Tell Citywealth’s readers about your role.
I am a family lawyer and Partner at Fetcher Day and so my role is all about people. That means getting to know and helping clients with all sorts of personal legal problems. It also means working with my fantastic colleagues in the Family Team and the rest of the firm to ensure we are at the cutting edge of what we do and are delivering a seamless, high-end service.
What can we expect from family law cases?
It looks like we can expect to see more family law cases in the public domain in the near future. The President of the Family Division, Sir Andrew McFarlane, has said that he will be implementing changes to ensure that there will be more transparency to enhance confidence in the Family Justice system. We therefore may see more family cases being reported and fewer restrictions on what the media can publish about cases that are heard in public. Sir Andrew recognises that this transparency needs to be balanced against the need to protect anonymity of those who need to engage with the system. These changes may also give some people an added incentive to reach an agreement outside of court, for example through mediation or arbitration, to avoid the details of their case making it into the papers.
What are the most important skills and personal qualities for a lawyer specialised in Family and Matrimonial?
Any lawyer needs to have good oral and written communication skills but with family law I think you a need to be able to go significantly further. At an initial meeting with an emotional client, you will need to communicate with them in a way which will allow you to effectively obtain important information from them and explain complex legal concepts in a way that they can understand. This will be very different to the way in which you communicate with the lawyer representing a client’s spouse or the way in which you address a Judge at a hearing. Similarly, a letter of advice to a client needs a different style of writing from when you will be setting out your client’s case in correspondence or court documents. A different approach again is needed for drafting witness statements as these need to be concise and persuasive whilst also being written from the perspective of the witness. A family lawyer needs to be an effective communicator but also needs to be sensitive and adaptable to the many different situations they will face.
In terms of personal qualities, I would say that dedication, resilience, and a good work ethic are essential for family lawyers. It is also important to have a good sense of humour, to have fun and enjoy the work.
You have launched the Family Law Language Project. Could you tell us more about it and explain how it makes family law easier to understand?
The Family Law Language Project was inspired by the ‘What About Me’ report of the Family Solutions Group (a sub-group of the Private Law Working Group) which was published in October 2020. This report identified that the language of family law was misused (including by the profession), misunderstood and adversarial. The Family Law Language Project was launched in November 2021 and, through the use of social media and accessible content, the Project aims at:
- help those who come into contact with family law to better understand the terms that are used;
- identify terms that are often misunderstood, or that have become outdated or offensive;
- identify and inform people about misuse of family law terms in the media;
- identify language that is aggressive or which is not focussed on the welfare of children and suggest alternatives.
For example, if a media article refers to a ‘custody battle’, then the Project can help to explain why this is problematic and inform about alternatives that are better suited to reflect the child focussed language of family law. The Project is still in its early days, and I am looking forward to seeing how it develops, particularly as we get more engagement from the public, the media and the family law community. You can get involved by visiting us at www.thefamilylawlanguageproject.co.uk or find us on Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and LinkedIn.
What is the biggest challenge lawyers in your sector are currently facing?
I think the biggest challenge is taking care of ourselves. No matter what area of law you practice, you cannot offer a good client service if you are stressed, miserable and burning out. Family law is a very difficult job at the best of times, and these are most definitely not the best of times. It can be difficult to find the right balance, especially when hard work is required, when you want to strive for excellence and when you work in such a dynamic sector. Keeping up to speed with developments can feel like a full-time job. One of the most important things that can help maintain that balance is having the support of colleagues and the family law community. For the last two years that support has been remote and I think we have all felt the strain. The challenge now is to ensure we move forward with awareness of the importance of looking after ourselves, working with others and instilling positive work practices in the next generation of family lawyers.
Are your clients behaving differently in the present era?
Every client and every case is different but generally I think that clients are reprioritising their lives after the experience of the pandemic and the uncertainty which still remains. It was a wakeup call to many to realise that their livelihoods were not as secure as they thought, or that they actually could have a much better work life balance. International clients have been re-evaluating the benefits of living far away from their family and support networks. International travel is no longer something we can take for granted and that can make the question of relocating to another country much more complicated, particularly if there are children involved.
Best and worst parts of your job.
I love writing and I love the law (yes, I am a geek) so drafting a technical position statement or a letter explaining a complex area of law can get me really excited. The best bit of my job though is the people. I love engaging with people, hearing their stories and working out how best my knowledge and skills can help them to achieve what they want.
The worst bit about my job is the administration. It is important and has to be done but it is hard to get excited about red tape. Fortunately, we have a great administration team at Fletcher Day to help make this easier.
What is the most valuable piece of advice you have been given?
That I am not responsible for the situations my client are in. It can be too easy to start living the case through your client and feeling the highs and lows as if you were living it with them. At the end of the day, whilst a certain amount of compassion is required, I am there to provide a very specific service. I am not their friend or their counsellor, I am their lawyer. I am not going to do them any favours if I start compromising that role by taking on their emotional stress as well.
Emma Nash is a member of our Leaders List.
You can also find out more about Emma on Citywealth's YouTube channel, Citywealth Live Sessions - Emma Nash.