Turning my back on my career at one of London’s leading sets of family law barristers was not an easy decision. QEB Chambers has always been at the forefront of the development of Family Law and involved in many high profile and historic decisions. I had been offered tenancy there following completion of my pupillage in 2002; it was an enormous honour and a significant personal achievement.
I spent the next 10 years advising and representing clients in different courts all over the country, from local magistrates’ courts up to the Court of Appeal. It was an interesting and varied career and one which I found hugely rewarding. However, after my second child was born, I came to the conclusion, after much thought, that I could not continue. My husband was often travelling abroad, and we had two children under three. Life at the Bar, although never dull, is frequently unpredictable, and working hours can be extremely long, including early meetings at courts on the other side of the country and weekends spent preparing for hearings on Monday. It is extremely tough to juggle the demands of looking after very young children with a busy court practice, without either a partner who is able to do much of the childcare or expensive and full-time childcare. I was very aware of how precious those first few years with your children are and how quickly they grow up; ultimately my priorities lay with them.
In the summer of 2012 I formally resigned my tenancy with QEB and not long after we left London. Having settled into life in rural Oxfordshire, I fairly quickly found myself with a rather different and less lucrative role as the volunteer Chairman of the local village nursery. Before long I found myself putting my advocacy skills to good use in the local town council planning meeting, successfully obtaining planning permission for a new nursery. I also, after baby number three, became a trustee of a local charity helping young homeless people.
So, although no longer on my previous career trajectory, I never really stopped working; and I became increasingly interested in the difficulties faced by those looking to get back to work after a career break. I helped set up a small company called the Back2Work Club which aimed to help people looking to get back to work after a break and eventually concluded that the time had come to relaunch my own career.
I took my first steps by enrolling on a family mediation training course. Mediation had become something of a buzz word within Family Law since I had left the Bar. I felt that getting the training under my belt would broaden my skills.
After completing my training, I began looking for a local position within Family Law. I contacted the Head of Family Law at Spratt Endicott in my local town of Banbury. He had instructed me to deal with cases for him during my time at QEB and was open-minded enough to agree to let me come and spend some time within his department on a “work experience” type arrangement for a couple of months, during which, we could both consider if, and how, I might fit into the department.
This was invaluable; not only did it give me the time to refresh my memory and get up to speed with legal developments, but I was able to work out the logistics of how to deal with juggling a job and the children; getting them to the right place at the right time with the right kit; and getting myself to work looking vaguely presentable and not covered in their breakfast – which in reality was almost as stressful as remembering how to do the job.
Shortly after Christmas I was offered a job at Spratt Endicott to initially start on 2.5 days a week. Over the last six months, having become accustomed to the workload and finding my pace again, I felt comfortable enough and recently increased my days to three a week. I feel this provides an excellent balance between work and family life. Spratt Endicott has been hugely supportive of my return to work.
Whilst I have no regrets at all about the five years I have spent with my children, I had undoubtedly lost confidence in my abilities as a lawyer. For me it has been crucial to have the support and understanding of such a forward-thinking employer in helping me regain my confidence. For my employers’ part, I am able to bring to the department the skills and experience I gained during my time at one of the country’s top matrimonial Chambers, which can only add to the depth of expertise and breadth of services we can offer our clients.
*Justine Cadbury is a barrister in Family Law at Spratt Endicott Solicitors, a leading Oxfordshire law firm that provides a full range of legal services to both commercial and private clients.