Elizabeth specialises in all areas of family law. She has particular expertise in divorce and contested financial remedy cases involving an international aspect. This interview was originally published by LexisNexis Family Law.
What is your position and what do you do on a day-to-day basis?
I am a partner and head of the Family Asset Protection Team at BCLP [Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner] in London. The role is brand new in London. The last week has been busy with IT and other training, meeting essential people within the firm and getting to know the systems. Moving forward, my days will involve a mixture of carrying out the client work myself in both financial remedy and private law children cases, negotiating Pre-nups, supervising the team, networking and dealing with any management issues which arise. It's a far cry from the time I have had off on gardening leave where my days were filled with looking after my four chickens and three ducks, going for long walks with my dog, doing some volunteering at an old people's home, baking and finally, making jam! Oh yes and also travelling quite a lot!
How long have you been in this role and what brought you here?
I started at BCLP on 1 September 2018. I wanted to work for a dynamic, progressive, international, magic circle law firm. I also relished the opportunity of working within a flourishing private wealth team with high calibre lawyers. I knew Marcus Dearle from many years ago and speaking with him about BCLP and what he had achieved in Hong Kong was very inspiring. When I qualified as a solicitor, it was in a small firm in the West End of London and initially, my practice was a mixture of commercial litigation, family and employment law. I soon realised that I loved family law. Every day is different, every client is different. It's what I have been doing now since 1995 and I wouldn't change it.
Any memorable stories from your career so far?
Lots! Probably an image which will always stay with me is when I was in court one day with Barry Singleton QC (now retired). We had applied for a without notice worldwide freezing injunction for a wife against her husband who was a high profile politician in a foreign jurisdiction. She was very nervous and Barry, in his unique style, explained before going into court that it was unlikely that we would succeed in obtaining the injunction. To say she panicked is an understatement. We persuaded the court however that we should obtain our injunction. On the way out of court, the client asked Barry if she could kiss him and his response, in his very gruff manner, was that he “didn't do kisses”. She then proceeded to give him a hug and a kiss. The look of surprise on his face is something I will never forget!
What is the best and worst part of the day for you?
I love mornings and have always been an early bird — but I'm also a night owl too. The best part of the day usually involves my dog (a very large but friendly German Shepherd) — whether it's an early morning walk along the Thames watching the sun come up or going home after a long day at work to be greeted by her as if I have been away for weeks!
What keeps you motivated?
I've just spent a bit of time away from family law and the break has left me refreshed, invigorated and raring to go. I love trying to resolve issues and problem solve. Give me a challenge and I will do my utmost to succeed and do better than expected. That's why I'm so excited about my new role at BCLP. It's the first time the firm has had a family law team in London and that's a huge challenge for me —and I thrive on challenges!
Tea or coffee?
Neither — hot chocolate all the way!
What would you say to anyone thinking of a career in your field?
It's probably the most challenging area of law — not only do you have to have an awareness of a huge array of technical matters, understand the basics of other areas of law (such as land law, tax, employment, corporate etc), keep up to date with the case law, but you also have to be able to deal with emotional and demanding clients — and their exes. I have been shouted at, screamed at, cried on, hugged, kissed and, even spat on - often in the same day. And I still love what I do.
What song do you listen to the most?
It depends on what mood I am in. Although I am a huge 80's fan, this year the song I have played most is “Happy” by Pharrell Williams.
Who inspires you within the world of family law?
I have thought a lot about this question and I believe one of the unsung heros of family law is James Pirrie from FLIP. He was THE expert in the CSA and the huge changes introduced by the Child Support Act 1991, he was instrumental in bringing collaborative law from the USA to England and Wales and he was responsible for the Parenting after Parenting initiative. He has brought about so many changes in the world of family law. Thank you James.
How do you enjoy your time outside of work?
I spend a lot of time at weekends in Devon or South Wales with my fiancé and my dog, walking and having pub lunches. When in London, I go out for dinner or drinks with friends and I also enjoy going to the theatre and the ballet. I dread to think how much of my disposable income I spend at Saddlers Wells and on wine, champagne, foreign holidays etc. I would hate to do a schedule of income needs!
What book would you recommend to others?
Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. One quote sums it up “Happiness is the consequence of personal effort. You fight for it, strive for it, insist upon it, and sometimes even travel around the world looking for it”.
What would be your alternate career?
A travel blogger or travel photographer. Being paid to stay in 5 star hotels all over the world? Heaven!
If you could change one thing about the family justice system what would it be and why?
“Not only must Justice be done; it must also be seen to be done.” I do get annoyed by some members of the judiciary forgetting that. If I could, I would insist that all members of the judiciary, regardless of their seniority, should have some training and realise that when clients attend court, whether on children matters or in financial remedy cases, they are scared, nervous and anxious. It’s their lives that we are dealing with and I think sometimes that is forgotten by the judiciary and also by the lawyers. It’s not a game; it’s not theatre. Everyone needs to remember that.
This interview was originally published by LexisNexis Family Law.