FM Family Law invited me to meet the team on their Bi-annual Company Day, to see what really makes them tick. What I found was a highly energized group of women, dedicated to supporting their clients and their families, but moreover, 6 women with a wealth of life experience and a diverse set of skills, far more deeply reaching their professional accomplishments.
All of the lawyers told me it was the personal aspect of Family Law that really drew them to the profession. ‘It doesn’t pay as well as other areas of law typically yet it is the most challenging. You deal with people in crisis. Not contracts or buildings.’
It’s this challenging yet ultimately rewarding aspect which captured the imaginations of FM Family’s lawyers – from Karen, practicing for 34 years since answering an advert for a trainee legal executive aged just 18 – to Sue, who began to advocate for the needs of students during her law degree as Vice President of Education and Representation at the Student Union. There’s an emotional connection to cases, Karen explains, and all the associated quirks of dealing with real people. Sue nods in agreement. Early experiences using her problem solving skills and her nurturing side stood her in good stead for a future in Family Law.
Nevertheless, ‘you have to be resilient’ says Fiona. Dealing with real people, the most challenging thing can be to balance so many competing aspects of various aspects of the law (not just family law) with the complexities of human behaviors. You also have to be ‘pretty tough and robust as well as kind, patient, available and responsive’
Fiona stepped away from her role as head of the Family Law team at a large Cambridge law firm to set up her own firm in 2011. Christina was on the opposing side in court in those days, but the connection when they worked against each other led to Christina being the first to join Fiona at FM Family Law in 2014. I get a sense that this partnership is built upon an understanding of balance: professionally accomplished women with families, who were uniquely able to empathise with the needs of their clients, whilst creating their own family-focused working environment.
Certainly their own families influenced their career progressions. Christina, determined to build a career to support her young family, enrolled at ARU and has been Cambridge based from the start. Starting her own firm certainly gave Fiona the flexibility she needed to work around family commitments, too – an ethos shared by FM Family Law’s employees. ‘It’s different from anywhere I’ve worked before’ says Kate, Cambridge Office Manager, ‘Fiona recognizes that juggling family life can be hard’. Their kids went to the same village school, which is how they met. Again, a personal connection that led to Fiona asking Kate to join the firm when Kate’s 25 year tenure at a national bank ended. Whilst keeping the office impeccably organised, Kate still manages to make it home to spend time with her children – who are now well into their teens.
In her time away from the office, Kate and her husband go for Sunday morning runs along the Cambridge riverside stopping at some favorite local cafes to re-fuel: No. 30, Stir or Fitzbillies for coffee and a sticky Chelsea bun.
Jenny is a runner too – with a fiercely competitive streak and a history of some rather stellar half marathon finishing times. Having studied Interior Design, Jenny started her own business ‘Little Bird Interiors’ which she now enjoys as a past time only for very special gifting occasions. Karen takes walking trips in the Highlands with her Collie dog, her Sprocker, and partner of 19 years.
In their desire to help people in the hugely emotive field of Family Law, taking a step back is of the utmost importance. As Karen explains, a successful family lawyer must remain calm. They must listen carefully, and ultimately recognize that they themselves are not at the centre of the apex – it’s the client who is the priority. Meeting FM Family Law I’ve come to understand the challenge of being a good family lawyer, a balancing act of competing interests and measured judgments, grounded upon many years of experience. They work daily with families in crisis:
‘a wife heartbroken after 27 years of marriage, a husband desperate to reconcile, a spouse desperate to retain their lifetime built-up pension, as well as the interests of the immediate family supporting those clients.’
Whilst on the subject of the balancing act, Fiona tells me her early career as a waitress stood her in good stead. Embarking on her gap year during the 1980s’ recession before law school, Fiona easily embraced the hospitality industry – as well as the tips! – that came with high-end service. Working at Pizza Hut and then Adlards Restaurant in Norfolk (now Roger Hickman’s), Fiona’s love of food and restaurants was established and it certainly continues to this day. As a career, hospitality is all about people, and how to make them happy. What the restaurant industry also taught Fiona was how to support real people and their competing demands, whilst remaining commercial and cost effective. There’s a parallel between helping people in a busy restaurant, constantly prioritizing customers with different wishes and demands at different times, with helping divorcing clients.
‘You have to have ten pairs of eyes, be available, constantly reprioritizing and never drop the ball’
The FM Family law team were heading out that very evening to celebrate the team’s achievements: cocktails followed by dinner in Cambridge at Parker’s Tavern and Varsity Restaurant. Before they rounded-up proceedings, they told me about the importance of stepping away from work to focus on life. It can be an intense and all-encompassing career, but as Sue tells me, ‘my experiences before entering law truly enriched me as a person’ and, she adds, that her year out made her a better lawyer. After another year of advising supporting, mediating and resolving, the FM Family Law team head off to dinner together. Before Law School it was the acclaimed US TV show Ally McBeal that first inspired Sue: the vision of a successful day’s work rewarded in a smart Manhattan bar. It shaped up to be a far different – and more rewarding – career than she had first envisaged in the early days of Law School. But tonight at Parker’s Tavern, cocktail in hand, each of the FM Family Law team can reflect on their own achievements, safe in the knowledge that they have struck an excellent balance. But there is always more work to do. And on Monday they will be back at their desks in Cambridge & Norwich, relishing the challenges of their caseloads once again.
Author: Katie Underwood, Writer & Director at Kunderwoo.com
‘Put on your own mask first, BEFORE you help others’
Facing your first Christmas and New Year after separation can be a challenging time. In December we shared information about some local outdoor spaces – places to take long, reflective, healing walks with family and friends over the holiday period. But now that the holidays are at an end, it’s a difficult time with many of us re-entering the workplace and adjusting to the start of the kids’ school term.
Many of us have news we aren’t quite ready to share, or feelings that we that we want to keep hidden. Time for you is key and at this busy time, at the start of a new year, we want to remind you to make time for you. Scheduling time to look after yourself, to pursue your own interests and to care for your own health is not selfish. Those who depend on you will experience the benefits too. So with that in mind, here are some Self Care recommendations.
Imagine a ‘breathing / bathing space’ with wooden hot tubs, a hilltop sauna and a terrace café close to the city yet out in the countryside. It’s a dream right? Wrong. PAUS Cambridge is our new ‘go to’ retreat. It’s open on weekends throughout the year.
It might be a bleak midwinter but Czech owner Alexandra recommends the winter months as the best time to maximize the restorative effects of the 40degree water. Book in with a group of friends for an afternoon, or take a look at their workshops and retreats. From ‘Coffee and Canvas’ painting classes to Santosha Yoga, the events are great opportunities to socialise and to try something different.
Satyam Yoga offer beginner and restorative yoga classes, as well as ‘women’s circles’ – a group experience with the opportunity to ’step out of your busy life for an evening of gentle reconnection’. Their website even explains,
‘Don’t feel you have to bring your best self or stay away because you are not feeling great. You are most welcome to bring your authentic self, just as you are right now in your own particular cycle of ups and downs’
Hitting the gym is a New Year’s cliché, but we all know that breaking a sweat is a fantastic way to offload negative feelings, and feel better about yourself. Try losing yourself for a moment in an intensive activity, like Puregym’s ‘Sweat 30’ or ‘Burn It’ classes. Their new Grafton Centre branch has opened a stone’s throw from FM Family Law’s offices and we recommend their affordable no-obligation monthly memberships (£12.99), multitude of classes and spacious layout. If you have a hectic lifestyle and find it hard to schedule gym trips into your commuting or childcare schedule, the Leisure Park PureGym is open 24 hours. It has a handy app to check out busy times and quiet times and to keep tab on your attendance. The app allows you to prebook into classes to incentivize you to go. Just ask Fiona!
David Lloyd Gym is another excellent choice, especially if you have children. It has a crèche available for children from 3 months old, kids play area and an afternoon kids club. These options give single or working parents the flexibility to visit the gym, to have a swim and sauna, or just a quiet coffee break. Their new Blaze classes create the ultimate immersive environment in a specially built studio. It is suitable for fitness beginners and the people (instructors and participants) are particularly friendly and encouraging.
Taking walks with family and friends can be a great healer. In the winter months, when we wake before sunrise and don’t feel the sun on our skin, our mood can become suppressed and the emotional toll of relationship breakdown can be confounded. We recommend the National Trust properties surrounding Cambridge – suitable for young and old – such as Anglesey Abbey. If the kids are distracted and happy, we all feel calmer: They have children’s maps with wildlife searching tasks, binoculars & magnifying glasses, an adventure playground and a cozy café.
Also try Ickworth House and Hotel, equi-distant between our Cambridge and Norwich offices. The grounds and gardens are wonderful for a visit, but if you’re in need of some R&R, the hotel has a spa, pool and kids facilities: a fully staffed crèche, kids high tea and baby monitors so you can eat dinner after bedtime.
Beauty & Alternative Therapies
We’re not talking about a ‘new you.’ But beauty treatments can give you the self-esteem boost you might need in challenging times, as well as the chance to really ‘do nothing’ for a change. For hair we like Bamboo on Mill Road, and Ella Cain’s-Sola at Maluku hairdressing – both with great conversation and excellent coffee, too. Lucy, originally from Glassworks, does Christina’s beauty treatments at her home salon, called Lucy’s Beauty.
For massages and facials we recommend Jennie Hart Aromatherapy for her holistic approach to wellbeing. ‘Imagine that your only job for an hour is to listen to your heart (rather than your busy mind)’ she writes, ‘chances are that feeling more connected to your body, feeling cared for, and taking even an hour to yourself would do you the world of good.’ We hear you, Jenny.
Rosalind Bubb is an EFT (Emotional Freedom Therapist) and TAT (Tapas Acupressure Technique) practitioner. Personally recommended by Christina, she uses energy meridian therapies, as well as acupressure and modern psychology to help people feel happy, calm and well. Rosalind is a skilful and caring therapist, who will quickly put you at your ease. She is easy to talk to and has a light touch. There is often some laughter when you work with her – even when the topic is serious.
Seek Professional Help
Finally, it’s important to emphasise that self-care can take many forms. If you’re feeling low, isolated, or very stressed, seek help from a qualified counsellor or health professional. Fiona is a trustee of Relate Cambridge, an organization with over 30 counsellors who have experience with individuals, couples, young people and families.
We also recommend Jane McCann of McCann Consultancy. She’s a counsellor and mediator on Burleigh St near our offices, and extremely well regarded in our community. What’s more, she’s a lovely lady and a good sport, too. Marie Edgar offers counselling and psychotherapy, with experience in addiction therapy. Her calm Scottish tones are very reassuring! Meeting good, kind people on this journey – sharing your story with them and asking for their support – is the type of self-care that will get you through the darker days.
Finally, if you need assistance in legal advice or mediation, FM Family Law can help. Getting information about your rights is empowering and liberating. We are experts with decades of experience in family law and we can help you help yourself. Our mediation process enables you to discuss all issues arising from your separation, but away from court and lawyers www.fmfamilylaw.co.uk/what-we-do/mediation/