Lawyer in the property, family and trust law team at the Law Commission
I gained a BA and MA in sociology and then took the Graduate Diploma in Law as a route to a career which combined an intellectual focus with practical application. Before starting at the College of Law I wanted to get practical experience so spent an invaluable time working in a small solicitors’ firm, supporting fee-earners and seeing how law worked in practice. Having worked for a year, I liked the idea of another couple of years’ study.
I trained at Withers. It was an unusual mix of a fairly big City firm renowned for its private client work. I picked it because I wanted to go to a great firm for family law – which I wanted to practise – and it was top of that list. I worked on high-profile, complex cases, including some involving celebrities. I made some great friends and the training launched me into my first qualified job.
I’d spent 10 years working in private practice, eight as a qualified solicitor, and wanted something different. I really enjoyed the contact with clients – essentially, I loved the people aspect of family law – but wanted to combine that with public service work. I also liked the sound of helping to make law rather than just advising on it (and complaining about it). The Law Commission offered all of those things. Plus, the escape from billing was a welcome relief.
While no one goes into family law without wanting to help clients, there is inevitably the need to make a profit in private practice. The fact that at the Law Commission we can focus on making the law better for the public – making it fair, modern, simple and cost-effective – is motivating and rewarding. I also enjoy the incredible access that the Law Commission name gives to a huge range of interested and interesting stakeholders, which is possibly my favourite part of the job. The culture at the commission is very supportive and collegiate.
I’ve worked across a wide range of projects in my five-plus years at the commission. I’ve focused on family law in its broadest sense, but also branched out into allied areas that you don’t encounter in practice, such as the law governing how people marry. Before my current project on surrogacy I worked on a project looking at reforming the law of wills, which was a fascinating mixture of Victorian law and modern developments in society, medicine and how we understand mental capacity.
The fact that at the Law Commission we can focus on making the law better for the public is motivating and rewarding
My current project on surrogacy is probably the most challenging. It’s high-profile, an issue of huge personal significance for those involved in surrogacy arrangements and cutting-edge in its focus on modern families. There is a consensus that the law needs to change but there are different views on what reform should look like. We want and need to take account of all these views in coming up with our recommendations. So I’m looking forward to our consultation process (which we’re planning to launch in May).
As a first-generation university student, qualifying as a solicitor felt pretty great. Then getting a permanent role at the Law Commission, having taken something of a risk to move from a permanent job in private practice to a one-year contract here, was also fantastic. In terms of projects, I was really pleased when our review of surrogacy was confirmed, having been part of a team working towards this goal.
When I tell people I work at the Law Commission they tend to be very interested in our work, particularly when they can see the practical implications and how it relates to their own life. They see us as a force for good.
I suspect most lawyers go into law with at least an initial intention of helping people. At the commission you really get to live that ideal, working on reform projects that, if implemented, will impact directly on people’s lives. You could be helping to transform how people own property, vote or build their families.
I’ve tried to seize the opportunities to work on diversity issues that a public sector career presents. I feel that it’s really important to be a visible member of the LGBT community. So I’ve manned stalls at civil service events, taken part in an LGBT coaching programme and I am now a member of the Committee for Spirit, the Ministry of Justice’s LGBT network.