As one of the UK's longest-established specialist providers of legal education we have alumni working at all levels in prestigious law firms across the world. Stowe Family Law is the UK’s largest specialist family law firm and is home to a number of inspiring ULaw alumni. Today we’re talking to Stowe solicitors and ULaw alumni Natasha Ord from Stowe’s Reading office, Aaron Bailey from Stowe’s Winchester office and Zoe Carter from Stowe’s Cheltenham office to ask what it takes to become a solicitor at the UK’s leading family law firm.
What’s your current role and what does it involve?
I am a solicitor at Stowe Family Law’s Reading office. My role involves advising and assisting clients in relation to a broad range of family law matters including divorce, finances, children and protective injunctions. - Natasha Ord
I am currently a solicitor at Stowe’s Winchester office and have been with Stowe for around eighteen months. I advise many different clients across a broad spectrum of family law issues, primarily relating to financial settlements on divorce and private law disputes concerning children. - Aaron Bailey
I am a solicitor (3 years post-qualified experience) at Stowe’s Cheltenham office. I specialise in child law matters and advise in respect of divorce, separation and financial settlements. My job regularly involves meeting with clients, advising them in respect of their present circumstances, gathering evidence and preparing court documents. I undertake advocacy for clients in respect of court hearings. - Zoe Carter
Why did you choose to study law, and why did you choose ULaw?
I chose to study law as I thought it would be challenging and intellectually stimulating. I chose to undertake my Legal Practice Course (LPC) at ULaw due to their excellent reputation. - Natasha Ord
I studied law at A-level and was fascinated by it, so it was unthinkable to me that I would study anything other than law at university. I chose ULaw for my Legal Practice Course (LPC) as it had a good reputation and was relatively nearby. It also offered part-time weekend studying options, which worked well for me, fitting around a 9-5 job as a paralegal. - Aaron Bailey
I chose to study law because I wanted to pursue my dream career of becoming a lawyer. I have always wanted a career which will make a difference to the lives of others. I think this is why I wanted to specialise in family law; helping others at probably one of the most stressful times in their life. Also, I am partial to a good debate. - Zoe Carter
What were your early career ambitions? How did they change, and what have they evolved into?
My early career ambition was to be a journalist. I met an editor of a newspaper at a school careers day who suggested studying law would open a number of doors to me. I have found this has certainly been the case. I have also had the opportunity to write blogs and articles as a part of my legal career. - Natasha Ord
For a long time, I was set on becoming a barrister in either criminal or family law. However; I decided that trying to qualify as a solicitor was a much safer option. I am hoping to achieve associate/senior solicitor status within the next year. In the longer term, I would like to make partner and hopefully sit as a part-time judge. - Aaron Bailey
My earlier career ambition was to get a training contract and qualify as a solicitor. I have been qualified more than three years and I now aspire to progress into becoming a partner one day. - Zoe Carter
How did you get your current job/training contract?
A fellow student at The University of Law told me that her firm was looking for paralegals. I worked at the firm as a paralegal for several months before securing a training contract. I got my current job after noticing an advert for a local firm. - Natasha Ord
I secured my first legal job as a paralegal by responding to a vacancy advertised through the ULaw careers service. That firm then offered me a training contract and a little over a year after qualifying, I ended up moving to Stowe. - Aaron Bailey
Shortly after my LPC, I applied for a job as a legal secretary. I worked as a family law secretary for 11 months and was promoted to a paralegal position which I did for another 10 months. I then made the decision to move to another local firm, this time working in the conveyancing team. I secured my training contract in July 2015. After I qualified, I can remember feeling a huge relief and sense of achievement. - Zoe Carter
What ULaw support services did you use?
The University’s tutors offered continuous high-quality support and encouragement. - Natasha Ord
There were plenty of support services and extra-curricular events to attend. Although, due to working full-time and attending ULaw at weekends, I wasn’t always able to take full advantage of those services and opportunities. The Employability Services were a great help, both in terms of keeping me up to date with available roles and helping me tidy up my CV. - Aaron Bailey
What’s been the proudest moment of your career so far?
Qualifying as a solicitor has been the proudest moment of my career as I felt I had worked very hard to reach that point. - Natasha Ord
I have achieved some very good outcomes in cases. It’s always nice to get a ‘thank you’ at the end of a case from a client who is truly appreciative and grateful of the work that has gone in to secure that outcome. - Aaron Bailey
I remember my first complex case that I dealt with as a qualified lawyer with a vulnerable individual in respect of a child arrangements dispute. There was a positive outcome and the client said that he could not have dealt with this process without my expertise, advice and support over the 18 months that the matter was in court. It made me feel proud and that my career in law would be worthwhile and rewarding. - Zoe Carter
Please tell us about your work/life balance. What are your employer’s/business’s perspective to flexible working?
I have a good work/life balance in my current role. There will be times when I put in extra hours if my work requires it, but I do not feel that this is not a general expectation as it is in some other firms. My firm is supportive of flexible working and during Covid-19 has confirmed employees will be given the choice as to home working moving forward. - Natasha Ord
Stowe Family Law are very supportive in terms of our mental wellbeing and flexible working. Provided our clients are happy and the work is being done, there is a lot of autonomy for us to work in whichever ways suits us best as individual lawyers. - Aaron Bailey
While law is most certainly a high-intensity profession, it is very important to have a good work life balance. My current employer understands the importance of this and ensures that you receive the support when you need it and also accommodates flexible working. - Zoe Carter
What qualities and skills do you need to be successful in your area of expertise?
The qualities you need are integrity, honesty and a strong work ethic. The skills you need are excellent communication, organisation and motivation. - Natasha Ord
In my view, a good family lawyer must have empathy and strong people skills. Of course, all the usual ‘lawyer’ skills are also needed: attention to detail, analytical skills, problem-solving skills and a good understanding of how to apply the law, among others. - Aaron Bailey
My view is that you need to be focused, driven and have a genuine interest and passion in what you are doing. With family law, you must be able to show empathy and be non-judgmental. While you need to be a good listener, you must also be able to interview a client in order to provide them with the advice they require. I would also say that written and negotiating skills are vital. - Zoe Carter
What advice would you give to law students keen to work at Stowe Family Law?
I would advise them to do some background reading into the firm to gauge if the work we do is of interest to them. I would also suggest that they read into recent family law updates; it is possible to sign up to free newsletters online. - Natasha Ord
Think about what interests you and whether being a family lawyer is right for you. Try to get some work experience in family law for a week or so. It doesn’t have to be with a solicitor firm, it could be marshalling with a judge, a mini-pupillage or even volunteering for a domestic abuse charity. - Aaron Bailey
Stowe Family Law is a specialist firm and if your passion is family law like mine is, this is certainly the firm for you. Family law is all that we do and we have an exceptional team of lawyers across the UK, so we can advise on any family law situation. Stowe has exceptionally important key values and behaviours including working together to achieve, grow and support one another. - Zoe Carter
How do you think ULaw sets its students up for success?
I think ULaw provides an excellent stepping stone for the next stage in their students’ careers. - Natasha Ord
I studied the LPC which is the final vocational stage of training prior to qualification as a solicitor. This course enhanced my academic knowledge, expanding on what I had learnt during my degree, and gave me the opportunity to focus on preparing for life in legal practice. This included advocacy and interview skills. - Zoe Carter
What changes do you foresee in your area of law over the next few years?
The most significant change coming in is no-fault divorce. I expect we will also seem some updates to the law surrounding cohabitees and financial remedies. Undoubtedly there will also be some changes as a result of Brexit. - Natasha Ord
Individuals being able to deal with more straightforward family law issues themselves by using the digital courts. I expect that there will be fewer hearings conducted in person at court, and more straight-forward hearings may well take place via video-link or telephone. Finally, I also foresee lawyers being given even more autonomy to work flexibly. - Aaron Bailey
The biggest change for me in family law is the introduction of the no-fault divorce. The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill received Royal Assent (when the Queen formally agrees to make the bill into an Act of Parliament) in June 2020, after decades of campaigning. This will be unlikely to come into force until autumn 2021. This reform will enable couples to divorce without having to place ‘blame’ (on no-fault basis) without having to wait for two years separation. - Zoe Carter
If you could, what advice would you offer your 18-year-old self?
To keep going and trust that hard work will pay off. - Natasha Ord
I would advise him to get more stuck in with activities like mooting, the Innocence Project, and anything else that provides opportunities to learn and develop soft skills. Being a good lawyer is so much more than being able to memorise and recite the law. - Aaron Bailey
To not be so hard on myself and to remember that law is constantly evolving. You will always be learning throughout your years of practice and there is no requirement or expectation to know every answer to every question straightaway. - Zoe Carter
Discover what it takes to become a managing partner at Stowe Family Law.