Tuesday Tone: Family barristers Sian Smith + Lucy Davis strike back!
Lawyers Life recently ran two articles about women family lawyers which painted a gloomy picture of the profession and life as a family lawyer generally. Now two family law barrister exercise their right to reply.
Lucy Davis was called in 2004 and is a member of Pump Court Chambers. She specialises in family law with an emphasis on public law and financial remedy proceedings. Her practice is predominantly on the western circuit but regularly accepts instructions in London based matters.
‘We were genuinely surprised when reading the recent article in Lawyers Life to see that most of the women family lawyers interviewed said that they ‘hated’ their job. We feel quite differently and it hadn’t occurred to us that we may be in the minority.
We admit that we found ourselves agreeing with many of the comments made by those interviewed; it would be impossible not to. Certainly the job can feel relentless at times. Work has a habit of creeping into and occasionally taking over other aspects of life. Late nights, long train journeys, impossibly heavy wheelies and the inevitable pressures of the work make for days, often weeks, that are physically and mentally exhausting. There are other weeks however, when the diary rewards us with days out of court and we can rejoice in working at home in comfy clothes or not working at all. There is time to indulge hobbies or see friends, whilst the 9-5ers of the world are busy toiling.
We have both, on more than a few occasions, found ourselves thinking that working in a tea room, shop, library or zoo would be infinitely preferable to life at the Family Bar. Such thoughts are most frequently conceived during the early hours of the morning whilst preparing a brief which was delivered by email some ten minutes before the close of play. We might even spend some precious minutes short-listing names for our imagined tea room and mentally picking out crockery, but would the reality live up to the dream? Would we be relaxed and contented? We think its more likely that we would be bored and unsatisfied.
We both find practising family law hugely rewarding and don’t think that there is another area of law which would provide quite the same sense of purpose or achievement. Yes there are bad days, but there are also lots of good days. Days when walking out of court with the right result for the right client can put contented (ok, ok sometimes downright smug) grins on our faces. Whilst the job can be demanding, it is never dull.
The uncertainty of work and lack of consistent income is a worry familiar to most at the Family Bar, but there can be few practitioners who, as mini-pupils, were not treated to the direst of warnings from members of chambers. We heard those cautionary words and we read the articles written in similar tones. We were duly warned, but continued undeterred. We happen to think that these downsides of the profession are outweighed by the freedom, flexibility and variety that life at the Bar provides. The freedom to take the afternoon off after an early finish, or book a last minute holiday when a case comes out, in our view, more than compensates for the anxiety caused by gaps in the diary or having to campaign the fees clerk to fill our empty coffers. Speaking of which, whilst we may not earn as much as our counterparts in other areas of law, we think we do ok.
We accept that there are aspects of the way that we work that would benefit from change. We have little understanding of how those with children manage to juggle the competing demands of family life and a busy practice. Maybe our view will change as the years go by. For now however we are happy family lawyers. We hope that we are not the only ones. ‘
Lucy Davis & Sian Smith