The truth about being a childcare lawyer
Why did I want to become a lawyer? Was it the overwhelming need to help vulnerable people overcome injustice? Was it an urge to challenge my young mind in a profession full of clever, academically brilliant people? No. Two words for you…Ally McBeal.
Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t grow up wanting to dance with imaginary babies in the snow and nor did I follow my childhood sweetheart into the profession by accident. But I did like the idea of having a bar with a jazz singer in the basement and a secret disco chamber in one of the toilets. (I recently went down into the cellar at work for the first time and was disappointed to only find old files and cobwebs.) Despite what my mother will tell you, I did not want to be a lawyer from the age of three. In fact for a period when I was seven I wanted to be a nun and sing on the top of mountains. (Yep, you’ve guess it, I had just watched the Sound of Music for the first time).
Once I started my Law degree however I found that I actually enjoyed it. But even after successfully completing my degree and the Bar Vocational Course I still had not considered a career in child care law. When I first graduated I had wanted to be a criminal lawyer. This time an older, slightly more mature me was watching too much Kavanagh QC and Law and Order.
It was one summer when I was doing work experience with a local criminal set that one of the Barristers there sat me down and told me in no uncertain terms that I did not have the personality to be a criminal lawyer and asked whether I had ever considered Family law. I had not and I remember thinking that she was wrong and that I was perfectly suited to a life jumping up and down shouting ‘I object’.
I fell in to Childcare law by accident. I was offered a job with an inner London Local Authority and thus was introduced to the rewarding but challenging world of Childcare law. I remember the first ever hearing I was sent to do by myself. Don’t worry by boss told me. It’s all agreed and you will be in and out in a second. He could not have been more wrong. It turned out to be a contested hearing and I recall being completely out of my depth. I went home that night and decided I was going to read up on everything and do everything I could to be a better advocate.
The point is this. Once I embarked on my journey as a Childcare lawyer I quickly realised that it is nothing like how American TV dramas and re-runs of Judge Amy would have you believe. My job involves a lot of hard work and dedication. It is frustrating but also rewarding. It is spending many late nights learning legislation and processes which are constantly changing. Its receiving hundreds of pages of documents at 5pm and staying up to read them before a hearing at 10am the next day. Start dealing with cases where children have suffered terrible injuries at the hands of their family. And the cases where children might be taken away from their families for good, losing touch with everyone they know and love. And my day to day working life representing parents who have no-one but me to help them overcome their difficulties and get their child home
Lawyers as a profession have a reputation for being arrogant, self-obsessed with their own brilliance and out of touch with those they represent. The vast majority of child care lawyers I have met along the way dispel this image. Sure, there is the odd one here and there but the majority of people I know practising this area of law do it because they care and because they genuinely believe that everyone has the right to a just, fair trial and that every child has the right to grow up in a safe and happy environment.
Let me also dispel another rumour about child care lawyers. We do not live to steal children from their parents and nor do we go home at the end of the day thinking about how much money we have made. We go home thinking how can we keep this family together? Is there any support we can put in place to help these parents? Can we keep this child safe? For every child care lawyer I know it is not a 9 – 5 job. I know this because when I send e-mails on cases at weekends or late at night I inevitably get a response straight back. There’s an irony that in trying to keep someone else’s family together we are often at risk of neglecting our own.
In short, we are trying to work with you and not against you. Everyone involved in the care proceedings or private children law process is trying to achieve the same thing. Keeping children safe.
So whether you are a parent, a family member, or even a child who has been through the system or is currently trapped in it, remember two things. Firstly that we are here to help you. Secondly, that we are human too and whatever frustrations and upset you feel when things are not going your way in court proceedings, or that sense of relief or jubilation when things are going your way, we are feeling the same emotions on your behalf.