Christianah Babajide, one of Lawbore’s legal journalists, is currently reading her LLB at City Law School. An aspiring barrister, Christianah is Communications Officer of City University’s Law Society, and also writes for CAREERS (City’s Careers blog).
Law firm: Payne Hicks Beach
Area of practice: Family law
Education: Law and Criminology at the University of Sheffield
Year of qualification: 2008
Hobbies: Running a very long way and eating more cake
Fun fact: Emily was the 9th female in the Marathon de Sables (the toughest race on earth!) in 2015. She can also recite most of Roald Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes by heart.
- What attracted you to a career in law?
I studied Law and Criminology at Sheffield and chose family as a module in my third year which was my first experience of family law. Two years later and just three weeks into my training contract seat in Family at Darby’s Solicitors LLP, I was hooked! I knew from then I wanted to work with private clients and specialise in family work.
It is very different from the business-like world of corporate and commercial law where you are dealing with professionals. You are dealing with real people with real worries and often, for them, instructing a family solicitor comes about as a result of them entering one of the most stressful, emotional and exhausting periods of their lives. As a family lawyer, you have direct contact with the client and have the chance to truly make a visible difference rather than being one cog in a big machine. This is what attracted me to working for Payne Hicks Beach Solicitors, one of the leading family providers in London.
- Is there such thing as a typical day for a Family Associate?
There is a whole host of “typical days”! One thing that you can be sure about in this profession is that you will never end up doing what you had planned to do at the start of the day. Whilst you may be dealing with similar topics and drafting similar documents, every case is unique and every client is a different individual and that means that you invariably cannot anticipate what is to come next. There is a lot of fighting fires and you soon learn that you have to be relaxed and ready to take whatever is thrown at you.
- What is your definition of a work/life balance?
The working hours in a family firm are not demanding when compared to corporate law firms, however, you do have to stay in late at times. Your whole day can be overwhelming when you have to work extra hours in the office. I sometimes have to work weekends but I don’t really mind. In the LEX 100 2013/2014 survey, Payne Hicks Beach was awarded first place medals for job satisfaction, living up to expectations, work-life balance and friendliness of the firm and this is an accurate reflection from my point of view. Human nature means that incidents of family flare-ups are invariably not 9-5 and I am always happy to work out of hours in an emergency.
- What are the day-to-day challenges involved in your job?
As with many professions, the hours are long and the workload can be demanding. However, specific to family law is the need to remember that you are dealing with real people and their emotions. People who seek advice are often going through one of the most difficult periods of their lives and may be struggling to come to terms with the situation. You need to remember that and try to manage their case and expectations and emotions accordingly. It is important to develop a very thick skin and remember that the anger and upset are not directed at you. It can be emotionally draining and it is important to develop ways to switch off, to share problems and particularly harrowing situations with colleagues and to make sure you do not give yourself too much of a hard time when things don’t go to plan.
You also need to develop a close relationship with clients very quickly, as you are dealing with matters that are of pivotal importance to them, and you are often privy to stories they wouldn’t even tell their closest friends. It is a great privilege and vitally important that people know you can be trusted with their personal situation. Building up that trust quickly can be challenging but it is necessary to be able to do the best job you can.
- What aspect of your job would most surprise people?
I think that sometimes family law, especially at a firm like Payne Hicks Beach, can seem far more glamorous than reality. The media portray the celebrity divorces and the big news cases whereas, on a day to day basis, there are basic principles that we have to follow and, happily, lots of couples are able to resolve matters amicably and without the need for full blown Court proceedings. Contrary to public perception, divorce lawyers are not all ice-hearted, we are actually predominantly champions of marriage and if there is a way that we can keep couples amicable and talk despite their divorce then we will do so.
- What advice do you have for aspiring solicitors who are considering a career in family law?
I think it is important that you are truly a people person. More so than in any other sector of the law you have a one-to-one relationship with your client, you are helping to guide them through a very stressful and turbulent period in their lives and you need to be ready to be sympathetic but firm and to fight their corner whilst also giving measured and practical advice. Finding that balance is very important. Make sure you have outside interests and prioritise these as it is difficult to switch off sometimes without having a distraction. Also, if considering applying to the family team at PHB, we have an annual bake-off competition between the assistants and associates and so you might want to dust off your rolling pin!
If you weren’t a Family Associate, what would you be?
If money were no object I would spend my time guiding people running in beautiful mountains.
Where do you go to eat on your lunch break?
Stepping away from my desk is a luxury so anywhere outside is a treat. Lincoln’s Inn Fields on a sunny day is hard to beat.
Unusual fact about you?
I can recite the alphabet backwards.
Favourite song at the moment?
Kenny Rogers, The Gambler and the new Justin Timberlake.
I love most colours but have a strange aversion to red!
Last thing you ate?
Homemade banana bread (an accidental two pieces) and an extra hot skinny latte.
Congratulations to Emily who has recently been promoted to Associate from Solicitor!
Emily joined Payne Hicks Beach Solicitors in 2011; she advises clients in relation to a broad range of family law issues arising in the breakdown of a marriage. Find out more about Emily and her practice via the PHB website.