I was studying a law degree without intending to have a career in the legal profession. I had a real passion for the academic study of law and was fascinated by legal history, but it was some months after I graduated until I considered that the practice of law could become my career.
When thinking about which degree course to pursue, I was excited about getting to grips with a subject not then available at school. I completed my degree at the University of Manchester. I was fortunate that the teaching staff at the law faculty included some of the best law professors in the country. The teachers included a promising young lecturer who went on to become head of the Supreme Court, the now Baroness Hale of Richmond. Following qualification as a solicitor in 1980, I began my practice at a firm in Greater Manchester.
Back in the 1980s, in a provincial law firm, I had the opportunity to undertake several areas of work. I opted to specialise in family law because it offered challenges and rewards that I felt were more gratifying than any other area of law.
I have dealt with many tragic cases in the course of four decades of practice. The death of children in the home through violence or neglect inevitably continues to dwell on my mind, as do cases where one parent has died at the hands of another, leaving their children and wider family members devastated. These are the cases that stay with you.
I have dealt with many tragic cases in the course of four decades of practice. The death of children in the home through violence or neglect inevitably continues to dwell on my mind
I was involved in representing children in the Rochdale child abuse case, and families involved in the murder of police officers. High-profile cases bring with them unique challenges and responsibility.
My decision to go to the bar came later on in my career. I retired as an equity partner and needed another challenge. While involved as an equity partner for 35 years I had responsibility that went some way beyond the work on cases and in court. A transfer to the bar allowed me to concentrate on the most rewarding area of practice: advocacy.
The move from solicitor to barrister was reasonably straightforward. I enjoyed 40 years of appearing in court on almost a daily basis and that experience allowed me to gain exemption from any academic test or training. There is a considerable amount of paperwork and references that may deter the faint of heart, however it is all essential to maintain the standing and reputation of the bar.
I was fortunate to have the opportunity to join St John’s Buildings and received tremendous support in completing the process of transfer. I was called to the bar at Lincoln’s Inn, in what for me and my family was a magical occasion. The remaining challenge in relation to transfer is to attend six dinners in the course of the first three years of call, a hardship mitigated by what appears to be a very inviting dining room at Lincoln’s Inn.
The essential ingredient for any lawyer – whether at the bar or as a solicitor – is integrity. After that, hard work, empathy and a determination to deliver the best service to the client are common to both branches of the profession.
The loss of my PA, Sharon Charters, is the single biggest difference between the cultures of the two professions. Sharon and I worked closely together for over 35 years, through my time as an equity partner. She was an invaluable support in the decades that we worked together. After that, the reduction in the number of emails each day is a welcome relief.
I am not convinced that the differences in culture are all that significant. I can foresee a time when the changing legal landscape might even lead to a greater fusion between the two branches.
My unique experience has allowed me to gain an understanding of what clients want from the legal process and how that may be achieved. This applies to both lay clients and solicitors. I was fortunate to be a partner in one of the biggest family departments in the country with a first-class team delivering a wide range of services. We were convinced that excellence in service delivery was the key to success. I aim to continue that philosophy at the bar.