Clare Thomas, Head of Kerseys Family Law, shares the department’s approach in a Google Hangout with Elene Marsden.
Clare Thomas explains her role as Head of Family Law at Kerseys. She talks about what a family lawyer does and how Kerseys try to make themselves more accessible to their clients. For example, Kerseys Family Department is available for appointments on a Saturday, so that people who are at work all week and otherwise would not be able to see a solicitor, can do so outside of normal working hours.
Video Transcript of ‘What is a Family Lawyer? Clare Thomas explains her role as Head of Family Law at Kerseys’
Hi and welcome to this google hangout I’m absolutely delighted to have with me this morning Clare Thomas who’s head of family law at Kerseys so hello Clare how are you this morning?
I’m well thank you very much for asking me to speak to you.
Oh that’s great well despite the weather is raining a pouring down outside but lovely and dry in here and you know we’re gonna just have a look conversation about what it is you do, first of all tell me how long you’ve worked at Kerseys?
I came to Kerseys in two thousand so 14 years now yeah seeing yes yeah.
And I remember you were mentioning that there was another person whose job you took over and she’d been there even longer is that right?
So that’s right Miranda Wreckit was a partner here and head of the department and worked Kersey’s for about 40 years or so before she retired and she had a great reputation and they were big shoes to fill for me so yeah but I learned a lot from her.
Absolutely so what were you doing before you actually became a lawyer what’s your background?
I was a nurse I worked my trained when i left school as a nurse and worked for about 10 years in nursing and specializing in intensive care and i was a sister in a London teaching hospital for a lot of that time. But when we moved from London and i started a family i decided to change and find something else to do.
Wow gosh so had you any idea that it would be law that you’d get into?
No no not really I went along to the University and local to me which was Essex University and looked at the options there and I decided possibly naively that I could do law and I thought maybe with my nursing background it could be medical negligence or personal injury so that’s what I plumped for and fortunately they offered me a place there as well and so I undertook the law degree there as a mature student and graduated from Essex in 1992.
So how many years did that take to graduate those carefully qualified?
Well the degree course was three years and then you do another year as a legal called is the legal practice course so you’re learning the practical aspects of being a solicitor and then two years as the trainee solicitor with a firm so working actually on the job and learning while you’re working there yes.
So its not a quick decision you have prepared to put in those years to that level.
I think so I say naive because I hadn’t really thought about the 6 year slog but nonetheless it was worth it at the end of the day so yeah yeah.
And great so now you’re head of family law and what I’d really like you to do is try and to explain to me what a family lawyer does what kinds of things you do?
It’s quite varied we advise and assist people who are divorcing so we may help them with the divorce process and all that’s associated with it and sorting out finances whether there are issues regarding children such as whom the child or children may live with how much time they’ll spend with the other parent. But it’s not just divorce it may be people who’ve been cohabiting for long periods of time and again that the law there is different and there are still issues to be resolved such as dividing assets and again issues relating to children are very commonly and disputes where there’s a lot of emotion emotions are running high really.
We also advise people who are going to marry and will advise them and prepare prenuptial contracts people who are going to cohabit we can advise them and draft cohabitation agreements for them we also deal with issues such as inheritance act claims where you might have a spouse’s that that has died and has not made provision for the survivor and that may be the case whether or not they were married and so sometimes you have to make a claim on behalf of your plant against the estate because there wasn’t sufficient provision.
So it is quite varied a lot of children work we also deal with child care proceedings where a local authorities seeking to take children into care and because their parents aren’t providing the care that’s required for them. So it is a varied varied area of law.
And you have a few people in your team so it’s not just yourself tell me who ever works with you.
Yeah you know it is a team very much so there’s myself, Elaine Webb who is very experienced we all do the same basic areas of law but Cameron sort of areas of specialism and Elaine’s is children law and particularly child care that is something that she’s extremely good at and has a very good reputation for.
Janet Rayburn who’s been with us some years now and is really developing an expertise in finances in divorce and separation as well which is what I do in the main and Vicki Mead has joined us recently she’s qualified and about six months or so ago and she’s working in all areas and in time we’ll work out what it is she wants to do and what she enjoys and where she will specialise but it is very much a team we do support one another covering hearings if one can’t do it looking after matter while people are away on holiday and it really does mean that we can provide a good level of service to our clients because that’s really what of course we’re here for so yeah.
And you mentioned that you support each other I can imagine that it can be often quite emotional some of the work you do how do you deal with that?
Yes it can be and one of the things if you’re a family lawyer you have to work out how to deal with that because although you might empathize with your client and you know want to do the best for them you have to remain objective because if you don’t you’re not going to give them the best advice and the advice that they really need to be able to you know settle it and a very early stage they have to have a realistic view of how the matter is going to be resolved because there’s no point giving them advice which you know is is maybe fits in with what they would hope would happen rather than actually what the law will want to see in in the divorce or separation.
So yes it is it is emotional I think you just have to find ways of dealing with it my nursing background I think helps me a lot but I think me it’s just experience really as time goes by you do get better at it.
So what’s a typical day for you then what what kind of jobs and tasks do you do in a typical day if there is such a thing as a typical day?
It does again vary a lot because you may have a court hearing so you whether it’s in the morning or the afternoon so that’s usually sort of half your day gone. You have to prepare for it obviously, being at court a lot of time is waiting because you know that other cases as well you’re on the telephone a lot talking to clients talking to solicitors for the other party. A lot of drafting of documents whether it be orders, deeds etc. A lot of letter writing responding and those letters may be putting proposals to settle and part of all the sort of negotiation process we also I’m trained as a collaborative lawyer and whether or not it’s a full collaborative case we often will have round table meetings so we will meet with the other party their solicitor and see if we can actually find a way of settling any issues without the need for full-blown disputes and court proceedings and that is a lot of the way that we do try and try to guide our clients towards is is settling it if at all possible without the need for going to court. So it is a varied day.
Well that sounds like a full day I’m just trying to imagine your week is probably packed with days similar to that. Do you ever have to do ongoing training what side can you tell me a little bit about that?
Yes we were obliged to do so many hours of professional development a year and that may be in varying ways either just attending formal sort of training courses, reading and keeping up to date with the law with the journals, we also have as part of our training here we get to webinars online that you can actually watch and you watch with your colleagues and then you discuss afterwards you know issues and that arise out of it so it’s just all in all trying to keep up to date some requirement for the training is more formal and others as I say is just a lot of your own reading and working in your own time and keeping up to date with all the changes which seem to you know be continual.
Oh gosh, got to keep showing your turns then it does indeed. Have you noticed this over the last 14 years that things have changed are you doing different kinds of work what was popular one popular what’s changed.
Um yes there have been a lot of changes more recently the changes in legal aid have made quite a difference in that although we we do a lot of care work which Elaine does mainly is mainly legally aided a lot of legal aid has now been taken away from family work and so one of the things that you find is that people will act in person so you might often find that you’re dealing with what are called litigants in person on the other side and that has its own challenges because of course they don’t necessarily understand the process, don’t understand the law so you have to find ways of dealing with those litigants in person.
A lot more prenuptial agreements I think they’re becoming more common and not just amongst people who’ve got you know a lot of money it doesn’t have to be the super to use them now it’s people with more modest means often people who are going into a second marriage who may have children from their first marriage and they want to ensure that in the event of the marriage breaking down that they retain their own assets because their desire mainly as us to ensure of course that their own children should benefit ultimately on their death and they don’t want to see their assets may be going to and their spouse if the marriage doesn’t work, out so that is happening much more commonly now. And that’s probably I think those are probably the main changes and that we’re seeing.
And until you find that you are working outside of the region of Ipswich and Suffolk or I know you’ve got a branch in Colchester.
We do yes yes we do have a branch in Colchester so yes we are also in Essex as well, I actually live in Essex and the branch in Colchester is very near where I live so I will go there quite frequently and but also we have clients actually from all over the country. You know I have clients who I did have a client in Scotland I’ve had clients you know in the north of England London as well so because of the ease of communication now with obviously with email and that sort of thing it’s much easier to deal with people further away and so it’s quite common to have a really quite a wide client base.
Actually I’m just thinking about Google Hangouts what an opportunity with your clients yeah far-flung regions of the tree yes yes absolutely yes because of course Skype makes life a lot easier as well and so normally we would see our client initially for a first appointment but after that then it’s usually dealing with them remotely and it seems to work very well you know that’s fine they’re happy with it and means while they’re sitting at their desk they can be also answering our emails and dealing with their own work as well as you know what they have to do in terms of the reason they’re instructing us.
So you have a very busy life with work and continual development and yes I’m just wondering if there’s any time for you to do anything else outside of work?
Yes I do try to make that time because my children are now grown up and independent so I very keen on tennis I play a lot of tennis. I am very keen gardener as well and I spend a lot of time in my garden particularly this summer which has been so beautiful and cycling is another thing I do as well and walking the dog. So yes I do i do find time and I I sale a little bit as well so it’s um yes it doesn’t seem to be there’s much time in the day for you by the end of the day once you’ve fitted in everything.
So that’s good so in your garden are you growing vegetables or is it very much flowers to look at?
It’s very much a flowers at the moment I think I’ll save the vegetables for when I retire because I think they need a little bit more work and time but no it’s it’s very much flowers lots of herbaceous borders and shrubs and things like that so yeah.
And hasn’t it been a gorgeous summer here it is yeah it has so yeah I don’t know is there anything else you would like to add anything that we haven’t really covered before we wrap this up?
No I I don’t think so i think that where in family law most family lawyers belong to an organization called Resolution which was the formula a former solicitors family or association and we are required by them as members to try and deal with matters in the least acrimonious way to make you know to find ways of settling without issuing proceedings where at all possible and there are lots of different ways you can do that either by mediation where people can go and meet with a mediator who’s a family lawyer who’s also trained in mediation and they sit down and they discuss and try and reach agreement in that way. Or through the collaborative process where you meet with your lawyer and the other party in their lawyer and again try and reach agreement which is one that suits the parties because really of course that’s what we’re there for and just other ways that you know you might whether it just been negotiation through solicitors again in in the most efficient and cost effective way possible because of course we are a service industry at the end of the day and we in our department are also trying to find other ways of making ourselves more accessible to clients we open on a Saturday morning so one Saturday a month then we open so that people who will work all week and can’t come to see us during the week or maybe work away and can come and see us and it’s just really trying to find the best way of servicing and providing a service to our clients.
Well that’s great and of course if people want to get in touch with you they can either contact kerseys.co.uk you’ve got all your telephone numbers on your website and the fact that you’ve got you know drop ins on Saturday you know it very accessible and I think thank you so much for really helping me to understand the role of a family lawyer I had no idea of all the you know that the services that you can offer people and you really explain that in a very clear way so thank you so very very much for joining me this morning and hopefully we’ll reach again on another hangouts if I yes thank you thanks very much bye-bye