In our 60 second interview series, Citywealth speaks to Jessica May, one of the two founding partners of Peters May, about launching a family law practice and wearing many different ‘hats’.
Tell me about your role.
I am one of the two founding partners of Peters May, a family law practice based in Mayfair. Juliette Peters (ex Sears Tooth) and I worked together previously in the family law department of a large city firm. We enjoyed working together but didn’t consider the environment ideal to develop a family law practice. So we set up our own boutique firm in Mayfair offering more personal, bespoke family law services. As a founding partner of a law firm I have a number of “hats’. Everything from ensuring our compliance requirements are met and insurances are in place, book keeping and accounting, maintaining our IT systems and our website, to making sure we have enough pens in our stationery cupboard. Another part of my role is business development. Juliette and I make it a priority to go out and meet people, however busy we are with client work. Perhaps we will meet with Wealth Managers, Accountants, Tax Advisors, previous clients or other solicitors. Everyone has something to offer which might be of assistance to us or one of our clients and equally, maybe people will think of us the next time they hear of someone needing family law services.
Above all, my main role is to offer a personal, clear, expert, responsive service to our clients. In my view, without such a service there would quickly become no role to fill.
What does a typical day look like for you?
I am yet to come across a typical day. There are days when I have a court hearing imminently when I barely get out of my chair as I am focussing solely on documents and correspondence. Other days I am out of the office most of the day, whether that’s for meeting a client at their workplace or meeting with another professional contact, attending client conferences with our barristers or maybe visiting venues for an approaching work function that we are organising. Every day is varied and rarely defined as “typical”. Just the way it should be.
Tell us about interesting client instructions.
I meet so many interesting clients who face very different challenges in their personal lives. For example, clients might come to see us on a “what if’ basis. What if I get married but the marriage doesn’t work out, will I have to give my spouse half of my property portfolio which I have built up pre-marriage? Very often, the personal lives of our clients cross over into business lives. A client might be an owner of a family business, our job is to negotiate the best way to extricate one party out of the business following the divorce. Forensic accountants are instructed, company valuers and tax advisors all play a part.
An interesting area at the moment for us are divorces with a Scottish and English element. The divorce law in Scotland is very different to England, not so generous as English law. We are often asked to provide advice by Scottish lawyers.
What challenges do your clients face and how are you helping your clients to overcome them?
Dramatic cuts have resulted in severely reduced court services to the public and have taken a considerable toll on the family court. The rise in litigants in person, that is people who do not have legal representation, in many cases because they can’t afford a lawyer, slow down the legal process. Juliette and I are experienced in dealing with litigants in person and manage our clients’ expectations of the court process.
There is still a dangerously common misconception amongst clients who are not married but who have been cohabiting with their partners, perhaps for many years and perhaps with whom they have children, that they would be classed as a “common law spouse” and would get the same financial relief as if they had been married. This is a myth and in my view cohabitants need better protection. We are helping our clients overcome this problem by recommending drawing up Cohabitation Agreements. This is an agreement entered into by the cohabitants that sets out their intentions in relation to property and any other assets they own either jointly or individually and what should happen if the relationship breaks down. Cohabitation agreements are legally binding contracts, provided that they are drafted and executed properly, and are signed as a deed.
What is your proudest professional achievement?
The day Peters May opened its doors, without a doubt. To be able to take Juliette’s and my combined 35 years’ experience of working for other firms and to build our own firm has been hugely rewarding. I would recommend it to any family lawyer out there who has ever thought about trying it for themselves.
What do you consider to be the most important attributes for a leader?
To be an effective communicator. Whether it is communication to fellow partners, employees, suppliers, talking to clients about fees or dealing with clients if things don’t go to plan. Communication determines how successful we are as a business.
Who do you most admire and why?
Michelle Obama. A truly inspirational communicator.
Where was the last place you travelled to for work or pleasure?
North Norfolk. Where I grew up. Not exotic but certainly beautiful, calm and restorative. My perfect retreat. The last place I travelled to for work was Paris to meet up with some fellow family lawyers who refer work to us where there is a French/English family law issue.
If you weren’t in the wealth management industry, what else might you be doing?
I would have loved to have been a historian. I was lucky enough to have had a hugely inspirational history teacher at school. Before reading Law, I read History at the University of London, specialising in medieval history. To be a curator at the British Museum would be at the top of my wish list if I wasn’t a lawyer.
How do you relax after a long day?
Sometimes it’s difficult to switch off after a long day in the office. A good book or a TV series on catch up usually works.