Kim Fellowes, Partner at Silk Family Law
When you climb through the ranks as a junior lawyer, it can be daunting because you want to impress your senior colleagues and show you are capable and can be trusted with complicated cases. However, you also need to learn and feed off the knowledge of senior lawyers. When I was a junior lawyer, that was sometimes difficult, and you had to learn by default.
I decided when I was more senior, I wanted to help junior lawyers, whether they were from my firm or another, and make them feel comfortable enough to ask for help.
As I have become more experienced, I have found myself being the most senior lawyer on cases, sometimes in circumstances where I realise the solicitor acting for the other party is out of their depth. Rather than exploit this, I believe it is possible to assist the other lawyer while still doing the best for my client. In my industry, this is an unusual approach.
Not all lawyers have had the same opportunities as the many in our industry who are privileged. I know that more than most, as I started as a Legal Assistant in the 1990s and had to work hard to get to where I am now. I was lucky that a couple of people on my way up gave me a chance and believed in me. With their help and by having a strong work ethic, I soon became a leading Child Support Law expert and by the mid-2000s I was being invited to give advice to the House of Commons select committee, advise MPs and write amendments to bills that ultimately became law.
Earlier this year, I was in a hearing on a complicated case against another lawyer who I had never met. It was clear she was out of her depth. It was also evident to the judge, who became frustrated. The young lawyer got increasingly flustered, and I felt it unfair she had been put in that position, so I intervened and told the judge what I thought she was trying to say. I steered the hearing away from the difficulties and moved the judge onto more comfortable ground.
I appreciate another lawyer might have let it go, watched her flounder, scored the points and gone home. I could have humiliated her in court, but I could not do that with a clear conscience.
Out of the blue, later that day, I received a call from the solicitor concerned, who wanted to thank me for what I had done. We spent half an hour on the phone together, and I felt happy that I had helped somebody. Whilst she was my opponent, she was also a decent individual and lawyer. A few days later, I also received a text thanking me for my help, saying that she hoped she would become a lawyer similar to me one day.
I work in family law on cases that are often highly personal and emotional, so we should try to resolve them without being adversarial. Helping others does not mean you compromise your case. Yes, I am there to get the best outcome for my client, but if we can do that by working with the other side, that is my preference. This way of working in the law benefits everyone. Lawyers work together, juniors learn and clients get better outcomes, and I would like to see more solicitors doing the same.
I believe in the motto, “you do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” When I retire in the future, I would like to do so with the knowledge that I have assisted in setting others off on the right career path, helping to make the system better overall.