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Case studies

Carolyn Meynell

Name, current role and centre

Carolyn Meynell, Senior Lecturer, Guildford.

Area of law

Previous employer

Salaried Partner at a small high street firm

A day in the life...

I worked at two high street firms prior to joining the University. I left The College of Law (as the University was then called) as a student in 1996 and within two weeks of leaving I started my training contract. It was very hands on from the outset and I remember being sent to court with my first ex parte (without notice) domestic violence injunction at the end of my very first week. I was terrified!

A typical day in family law would consist of all the usual tasks you would imagine; answering correspondence, interviewing clients, drafting court documents such as divorce petitions, consent orders and witness statements. You would, of course, attend court regularly. You would typically be expected to conduct the advocacy yourself at preliminary hearings such as directions appointments (under the Children Act or financial hearings) and  applications under the Family Law Act 1996 for injunctions. You would often then instruct counsel to represent your client at contested final hearings under the Children Act or to resolve the finances.

However, you could never assume as you headed into work that you were going to have just a typical day. You would frequently arrive at work, having planned the day ahead, to discover a client in desperate need of advice or assistance. For example, the client may require urgent protection from further assault and then you would have to clear your desk and spend most of the day preparing the paperwork, attending court to obtain the injunction and then arranging service on the Respondent so that you could go home safe in the knowledge that you had done everything you could to protect your client (even if they did then reconcile with the Respondent a few days later!)

A family solicitor is more than just someone who knows the law.  You have got to manage your client’s expectations very carefully from the outset and often deliver unpalatable advice. You have to be able to empathise  with your client and provide support of all kinds to them. They have to trust you and open up to you to tell you the most personal matters.

I was never bored dealing with just family law as, given the size of the firms, I was always able to do a wide range of cases from divorce and private law children matters to public law matters. It was the public law cases that were the most challenging both emotionally and academically. I represented many parents whose children had been taken from them, sometimes at birth. Some clients did manage to have the children returned to them but some didn’t and faced the reality that their children were going to be adopted against their wishes. This is when your people skills really come in to play.

Best moments

For me, the best thing about family law is the cases where you feel you have really made a difference to your client’s life. I still often recall how distraught clients would be at the initial interview, facing the realisation that their marriage had broken down and scared about what the future held for them. However, by the end of the matter the client would be happier and content that the best solution for them had been reached.  You couldn’t say that you felt your client had “won” just that a resolution had been found that worked for the family as a whole. 

I enjoyed working in the high street as you get the opportunity to make lasting friendships. I spent so much time with the people in my department that they often felt like an extension of my family. As the firms I worked for were both small, I knew everyone in the office and really felt part of the organisation. You also had the opportunity to progress your career as I was made a salaried partner after being qualified for approximately 3 years.

Advice to students

In my opinion, you need to be able to demonstrate that you have the kind of skills required and that you are committed to this area. It is quite hard to go to court and observe family cases as many are held in private. However, you shouldn’t be put off because of this. Contact the court office regularly and see if there is anything you can sit in on.

Contact your local Citizen Advice Bureau and see if you can offer any help there. Again they might be prepared to allow you to sit in on interviews.

Ensure that you have some relevant work experience so contact local firms to arrange to spend some time in their family department. This would also be a good way of observing family court hearings.

Join any organisations in your area that may be applicable to you, such as Young Surrey Resolution who accept student members. This will not only give you the opportunity to keep up to date with developments but also provide excellent networking opportunities.