Director, solicitor and mediator, Consilia Legal, Leeds
My mum is a domestic violence support worker and works alongside solicitors supporting clients through court proceedings. Growing up I wanted to be like my mum by helping families going through divorce and separation. I enjoyed the academic side of law, so becoming a family solicitor and mediator seemed a perfect fit.
At every stage of education and training it seems like a huge step to that next level, but sometimes being thrown in the deep end can be fantastic for our development.
Changes to family law, particularly legal aid and an increase in fixed-fee work, have posed a challenge for family lawyers as we strive to offer a high-quality service at a competitive rate. These changes caused many family practices to re-evaluate their client offering and how to plug any gaps in the market.
On the other hand, as a family mediator with an ongoing legal aid contract, the new requirement for parties to be assessed for mediation in most family cases before any court application resulted in an increase in mediation referrals. This has had a positive impact for many separated families.
A memorable career highlight is setting up my own firm at 27, alongside my two directors Sally Clark and Marie Walsh in 2014. Consilia Legal is a niche family and employment law firm and mediation service in Leeds. We are now a team of seven, have moved to larger offices and plan to open our second office in the new year. Having our own practice gives us the autonomy to move with changing times and create a bespoke offering. In many cases this is a move away from traditional hourly rates, ranging from fixed-fee packages, monthly retainers, insurance-backed claims and publicly funded mediation.
As a lawyer you quickly learn that conflicts are often shades of grey. Principles can hinder a speedy resolution and one must consider the benefit of compromise at every stage. My family and friends know when I’ve got my ‘mediator hat on’ at home.
The family justice system has felt the loss of legal aid. Not simply solicitors who specialised in legal aid, but others acting for privately paying clients facing a litigant in person who is unfamiliar with process. The courts have seen a huge increase in the number of LiPs since the cuts and this has resulted in delay and additional costs for those who continue to be represented.
The retention of legal aid for mediation practices with a legal aid contract has gradually resulted in an increase in mediation referrals. We have seen a significant increase in mediations since we established the practice. The fact that more separated couples are engaging in ADR processes and keeping their dispute out of the courts is undoubtedly a better way for separated families, in particular the children caught in the middle.