I am lucky to have incredibly supportive parents who were very pleased that I pursued a career in law but who also supported me when I was considering a career in the armed forces. My dad said I was born to be a lawyer, having spent most of my childhood picking fights then persuading some poor grown-up not to punish me.
My path to the law was fairly standard I did a three-year law degree followed by the year-long Legal Practice Course, before being offered a job as a trainee solicitor at Cunningtons. I spent most of my training contract in the Family Law department as I knew I wanted to qualify into this area of law, but I will never forget the 3 months I spent in the conveyancing department, which only confirmed the fact that I was a litigator through and through!
Sometimes you have to learn the hard way and every trainee will have at least one horror story about a mistake they made. I’ll never forget the time I tried to be super-efficient and I filed a document at court without having had it signed by the client and without having kept a copy for our file. I spent the next week trotting up to the court every day in a desperate bid to befriend court staff. It worked though, eventually they returned the document to me. It was actually a great way of getting to know the court ushers and managers but it gave me a week of sleepless nights.
Since all of the changes to legal aid in 2013 there has been a huge increase in people who represent themselves in legal matters and court proceedings. I am often instructed by clients who have been doing their best to muddle through but they have reached the point where they are so overwhelmed and unsure of what to do that they come to me in desperation. Thankfully we offer a fixed fee service so we are more affordable than other solicitors who only offer an hourly rate service. As soon as they get some proper legal advice from me, I formulate a case plan and identify what is relevant and what, perhaps, is not. From there, I will set out what steps need to be taken in order to resolve matters. Often it is simply a case of giving clients the correct information so they can then make an informed decision and the case can be concluded quickly after that. Clients often wish they had instructed us at the outset as it wouldn’t have taken so long.
We also have many situations where the other party is representing themselves. The proper name for someone who is doing that is a “litigant in Person”. Litigants in Person can be left feeling very vulnerable and at a disadvantage. It can be difficult to deal with Litigants in Person as they have an inherent distrust in anything you tell them and they assume you will be hostile and aggressive. This can make them defensive and unwilling to compromise. The downside is that this often leads to court proceedings even in very simple cases, as the Litigant in Person needs to hear from a Judge that what we’re saying is correct.
The only bad type of client is one who ignores our advice and is then surprised when it all goes wrong. I will never understand why people pay to receive legal advice and then ignore it. These clients will often be the ones who say “yes but I’ve looked online and you’re wrong” before showing me an article they’ve printed from an American website that is completely irrelevant to English law.
As well as being the family law partner I’m also the firm’s money laundering reporting officer. It comes with a great deal of responsibility but I have relished having an opportunity to learn this new role and sometimes it’s good to have a reason to put client files down and focus on something very different from my usual casework.
If I wasn’t a solicitor I would probably run my own cleaning company because I am obsessed with having a clean and tidy life. When I retire I’m determined to open an animal rescue centre in the knowledge that I will never ever re-home a single animal because I would want to keep them all!
Jill has a mixed caseload which includes divorce, finances, arrangements for children, protection from harm and care proceedings.
I didn’t follow the normal path to becoming a solicitor I intended to read law at university but a friend of mine told me that it would involve an incredible amount of reading and I wouldn’t have any time for any fun. I really wanted to get the most out of my university experience and the thought of spending every night and all weekend with my nose in a book was discouraging. Instead, I chose to do a degree in French and Spanish with Legal Studies, before going on to undertake my formal legal training.
I strongly believe that having a non-law degree is an asset as it adds to the diversity of the firm and gives me skills that can come in very handy and set me apart. Many degrees have transferrable skills such as the ability to absorb and remember information or the ability to undertake research and make an informed decision, which are all important skills for any lawyer.
As well as dealing with my caseload I also have the responsibility of developing our trainee solicitors. Each trainee usually spends at least three months in the family department and during that time I work with them to show them how to manage a caseload, help them to prioritise work, show them how to deliver advice to different types of clients and support them in developing their own style.
I usually have a quick face-to-face meeting with my trainee in the morning where we go through what tasks they can deal with that day, then I see them towards the end of the day where we go through their work and I give them feedback. Trainees also spend a lot of time shadowing me. I had the benefit of great training when I was a trainee and it means a great deal to me to be able to give something back to the next generation of solicitors. It’s very rewarding to see trainees become more confident.
I have a particular interest in cases that involve arrangements for children because every family is so different and I enjoy the challenge of finding a solution that is in the best interests of the children.
It often requires a great deal of sensitivity as emotions often run high, and I pride myself on being empathetic whilst delivering practical advice.
Working for Cunningtons appealed to me because of their reputation for delivering excellent client service. Cunningtons has a real "can-do" attitude and it’s great to work for a dynamic and innovative firm.
Away from the office you can often find me at the stables. I’ve been around horses all of my life and I don’t think anyone could ever keep me away, it’s such a good way to relieve stress. I wouldn’t say I’m a keen cyclist, but I do occasionally drag my bike out and huff-and-puff my way around a new route, although this often leads to me becoming lost and then having to cycle far further than I initially planned!
The phrase "cash in hand" strikes fear into the heart of any decent divorce lawyer. Do they need to report you to the Financial Crime Agency? Probably, but there’s a mammoth amount of paperwork and general faffing involved. They’ll have to dust off their firm’s money laundering manual to check who the Money Laundering Officer is (praying the whole time that it isn’t them) and then decide whether it needs to be reported. Chances are, they will report it to the FCA because otherwise they risk being sent to prison themselves, although the thought of a nice little "holiday" away from billing targets and diary notes *might* appeal.
Do everyone a favour and be whiter than white when it comes to your finances.
The truth ALWAYS comes out in the end and remember…you never know someone until you divorce them. Wifey might’ve been more than happy to turn the other cheek when all was well at home, but she’ll be looking for reasons to throw shade on you now.
Gah! It doesn’t work that way in the eyes of the courts. Children aren’t commodities to be bought and sold. That goes both ways though…absent parents should be paying regardless of whether they see the kids or not, and children should see the absent parent even if they don’t pay maintenance.
And while we’re on the subject, no it doesn’t matter that your Baby Mama is shacked up with a millionaire now, they’re your kids so you have to pay for them!
Any divorce lawyer worth their weight will swerve this question before you’ve had a chance to notice. The first rule of law school: don’t ask a question unless you know the answer.
Likely to be met with a laugh. Solicitors prioritise their work in the following order:
The all-time worst thing you can say to a solicitor. We sue people for a living. Trust us, people: ALWAYS pay your solicitor’s bill!
Mills v Mills saw the Supreme Court uphold a decision of a First-Instance Judge by agreeing that the ex-wife should not have her spousal maintenance payments increased after 16 years of being divorced.
Mrs Mills received a lump sum of £230,000 on divorce, as well as spousal maintenance of £1,100 per month for their joint lives or until she remarried or a further order was made.
Many years later, Mrs Mills found herself struggling to meet her outgoings, largely due to mismanaging her own finances, incurring significant debts and making a series of unwise property purchases since she divorced Mr Mills in 2002. Mrs Mills found herself in a position of having to rent a property rather than living in a property she owned mortgage-free.
Mr Mills applied to court to cancel the spousal maintenance order and proposed to pay the wife a lump sum of £26,000. Alternatively, he proposed that spousal maintenance only continued for a fixed period of time and at a reduced rate. His ex-wife cross-applied to increase spousal maintenance. The Judge dismissed both applications so that the original spousal maintenance order was upheld.
However, Mrs Mills appealed to the Court of Appeal and they increased her spousal maintenance payments to £1,441 per month.
Mr Mills appealed to the Supreme Court who have now agreed that the maintenance payments should remain as they are – with no increases or decreases.
What happens to spouses who choose to give up work to raise a family? Do they prejudice themselves if they later divorce?
No. It is well-established law that a stay-at-home parent’s contribution to family life is equal to the other spouse’s financial contributions.
If Mr Smith is going out to work every day, and Mrs Smith stays at home with the children, he cannot argue that he should get more money from the house, just because he’s paid the mortgage.
The courts would recognise that Mrs Smith has saved the family money by not having to pay for expensive nursery fees, and by taking on the majority of the childcare herself without Mr Smith having to reduce his working hours, she affords him the opportunity to advance his career. The same applies where it is the husband who stays at home as the primary carer for the children and the wife goes back to work.
Of course, there might be situations where Mr Smith made significant contributions towards the family finances above and beyond paying the mortgage each month, which may be factored into the financial settlement if possible and appropriate.