At The University of Law we have a global community of over 97,000 alumni from more than 155 countries. Our alumni are at the forefront of law and business across the globe and we’re proud that many of them have found a home at the UK’s largest family law firm, Stowe Family Law. Today we’re talking to four of our alumni that have gone on to become partners at this prestigious firm.
By Cara Fielder. Published 17 December 2020. Last updated 9 February 2021.
We’re talking to Managing Partner Helen Miller at Stowe’s Altrincham office, Managing Partner Sebastian Burrows at Stowe’s Chelmsford office, Partner Sarah Jane Lenihan at Stowe’s London Victoria office and Partner Angela Sussens at Stowe’s Leeds office to gain insight into their lives and discover what it takes to become a partner or managing partner at the UK’s leading family law firm.
What is your current role and what does it involve?
I am a managing partner of Stowe’s Altrincham office in Cheshire. This involves undertaking complex fee-earning work but also management of my team of five solicitors and support staff. As well as this, I liaise with the executive team on issues such as HR, budgeting etc. - Helen Miller
I am a family law partner at Stowe Family Law’s London Victoria office. - Sarah Jane Lenihan
I am a managing partner at Stowe’s Chelmsford office. As well as fee-earning, I manage the operation of the office, and the lawyers and support staff within it. I am responsible for the drive of the office and its performance. - Sebastian Burrows
I am a partner at Stowe’s Leeds office. I have worked at Stowe for the last sixteen years; I specialise in divorces involving high net worth individuals, often with complicated business structures and trust assets. - Angela Sussens
Why did you choose to study law, and why did you choose ULaw?
Law was suggested to me as a career path by one of my English professors at university. I thought I’d give it a whirl. I chose ULaw because of its standing in the marketplace, and because I could easily commute to the Chester campus from my parents’ home in Cheshire. - Helen Miller
I undertook a lot of voluntary work as a teenager and was keen to secure employment in a role where I felt I was helping people in need. I chose ULaw because of the opportunities they had available; not just for course content, but also work experience. - Sarah Jane Lenihan
At university I wanted to become a barrister, so I chose the bar exam route. I was called to the bar and then went to work as a paralegal within a leading firm in the City. There, I established that I wanted to practise as a solicitor in family law, so I started my conversion. I chose to do it at ULaw because it felt more relaxed and human than the alternatives. - Sebastian Burrows
At seventeen and eighteen years old, I was a little undecided over my career path, but I knew a law degree would be interesting. The College of Law (as it was known then) in Chester had an excellent reputation and after studying for my degree in Liverpool, it was an obvious choice for me to complete the Legal Practice Course there. - Angela Sussens
What were your early career ambitions? How did they change, and what have they evolved into?
I did an English degree, thinking I would like to teach, but I grew out of this idea. My professor understood that I enjoyed a debate and reasoned argument. This, coupled with my English skills meant that law was a good option for me. - Helen Miller
I found my National Record of Achievement folder a couple of weekends ago and in it I recorded ‘My dream is simply to be happy in whatever I decide to do and make both my own and others’ lives worth living’. To this day, this has been my motivation; to make a difference and help those in difficult situations. - Sarah Jane Lenihan
Originally, I was dead set on the criminal bar. I did love it, but started to feel the relentless extreme of crime. However; family law represented the perfect mix of what I wanted. I enjoyed the opportunity to assist people in aspects of the personal lives; the reward from assisting in what are often the most crucial parts of their lives (children and separation). - Sebastian Burrows
After deciding on a career in law, I always had my sights set on practising as a family lawyer. I was attracted to helping people through, what is inevitably, a very difficult and emotional time, whether it be divorce, separation or matters relating to children. My practice is now predominantly in financial matters. - Angela Sussens
How did you secure a training contract?
I secured a training contract through a speculative application to my first firm, Hatchers in Shropshire, by sending in my CV. - Helen Miller
I undertook a number of work experience roles during breaks from studying. and I was offered a training contract by one of the firms I worked at. - Sarah Jane Lenihan
My first job out of ULaw came from having built relationships with solicitors and barristers I knew through work experience/mini-pupillage. One small opportunity can lead to another, and along the way you build relationships and trust with professionals that give you the momentum for the start of your career. - Sebastian Burrows
I was offered a training contract after completing a work experience placement at Stowe after completing the LPC. I was only ever supposed to be with the firm for a week or so, but have now been with them for more than 16 years. - Angela Sussens
What’s been the proudest moment of your career so far?
My entry into Chambers & Partners as a recognised family practitioner by my peers. - Helen Miller
Being made partner at the UK’s largest specialist family law firm, in a role I enjoy. - Sarah Jane Lenihan
Becoming a managing partner at my fantastic firm before the age of 40. - Sebastian Burrows
It was nice to hear from one of our trainee solicitors a year or so ago that they had covered one of my reported cases in the family law module of their LPC. - Angela Sussens
Please tell us about Stowe’s approach to work/life balance.
Following Covid-19 we have all radically changed our working and it is much more family friendly. There’s an understanding of and respect for the fact that we all have family lives that are important to us. - Helen Miller
If you want a 9-5, then law is not the right career for you. It is so unpredictable, and you never know what might happen on a day to day basis. But this is why I enjoy the work so much, as no two days are ever the same. - Sarah Jane Lenihan
My firm’s approach to the work/life balance is just right. We all work hard but none of us is defined by what we do. We are all human beings and family lawyers. We all have personal lives, social lives and interests that we share and discuss. Being able to live as individuals enables us to function better as lawyers. - Sebastian Burrows
Stowe are very forward thinking as far as flexible working is concerned. As a mother of two young children, it was great to have the support of my managing partner and HR team to work less conventional working hours when I returned to work after maternity leave. - Angela Sussens
How do you view your region as a place to practice and the opportunities it contains?
There is a very strong regional legal community for family law in Cheshire. - Helen Miller
I have always wanted to work in London and there are so many opportunities and events; you could be doing something every night. I love meeting new people and building networks to provide my clients with a holistic service, making sure that once it is time for their file to be closed, they have the tools to start the new chapter in their life. - Sarah Jane Lenihan
Essex is a busy county and very close to London. We therefore work in both, and have the benefit of being able to work closely with exceptional London counsel. Practice and the opportunities in Essex are strong. The family law community in Essex is significant and engaging. - Sebastian Burrows
What qualities and skills do you need to be successful in your area of expertise?
Resilience, perseverance and compassion. - Helen Miller
Having a great amount of empathy and compassion is essential in family law, not only to ensure that your clients feel they are being listened to, but that you care and want to achieve the right outcome for them. - Sarah Jane Lenihan
Patience, the ability to listen and the ability to narrow issues. Negotiating skills are vital and used on a daily basis. As well at that, you need pragmatism. - Sebastian Burrows
A successful family lawyer needs to be naturally empathetic and be able to recognise the emotional turmoil and upheaval many of their clients are going through. It is important not to lose sight of what your client is dealing with. An ability to communicate well is also essential. - Angela Sussens
What advice would you give to law students keen to work at Stowe Family Law?
Try and find a niche area of interest that would make it easy to see how you would bring additional work to the practice. - Helen Miller
Take up as many opportunities as possible, whether this be attending lectures, volunteering, mini-pillages or work experience. You never know who you might meet and what opportunity may arise. - Sarah Jane Lenihan
Try to get experience at a variety of law firms. Big, small and in other fields. Reach out and network. I would be more than happy to engage with an aspiring solicitor, barrister or potential colleague in a social networking environment. Form links with professionals, get involved in the committees (YRes especially). Knowing someone and trusting them before they apply for a job with you is a massive hurdle overcome in advance. - Sebastian Burrows
I would recommend that anyone interested in undertaking a training contract at Stowe apply for one of our work experience placements. Spending time in one of our offices will offer an insight into how we work as a firm and is a good opportunity to see whether you think you would be a good fit. - Angela Sussens
How do you think ULaw sets its students up for success?
By reputation, you know it provides solid foundations and rigorous examination and selection processes. - Helen Miller
ULaw not only provides excellent course content but also experiences that help you to decide what area of law is right for you, and help you work towards that dream. - Sarah Jane Lenihan
ULaw provides students with the tools they need to embark on their careers. They enable you to build a career of knowledge and experience. The learning never ends. The rest is down to us and how we manage our own careers. - Sebastian Burrows
What changes do you foresee in your area of law over the next few years?
Everything will be going online, and become more conciliatory. For example, no-fault divorce, to remove some of the unnecessary arguments. - Helen Miller
We will see some updates for the better, including no fault divorce, a new domestic abuse act bring about changes to protect victims and changes in surrogacy law to protect both surrogates and intended parents before a child is born. - Sarah Jane Lenihan
I foresee a total shift to remote hearings, except for final hearings. Also, practice becoming totally paper-free. There will be a significant move away from court to alternative dispute resolution (ADR) with arbitration taking the lead. - Sebastian Burrows
If you could, what advice would you offer your 18-year-old self?
Take a gap year before you launch into years of studies, training, working and babies. - Helen Miller
Your dreams will come true. Continue working hard and you will get there. - Sarah Jane Lenihan
Slow down. - Sebastian Burrows