YRes & the future of family law – the drivers of change

On 21 September 2017, I chaired the inaugural National YRes Conference, for junior family law practitioners under 10 years qualified, and delivered the opening speech. Below is a copy of the message I gave to our delegates:

Welcome everyone to the inaugural National YRes conference.

We are delighted to have a full house today and are really excited for what the day has in store. We have a packed agenda, and a plethora of inspirational speakers.

For those of you who I haven’t yet met, I am Sarah Green, National YRes Chair.  I am an Associate at TLT in Bristol. I have been a Resolution member since my student days and now sit on the main Resolution National Committee as well as being involved in YRes.

In preparation for today, I have been reflecting on the YRes journey over recent years, as well as my own personal journey, which it’s easy to overlook when we get bogged down in the day job.

It’s hard to believe that we are standing here today, holding our first ever conference designed specifically for junior family lawyers –  something that was only a pipedream a few years ago.

The idea of YRes first came up in the mid 90s.  Three young, dynamic solicitors, passionate about family law realised the need for support for our junior members. YRes, in its initial guise, was born.

This was predominantly London based and resulted in various YRes groups springing up across the regions.  This provided great support, in terms of training and networking opportunities for some regions. However, this was sporadic across the country and opportunities were not the same in different areas of the country.

When I started as a trainee solicitor, I had a pretty – firm – idea that I wanted to become a family solicitor.   Actually, that’s a lie.  I wanted to quit law and go back to Peru, where I had been working for six months rebuilding homes after a devastating earthquake – everything seemed so meaningless here, having witnessed poverty and destruction over the other side of the world.

Sobering reality hit in the form of a Peruvian friend, with a typically Peruvian name. His name was Harold. Harold dreamt of becoming a lawyer but had never had the opportunities that we have in the Western world. His words still stay with me today: – “You have an amazing opportunity that I will never have. Make the most of that and be the best lawyer you can be“.

In the dark moments where I think of throwing in the towel – moments which I suspect others in this room may have also had –  I hear that little voice in my ear and it makes me even more determined to make a success of myself.

Immersing myself in the world of law, my focus turned to family law, where I was lucky enough to double-seat.

Being keen and eager, I signed up to lots of seminars and events, only to be overwhelmed at the level at which courses were pitched – most assumed a detailed knowledge of niche areas of family law, rooms filled with eminent practitioners of over 20 years’ PQE.  I often left feeling more confused, daunted and intimidated than when I walked in.

I also saw colleagues in other practice areas being offered tailored, in depth training and I felt there was something missing.

Having understood the benefits of building a network, I leaped into BD with both feet – meeting people, chatting and having a glass of wine – or two – well, that couldn’t be too tricky could it? How wrong I was.

There is nothing more intimidating than being 5 foot 2 (on a good day) and entering a room filled with broad, six foot something, fifty something men, who have known each other professionally for decades. That I have learnt from experience.

My early (unsatisfactory) experiences of the world of family law resulted in me bending Sue Gunn’s ear at National Conference in Stratford-upon-Avon in 2013 after one too many shandies. Sue had rescued me from a post-dinner grilling by a provincial district judge.

Strangely enough, or perhaps not that strange, I wasn’t the only young family lawyer to bend Sue’s ear that year.  This resulted in a working party of six YRes members from across the country meeting to chew the cud and debate what more could be offered on a national level for the organisation’s junior members.  Thanks go to David Lister,  Joanna Blakelock, Joanne Radcliff, Ros O’Donnell-Teelan and Rhian Gray, who were instrumental in getting national YRes off the ground.

YRes was launched nationally at conference in Brighton in 2015 and has gone from strength to strength since.

During this time, I have grown personally and professionally, and I am grateful to those who have supported me at Resolution, and the opportunities that I have been offered.

  • I sit on the Resolution National Committee;
  • I have had the opportunity to speak at National Conference (yes, it was terrifying); and
  • I participated in the London Resolution online court debate with the President and Philip Marshall QC amongst others (equally terrifying, but Team YRes won the audience vote!).

The YRes offering has grown from strength to strength since its launch. It’s exciting that we have achieved so much in a little over two years.

  • We have a permanent National YRes Committee;
  • We have expanded the committee, so now even more of you have the opportunity to feed in directly to YRes;
  • Each Resolution committee now has a YRes member – this was definitely not the case as little as 2 – 3 years ago!
  • The YRes workshop and drinks are now regular features at National Conference;
  • We have new regional groups starting up every year and are proud to have 24 very active YRes regions;
  • There is at least one YRes contribution in each issue of The Review;
  • We are launching a mentoring scheme to support you through the tough times in your career;
  • We now have a national YRes conference; and
  • YRes are delivering the keynote speech at this year’s DR Conference.

But we can go further and be the driver for change, within Resolution and beyond.  Family law is changing before our eyes and we have the opportunity to shape its future.

Times are changing –

  • Access to justice has decreased, and seems at best an aspiration these days;
  • The law is changing – we hope and pray that the Owens case will be the driver for no fault divorce and the government will listen and take action, that greater rights for cohabiting couples will be addressed as a priority;
  • The way the court operates is changing – will we be entirely online in the next decade?
  • The services we offer to clients and their expectations are changing; and
  • The structure of our CPD is changing and we need to take more responsibility for our professional development.

We need to be at the heart of, and driving, this change.

This is where YRes comes into play, to help you shape the start of your careers and beyond.   We want to make sure that we have our fingers on the pulse of change in family law, justice and practice, and that we are feeding this through to you. We want to make sure that your voice is heard at “Big Res”, and that YRes is able to shape the future of the organisation for years to come.

There are always opportunities for you to become involved in the running of the organisation – from working parties and focus groups, to skills committees and even National Committee – your involvement in the organisation can be what you make of it.

The future of Resolution and family law is yours to influence – it is our collective responsibility to be the drivers of change – we cannot just sit back and let things happen, as then it will be too late. We need to take responsibility for the future – for our careers, for family justice and for the families that we represent.

The Resolution press release following the event can be found here.


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