Having reflected on the cases that I have been involved in over the past five months as a first-seat trainee I can appreciate both the quality and breadth of work that I have undertaken in the family team.
Some of my day-to-day tasks have been as I expected such as, unsurprisingly, drafting divorce petitions. This has felt like a particularly useful skill to hone as I am now confident I could file my own divorce petition, should the need arise. Other typical tasks include writing letters to clients and to the other party’s solicitors, drafting court documents for financial settlements and taking notes of meetings with clients and counsel.
Much of the work, however, has been less predictable, which has resulted in a stimulating and varied trainee experience in the Kingston family team. In my first couple of weeks I was fortunate enough to attend the Surrey Resolution Family Law Day. This consisted of illuminating presentations on a range of topics, spanning from a talk by a barrister on the law surrounding surrogacy and adoption, to a doctor presenting on narcissistic personality disorder and what family lawyers need to be aware of when they come across a narcissist in the context of divorce. The day lit a fire in my belly for family law, although I was slightly sceptical about whether I would be exposed to any of the themes that were raised in my relatively short time in the department. However just days later the theory came into practice, as I attended a meeting in which my supervisor and the client discussed how best to manage the process of filing the divorce petition, bearing in mind that the client’s spouse was a narcissist.
Other tasks I didn’t foresee have included researching how to implement a financial order when one party’s whereabouts is unknown, attending virtual hearings when the parties were oceans apart on different time zones, drawing up a client’s family tree and analysing accounts on Companies House. Recently I have also been more involved in Children Act proceedings which has led to me making applications to court for a parent who wants to see more of their child, as well as a couple of ‘leave to remove’ cases. This is when there are separated parents and one applies for permission from the court to relocate with their child to another country, because the other parent has objected. The process can be very emotive as the application requires a vast amount of detail about how the child’s prospective life will look, and the client invests a lot of time and energy into researching, making enquiries into and describing this future picture, at the same time as knowing the court might not grant them permission to live it.
Whilst many of the issues touched on may seem heavy, this ultimately makes for incredibly rewarding work. As a trainee in the family team you are helping individuals navigate what are often challenging or sad moments in their lives. This means the work you are exposed to is significant, and that training in the department is a fulfilling experience, as you prepare your clients to embark on to the next chapter of their life.