would ever make it.  I'd wanted to be a solicitor since I was 12  (!) and I had never thought about doing anything else.

After I'd finished my LPC I moved to London with a good friend and I took the first job I got offered as a family paralegal in a high street firm.  I'd never wanted to do family law (I wanted to be an employment lawyer) but having a job seemed important and I felt it would at least be a start.  That was 10 years ago last October.  I've done nothing but family law since then.

I learnt an awful lot in that job.  It was a legal aid firm and I learned how to turnover a high volume of work quickly.  I learned about the differences between the law you learn in the classroom and the law you apply to people sitting in front of you with problems.  I also learned that everybody has a limit and once you're up to that limit you can't do any more.  The lady I worked with in the family department (we were the only fee earners) was in a similar position to where I'm at now (and believe it or not we're still friends).  She had just come back off maternity leave having had her second child and was working part time.  She was trying to manage being a working mother and also the fact that she suffered from depression.  Therefore when faced with an enthusiastic paralegal saying "give me work", "I want to learn", "what can I do" she gave me lots of the work.  Any trainee solicitor will tell you you get the dirty jobs and have to do a lot of the ground work.  It's the way you learn.  But after a while I started to get all the clients that complained and had to deal with angry clients who felt their work wasn't being dealt with quickly enough.  When you're not very experienced dealing with lots of people who are angry with you (as you think they are) is pretty scary.

I never said no to anything which looking back seems a bit weird.  Eventually I was stressed beyond belief (one day I came up with hives up my arm), exhausted and depressed and I could take no more.  So I ended up on anti-depressants and I had 2 weeks off work.  I went back because I wasn't going to quit but after a while I realised that I had enough experience to be able to get on in another job and that as long as I stayed there I would always be an assistant and therefore the prime target for all the crap jobs.

So then I moved firms and become the sole family lawyer at a new practice.  That's pretty scary having no one to ask for help when you need it (particularly when 2 years in a firm is all the experience you've had).  The principal of the firm wasn't bothered about anything.  He didn't really want to still be working and the firm slowly slid into intervention (this finally happening 6 months after I left) during the time that I was there.  Thankfully I got out there and did some networking and I met a great friend who also became a mentor to me and who really helped me at a time that I needed it.  But whilst I was there I applied to be made a Fellow of the Institute of Legal Executives which I was able to do without doing any more exams because of what I'd done.  Shortly after I left I applied to the Law Society for my training contract to be dispensed with which I was granted.  So I became a solicitor in 2006 - 5 years after I finished my LPC without ever doing a training contract.

I then moved on to the firm that I'm at now where I started as a locum and became permanent in between having babies.  It was nice to be part of a team until my colleague and then my boss left last year leaving just me and a trainee.  It's still hard not having anyone to ask for help or to go to when there's a problem.  Our senior partner monitors us but is not a family lawyer.

The whole process of being a lawyer can work brilliantly if you get in there and you get a great mentor but for so many people this really isn't the case.  The whole process of applying for hundreds of training contracts and not getting any really knocks you.  You do all the things you're supposed to like talking about your relevant experience and your enthusiasm (I have professed an interested in dental law in a vain attempt to get a training contract!).  But the fact is that there are more LPC graduates than training contracts.  This is not your fault!

If you can get a paralegal job then you get a foot in the door and if you impress people they may give you a training contract.  But don't let unscrupulous lawyers exploit you for free labour.  Yes you might have to be a paralegal for a bit before you get a training contract but they should pay you for your work (and a proper market pay) and you shouldn't have it held over your head forever.

I would also say that the job is not worth your health and your happiness.  It's so hard to see when you're in the middle of it but it really, really isn't.  If you do nothing but work, and you're ill and stressed then maybe it's time to move on and see what else is out there - either in the legal industry or maybe using your skills elsewhere.

Also try to remember that work is not all of your life and you might feel you're being rejected as a lawyer but that does not mean you are not a lovely, clever, sensible, amusing and wonderful person who other people love dearly.  And tweet me @mummylawyer or leave me a comment because I really will try to help if I can.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

What do we all owe society or our community?

OK it sounds like I've gone all philosophical today and I sort of have, but in a practical way.  I have always believed that if we all consider what we can do for our society/community/each other (call it what you want) and that if everybody thought about this for a few minutes then the world would be a better place.  At school we learnt about treating others as you would like to be treated.  It's always seemed like a good maxim to me.  It might be a religous phrase (I went to a Church of England Primary school) but I don't mean it in a religious way.  I just mean we should all think about how we would like people to behave towards us and try to behave that way ourselves.  For example:

1.  I don't want to wade through litter when I'm out and about so I don't drop litter.
2.  I don't like children running around me screaming in restaurants so I don't let my children do it to other people.
3.  Equally when my children are behaving perfectly nicely and, well, like children, when I'm out and about I don't expect to get dirty looks or people making snidey comments so I don't do it (and it wouldn't occur to me to do it but sadly it seems some people do feel the need to do this).
4.  I'd get very annoyed if someone parked blocking the entrance to my house so I wouldn't do it to someone else.

I mean things like that.  However, I do have a tendency to take this a bit far and sometimes feel crippled by what I think I should do.  My Dad in particular was always very keen on teaching lessons about the impact of our actions on others and I think I probably took it on board a bit too much.

Ages ago I had a conversation with a friend which started about reading Harry Potter books (which I love).  It moved on to discussing whether everybody has an obligation to society to make the best use of their talents.  She felt everyone should push themselves to realise their possible potential.  This has always stayed with me.

So if you have a gift for rocket science are you obliged to share this with the world to enhance rocket sciencism (or whatever it is)?  Or is it OK for you to decide that yes you understand rocket science but actually want you want to do is be a landscape gardener?

Or to use another example on a similar theme, I am a qualified solicitor and in order to do this I had to do a 3 year degree followed by a postgraduate course called an LPC.  This cost my parents thousands of pounds as they kindly paid my fees, my accommodation when I lived at uni, bought me books, and gave me money for my day to day costs.  I was extremely fortunate to have this support.  So if after 10 years I decide that actually I really don't want to be a solicitor am I not fulfilling my obligations to my parents after all they'd done?

Incidentally I suppose SAHMs could become caught up in this kind of argument in that by extending the above you could say should they continue at an important job if they have a talent for it?  This is not something that has every occurred to me when discussing this issue.  My view has always been that SAHMs have the hardest, most demanding and important job of all.

These are all the musings of a mad woman who lies awake wondering if she's done the right thing by her family, her neighbours and Joe Bloggs in a neighbouring town.

Last week I had a conversation with a different friend who is very firmly of the view that the only obligation you have in life is to make yourself happy and whatever that takes you need to do.  She thinks if you're happy you'll automatically put things back in the world and that this makes the world go round.  If she's right then to me that's something of an epiphany.  You may at this point be thinking, well that's obvious.  This probably means you sleep better than me!

If  I have actually managed to explain what I mean then I would be really interested to hear everyone's comments on this.  Feel free to tell me I'm utterly mental as I already know this and I may actually find this quite freeing!

Saturday, 7 January 2012

The day my BB broke...(or the day the law of sod descended on me)

Pathetic, isn't it...I mean I remember life before I had a mobile phone and life still happened.  But today my BB got knocked out of my hand in the supermarket and it broke and to be honest I have practically had a nervous breakdown.

I once thought I'd lost my phone and my OH's reaction was "oh well, it's gone, never mind".  He learnt his lesson in saying this kind of idiotic thing when I started having a panic attack and screaming in the car.  Today he was sympathetic, tried to assist and understood the problem.  But unfortunately he could not fix my Blackberry.

My life is on that thing.  As a mum with 2 children and a job my life is organised through that phone.  I manage work when I'm not in the office.  When I'm at work and there's a problem with childcare I can organise solving the problem from it.  I use it to look up stuff on the internet, to find directions, to tweet, to check arrangements and my husband and I have our calendars co-ordinated through google calendar so my life is mapped out on my phone.  Not to mention the fact that all my contacts are on there.

Utterly, utterly stupidly I had not backed it up.  You cannot say anything to me about this that I have not said to myself.  If something's that important why in the world would you not.  Lesson learned on that front.

So having tried to sort the thing out I tried to use an old Blackberry and couldn't get that to work either.  So time for some expert help.  I rang O2 who said not a lot we can do, take it to a store and they'll charge you to repair it because you don't have our insurance (I have a policy of never taking out those insurances as I work on the basis you'll lose out sometimes but mainly you'll pay and never use it).

So off I went to find an O2 store.  Nice way to spend a Saturday.  Not.  I got to the town and found a car park.  It was pay and display and I had only bronze coins in my purse.  I did keep change in the car but used it all up and didn't replace it.  Apparently you could pay by phone for the parking but MY BLOODY PHONE WAS WHAT I HAD COME TO FIX.  Grrrrrr.

So I drove off and found a garage and paid £1.92 to get money out of my account (I never use cash machines that charge either).  This was once I had got in the bloody garage it was so busy and the woman in front of me would not move forward a fraction so I could turn in.  Once I had money I got change (top tip here if you need change at a garage don't buy orange and lime tic tacs - they're disgusting).

Went back to the car park and finally paid to park feeling somewhat fed up and stressed.  Got to the O2 store and the illiterate, inarticulate yoof in the store basically said I can't do anything.  If we send it away to be repaired it'll take 14 days (cue hyperventilating in the store) and we'll charge you.  OK I said I'm on a 24 month contract and it's only got 5 months left to run, can I get an early upgrade?  We can't sort that out.  I'm sorry I thought I was an O2 customer in an O2 store.  Yes but you have to ring them.  Why can't you ring them.  OK I'll ring them.  But even if they'll upgrade you we can't give you a phone now because our stock wouldn't balance. At this point he looks at me like I know what'll happen if their stock doesn't balance and how awful it will be.  I don't actually give a shit if their stock never balances.

So he rings them and mumbles down the phone and tells me they won't upgrade me.  At this point it is clear I am going to get no help whatsoever.  So I leave.  But not before I've pointed out that I've been an O2 customer for over 10 years and their customer service is shocking.  He says "10 years, wow" and looks utterly amazed.  Presumably because 10 years ago he was only a foetus or something.

So I go out to the guys on the mobile phone stall who tell me that I need a new screen and they can do it in 30 minutes for £45.  This is my only option and I take it.  Bastard phone companies I think can the day get any worse?  Then as I wander along to get a coffee I come face to face with a giant poster of Justin Bieber.  So the answer to the earlier question is yes much worse.  Anyone who follows me on twitter will know I think Justin Bieber is an odious little shit and I try to avoid any contact with him.  This includes watching adverts on the TV, hearing his music and coming face to face with massive bloody posters.

My phone is then fixed but it's not my phone any more.  The icons are different and I've lost all my downloads and it's in a different order and well I just don't like change.  Least of all with my most important bit of kit.  I am slowly putting it back the way I like it as much as I can.

So what have I learnt from today:

1.  I am addicted to my phone.
2. I need to regularly back up my phone.
3. I must stop spending the change I keep in the car and not replacing it.
4. Lime and orange tic tacs are disgusting and to be avoided.
5.  O2 have shit customer service and I should really register my protest and move when my contract is up.
6.  This kind of day is exactly why I am a drinker of alcohol.

Thursday, 5 January 2012

The year 2012, the future and my job!

Get me I'm blogging again!  How many blogs does it take before you stop feeling like you're doing something a bit daring?  Or do I just not get out much?

Anyway the last blog concentrated a lot on the past and the history of the last few years.  In this one I wanted to cover some stuff about my job and why doing my job more on my terms is something that has become very important to me.

I am a solicitor specialising in family law.  This means that my working life deals with people's relationship breakdowns and disputes arising out of that about money, property and children.  At times it's a hard job.  It's hard to deal with it without getting emotionally involved and whilst you try to be impartial teflon and let things slide away it's hard not to have days where you're a sponge soaking up other people's problems.  I have found it increasingly hard to deal with disputes concerning children since having my own children - especially where they concern young children like mine.  I've had a couple of cases that have literally kept me away at night.

I work part time and now work 3 days a week.  As any working parent will tell you it's hard work balancing the needs of your job and the needs of your children.  It's even harder when the nature of your job is that you have responsibilities that need to be shouldered regardless of what day it is and what else you have on.  It was easier when I had a head of department who ultimately shouldered the responsibility.  But since my boss left I am the most senior person in my department and so I feel it's unfair to leave things with less experienced and less qualified people even though it's not a day I work on.  There are days when I feel that I'm a victim of my own success.  If I had not got the job I had and had worked in a lesser paid job then I wouldn't have been able to make money working and paying for childcare.  So I wouldn't have to deal with these dilemmas.  Most days I try to remember that I am fortunate to have a good job that earns me good money and enables me to assist people with their problems (not always easy to count your blessings though, is it?).

The problem is that it's got harder and harder to actually see that I'm making a difference.  I believe passionately that anybody going through a relationship breakdown should be encouraged to deal with matters in a dignified, sensible way and as amicably as possible.  Don't get me wrong I'm not some sanctimonious preacher telling everyone what to do from my ivory tower.  I just know from experience that if you can do it in that way it will assist you all in the future and, above all, you will save money.  It might come as a shock to people that some lawyers try not to run up huge bills for their clients but I really don't believe it's anybody's interest for me to get them into debt.

Sometimes no matter how hard you try to persuade people they are determine to fight about things.  Sometimes it's about really important stuff like making sure children are properly cared for when they're with the other parent, or making sure somebody has enough money to keep a roof over their head.  These are all important, worthwhile things that need to be sorted out and it's my job to make that happen.

Other times it's not about worthwhile things.  Sometimes I spend days of my life arguing about whether children should be collected by the other parent at 10 a.m. or 10.30 a.m. Or I find myself making phone calls saying that my client will not agree to them having the flat screen TV in the bedroom and despite my very best efforts hundreds of pounds of fees are being spent on a TV that was £500 new 2 years ago.    Sometimes it's because people can't see the wood for the trees and are hell bent on getting revenge.  Sometimes it's because the other solicitor I'm dealing with isn't advising their client properly and if one spouse tries to fight for something trivial often the other one will then want a fight too.  It's this kind of thing that gets me down more than anything.

I have more and more become convinced that mediation is the way forward in the vast majority of cases. This is where the people separating sit down in a room with an independent third party who attempts to help them reach an agreement about all the issues they have.  The mediator doesn't advise them but just guides the discussions.  In many, many cases the people reach an agreement much more quickly than they would using solicitors to negotiate, they have spent less money and at the end of the process they are still talking and able to talk to each other about arrangements for their children going into the future.

Don't get me wrong it won't work for everybody and it works on two people playing fair with each other which is not always the case.

This year I will be qualifying as a mediator.  It's a fairly intensive 8 days course and I will probably be a dribbling wreck by the end of it but more and more I see my professional future doing mediation.  For the reasons I have outlined above and also for the following reasons:

1. I believe mediation will work better around my children as there is not the same level of work surrounding it outside of appointments which makes it easier to manage and pick up and put down.

2.  I have in the past suffered with stress problems and depression and I find that sometimes I am just absorbing client's problems and issues and this gets me down enormously and it also means that I am simply not able to function as an effective advisor.

3.  A change is as good as a rest, they say, and I have wanted to change my working life for so long.  I'm still passionate about family law but I just don't feel that the way I do it currently is fulfilling me as a lawyer or a person or serving client's best interests.  If money was no issue I would actually love to become a writer but given that that would take years to generate any hope of an income I have to focus on my current skill set!

4.  I have for some time felt I am getting bogged down in issues where I work and mediation potentially gives me the option to run my own mediation business where I will completely control my working life and it's success or failure will fall on my head and no one else's.  As a control freak - that appeals to me enormously!!

So that's hopefully work for me in 2012.  Watch this space........

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

My first ever blog!

Well this is my first ever blog.  How exciting.  I wonder if anyone will read it?

I'm not a big believer in New Year's resolutions because if something needs changing then why wait for the New Year.  But sometimes a New Year can be a good jolt to kickstart something new and I've decided 2012 is the year for me.  Primarily I want to turn my working life around so I am making a difference again and so it fits better around my home life.  But as with most things you can't deal with them as an isolated bubble so any change is likely to impact upon other areas of my life too.

To make decisions about the future I believe you have to understand the past and make peace with it in whatever small way you can.  The last few years have not been the easiest. 

I had my first baby in May, 2007 and my son is now 4 1/2 and at school.  He rocks my world even when he's bouncing off the walls trying to be a superhero.  Shortly after he was born my OH bought the business he worked in with some other people.  We thought this would be a new beginning with fabulous opportunities for us and our children.  It would of course be hard work and so I tried not to moan (too much) when OH worked long hours and I was on my own for the entirety of the period that our son was awake during the week.

Then the recession hit and it became clear that things would be harder than we had ever dreamed.  In August 2008 OH started to seem depressed and the stress was clearly beginning to bite.  Having suffered with depression myself I can recognise the signs and also the need to get help.  He felt he needed to just carry on - the alpha male providing for his family has to just stick his head down and get on with it no matter how hard things become.  I did not agree with this but I could see that he felt the need to work through this and to make it right.  In May 2009 I found out I was expecting our second child and was so happy that even though things were tough it could bring some much needed joy to our lives.

Things did not get better for OH and he continued to show signs of extreme stress and depression much to my concern.  However, he refused to consider getting help or seeing his doctor.  Anyone who has lived with someone being ill and refusing to get help will know how utterly frustrating and heartbreaking this is.  In August 2009 we went to a friend's wedding reception and OH drank too much culminating in the most almighty row.  OH told me he could see nothing to look forward to and felt there was nothing good in the world, or in our lives.  I felt I could take no more and notwithstanding the fact that I was 4.5 months pregnant I felt I had to do something.  So I started packing a bag to leave.  My son was at my mum and dad's and I thought I would go there whilst I made some decisions.  Faced with this OH broke down confessing the true extend of the stress and depression and that he had in fact considered ending it all.  How do you cope when the father of your child and the man who is your world tells you that?

He then agreed to see his doctor and he was diagnosed with depression.  He didn't want medication or counselling but I felt we'd made a start and that was significant.  Shortly after that we went on holiday for 2 weeks and had a fabulous time in Dorset.  I think at this point OH realised the truth of the old maxim "family is the most important thing in the world".  Things weren't magically better but although he was still extremely stressed he seemed to have found some glimmer of joy in the world.

Things continued with the business being up and down until our daughter was born in February, 2010.  I have loved every second of being a mummy to two.  First time around I was scared and incompetent.  Second time around I was relaxed, in control and unstressed by it all.  It was magical.  Those first few days I felt like I was on cloud nine.  Tired and sore from the c section but seriously, blissfully happy.

Until my daughter was 10 days old and OH got ill.  Really ill.  He would sweat uncontrollably, he would shiver under 4 fleeces and a blanket.  Blood tests showed something wasn't right but the GP was unable to work out what it was.  Despite being on his knees he felt he could not stay at home.  The business needed him and his partners were sympathetic but never sent him home.  So he worked and he came home and went to bed and that was our life for weeks.  I remember lying in the bath 2 weeks after a c section thinking how can I cope with a 2 year old, a newborn baby and running a house when I've just had major surgery?  The answer that came to me was basically you do, or you die.  So I got on with it.  Don't get me wrong I'm not some bloody superwoman.  Anyone that knows me will tell you I could be in the Olympics for moaning.  But my children needed me and my husband needed me and this was not the time to bang on about my needs.

Thank god we had private medical insurance because without that I don't think we would ever have got a diagnosis and OH would never have got better (this is of course not right but that's another post).  Slowly OH got better and improved and began to have a relationship with his daughter who he had spent next to no time with.  She would not agree to be comforted by him until she was about 18 months old (of course now she's worked out daddy's the soft touch it's a different story).

Once OH got better towards the middle/end of 2010 my mind was made up.  I felt OH had to leave the business and I didn't really care what it cost us.  He felt different.  He was tired of it and stressed beyond belief but he felt he couldn't leave without being declared bankrupt.  We would then lose our home.  He spent more meetings than I can remember talking to his partners and trying to get them to see how stressed he was and that no business can go on with cash flow problems like theirs.  Some months he took no drawings.  Some months we had to wait until 3 days before the end of the month to find out if we'd be able to pay our mortgage.  Yes I worked but I earned less than a quarter of what OH had when they'd started the business.  I couldn't cover a mortgage and bills.  His drawings nearly halved for a bit.  Then they went back up a bit.  Then they weren't paid.  We had to borrow some money from OH's parents.  Through all this OH's partners felt it was just a minor matter and that other businesses had teething problems and there was a recession.   They would take no steps to address the problems.  They could pay their bills thanks to having higher household incomes.  They didn't seem to care that the stress was nearly putting OH under.

So early on in 2011 we said enough is enough.  We decided OH would leave even if he went bankrupt and we had to sell our house and rent.  Sometimes you just have to look at what's important and let go of everything else.  It was touch and go and before he could leave we had to remortgage our house to pay a tax bill and we'll be paying that back for years.  But he has moved on and so now have we.  We are less stressed and our family life is much more balanced.  We have kept our house and OH managed to avoid bankruptcy.  There are ongoing issues which I very much hope will be resolved in the early part of 2012 so we can finally put this whole episode to bed.

I never, when my children were small, to keep working in the same job, doing the same thing in the same way.  But throughout all this it seemed more sensible to keep my working life on an even keel and to keep earning the money.  OH is now settled doing other things.  Our children are happy and healthy and son is now settled in school.  My daughter attends a private nursery and is looked after by Grandma whern I'm at work.  So it feels to me like 2012 is the year to do something for me and to make work, work better for me and my family.  Next blog post more about my job and the future.  Is this the longest first blog in the history of the world?  Told you I had something to say....