Life in Law, by Michelle Bowyer, Family Team

A life in Law:

6th June 1996: my first day at work in a Solicitors office. A sunny day in Portsmouth and I recall my new colleagues looking hot, sweaty and over-worked. I was fresh faced and bursting with excitement at securing a role in law having spent an unimaginative year in pension administration as a stop-gap following my graduation from university. I was a trainee legal executive and I faced a baptism of fire. I was in a busy crime department and I was soon attending court, visiting clients in prison, preparing statements and analysing evidence. If the civil team needed someone to undertake an oral examination at court, I was sent jogging over with the reminder that one of the Partners had once reduced a defendant to tears: this had become folklore in the office and the pressure was on to be as equally as robust. I never did make anyone cry in those sessions and it wasn’t until my appearance in the family team later that year that I witnessed tears from a client. I still witness tears on a frequent basis almost 22 years later. I never forget that in family law, we are dealing with people’s lives. I meet the loveliest of people facing one of the most challenging times anyone can face: family breakdown. My role is to guide them through the process, advise them in relation to divorce, the financial consequences, arrangements for their children and if necessary, protection from harm. Dividing one home between 2 can be a challenge; helping parents agree what is best for their children when communication and trust has broken down between them can be a challenge. Assuring an abused party that the piece of paper called an injunction will keep them safe; can be a challenge.

Save for that forgettable year in pension admin and a year on maternity leave; this is the only job I’ve had. I’m no longer a trainee legal executive: I continued to study whilst working and qualified as a legal executive in 2000 and as a solicitor in 2005. However, the job remains the same even with the numerous changes in law and legal precedent over the past 2 decades: People’s lives. They place their trust in us to guide them through their darkest days and I take huge satisfaction in doing just that and in seeing the fog of desperation lift. Occasionally, a client will touch base with me long after their case and it is always a delight to discover that contrary to their belief at date of us meeting; there is life after family breakdown. If handled sensitively, with care, compassion and in a conciliatory fashion; this can be achieved with the fewest of tears and with hope not just for my client’s future but for their children and wider families, all of whom can suffer following the breakdown of a relationship.