At school I remember wanting to be a music teacher, and then reading up in the careers library on the Diplomatic Service, and thinking that sounded better. I knew I could relate to people and wanted to do something worthwhile for them – and to be challenged. Law was the right decision.
My legal training was old-fashioned. There was none of the practical training that is on offer now, and it left quite a gap, though aspects of the job cannot be learnt – they are about you as a person.
The hardest challenge for family lawyers is managing and motivating teams through significant change. We need to find ways to continue to offer different levels of services which are accessible for our communities, particularly with the changes to public funding around the corner.
As a lawyer, being the ‘big sister’ really does come into its own. People see the tag of ‘lawyer’ as covering all sorts of situations which are not remotely connected.
A good lawyer should be able to manage clients’ expectations in what can be a difficult situation for them, and being able to deliver news that sometimes people don’t want to hear. And you need a good team around you.
I learnt early on not to mention I’m a lawyer socially, because I tended to be drawn into conversations about driving offences. If asked I used to say I was a fitness instructor – with hindsight that was not really believable.
Family law has its own unique difficulties. Suggestions that we care only about the profit and not about the person make you want to throw something at the television, particularly when you are dealing with children. The nature of the work is so important to the individual and to their futures.
Specialisms and accreditations are essential for your ability to provide the best service and the client’s ability to identify who is best placed to support them. I am really proud to be accredited by the Solicitors Regulation Authority as an advanced member of the Family Law Panel and as a member of the Children’s Panel, as a children representative as well as being a Resolution accredited specialist family lawyer. There is a clear gulf between those who choose to specialise and those who do not. Dabbling is not acceptable any more.
Lawyers who undervalue support staff are their own worst enemy. Support staff are vital to achieving our goals and doing the best for clients.
Mandy Rimmer is head of the Wigan family department, Stephensons Solicitors