I was originally a district nurse and community midwife before I became a lawyer. I like people. In most occupations, when you climb the ladder you move away from direct contact. I loved nursing but found that the more successful I was and the greater the challenges I sought, then the further away from people I tended to get. I wanted a bigger challenge but I wanted a profession where I would still be able to work with people directly. Law fascinated me and specialising in family law meant that I remained in close contact with people.
I was apprehensive about switching careers but I approached the University of Aberdeen law faculty and was offered a place. They were hugely supportive (Aberdeen has just been voted best Scottish university and I can see why). I will always be grateful to Dr Lessel in the law faculty for taking the chance on me, but my medical colleagues were hugely supportive too. Most of the GPs I worked with reassured me that I could do it, although I remember the reaction of a few GPs who, when hearing that I was studying law, remarked ‘she can’t be studying law, she’s a nurse’.
As a nurse and midwife you had to listen carefully to patients. You had to understand them, their fears and hopes, and above all else not be judgemental. Equally, though, you had to be firm – it is not always a popularity contest when lives are at risk. You cannot be afraid to say what people don’t want to hear. My patients relied on me and that is a big responsibility. Family law is no different. Empathy is critical but at times you have to be firm.
One client describes me as Mrs Doubtfire because no matter how flustered she becomes I then return her to calm, all thanks to my nursing experience
I specialised in family law because I wanted to work directly with people going through difficult times. I also wanted to work for myself. I wanted to get back to clients and away from management. There were no difficulties; setting up went so smoothly. I was able to use exciting new providers for technology and was amazed by the number of people who wanted to help.
I have experienced managing others in larger law practices. I found that the bigger the firm the greater the necessary distractions that took me away from face-to-face time with clients. Starting your own firm is a leap of faith. I had to learn fast but others helped me. My first year was a whirlwind but I was amazed how quickly the word spread and my business has not been idle. I have many more exciting plans for the future.
My family still lives around me and I wanted to set my own tempo, to choose my clients and the pace. I am certainly busy but I am in control and I feel that my quality of life has improved. Flexibility and fun has returned to my life. I can’t recommend it enough to others.
Starting my own firm has been a memorable career highlight. As was qualifying as a child arbitrator and accredited family mediator, and getting ranked in Chambers & Partners.
I want there to be a change in the way that many firms still advise clients to focus on litigation rather than the longer-term health of the family in their new shape post-separation.
My degree dissertation was about nursing homes. As a student I did a lot of shifts in failing nursing homes and was heartbroken by the level of care that was being provided. This is still an issue and with the aging population needs to be addressed. There were many staff that had the potential to be compassionate carers but were poorly led.
At university the other students would come to me first before going to the GP. At court one day a lady went into premature labour so my midwifery skills were useful. I have one client who says that when she is asked about her lawyer, she describes me as Mrs Doubtfire because no matter how flustered she becomes I then return her to calm, all thanks to my nursing experience.
The three legal issues that upset me the most are children not being allowed to have a loving relationship with both of their parents; cohabitees expecting to have some rights to share assets after a long relationship and realising that they don’t; and family lawyers that make matters so much worse for their clients by fanning the flames of friction and not considering the longer-term effect on the children.
Linda Lamb is a solicitor and director of LSL Family Law