I didn’t have a strong urge to follow any of the subjects I did at A-level – French, history and politics. I knew I didn’t want to be a teacher or a linguist. My careers adviser said law had a broad basis. I was articled with Henmans in Oxford. They had four offices and it was like working for four different law firms.
On my first day I was sent out to RAF Brize Norton because some poor guy had fallen off the wing of an aircraft. I had to go straight out there, look at the place where the accident happened, take photographs – it was real law in action. It wasn’t until I came to Kingsley Napley, in 1989, that I specialised in family work. Family gives you that instant contact with people.
In my early career I did a lot of child abduction work. Even where you have a consensual outcome, you’re likely to have one parent in one country and one in another, and that’s tough. We’re in a really changing marketplace, what with ABSs and all the insurers coming in. Law firms will retain their quality, client care and expertise, but you have got to balance that against what will look like very attractive offerings in the market for providers who say ‘we can do that for a fraction of the cost’.
Not enough women are making it through to senior partnership. We need to do more to say ‘we can accommodate you – working different hours, different working patterns’. Some law firms don’t see beyond the ‘well, if you’re not in the office, then you’re obviously not working’. That’s such a mistake. I would like to see more judicial continuity in family law in the future, so clients have access to the same judge, particularly in children’s matters, for instance.
While I do not agree with the wholesale privatisation of the court system, I do think recourse to private judging would go a very long way to reducing the long wait for a final hearing date in the family justice system. A case with a time estimate of three days or more often has to wait for up to a year to be allocated a fixture. If the parties had the option to have their case heard, say within six weeks, by a deputy or retired judge then not only would they be able to have some certainty of outcome, but it would speed up the whole process for shorter cases requiring direction or determination.
Jane Keir is senior partner, Kingsley Napley LLP
Interview: Monidipa Fouzder