Career women: Jane Porter, family lawyer

Jane Porter, family lawyerWe talk to successful career women.

We seek the views of successful career women on life, work, family and everything! This month we talk to Jane Porter, a highly successful family lawyer who runs the family law department at Lester Aldridge. Lester Aldridge LLP is a nationally recognised law firm with offices in London, Bournemouth and Southampton.

The family team are leaders in their field.

Jane Porter’s summary of herself…

I have more years of experience in family law than I would care to admit to and I fit perfectly into the target audience for this website. My particular specialism is complicated financial disputes and issues over children. I am a family mediator and trained collaborative lawyer.

Would you advise young people nowadays to pursue a career in the law?

I have my reservations I must admit which have more to do with opportunities in the law with competition for jobs being so high as opposed to interest in the work. There are so many young people trying to enter the profession. As employers we have to filter people out in some way so inevitably we look for academic excellence, which in reality means at least a 2:1 from a good university.

Above all you need real passion for your subject and a drive to do all you can to succeed. If you have these things then it’s still a wonderfully rewarding career but it is a constantly changing landscape.

When I qualified family law was viewed in many ways as the poor relation to general civil litigation but now it has become a sexy niche practice. However with no public funding I worry that clients are being deprived of access to the law to enforce their rights where all else fails. Legal fees can become a further pressure for vulnerable clients who are going through a traumatic experience and we as family lawyers have to be alive to this.

The availability of so much legal advice and information online has also changed things. Clients are more informed so our role has become less about being information givers and more about providing advice in the true sense of sharing our extensive experience of outcomes and reality testing settlements in varying and different circumstances. No two cases are ever the same.

What might be a typical work day for you?

No day is ever the same.
I may be meeting with new clients, getting to know them and finding out what they want to achieve. On another day I might be conducting mediation between a husband and wife (neither of whom would be my clients so I can be completely impartial). Then there are collaborative meetings with my client and his or her partner and their lawyers.

Alternatively I might have a forensic day where for example we go through all the paperwork on the financial side with a very fine toothcomb to try and trace missing information. Then of course there are the days in court when I am making an application or perhaps having a conference with a barrister before a hearing.

Also and really importantly there are the days spent in a team meeting where my team can share, confidentially of course, how they might have been affected by a client’s experience…we hear some very harrowing stories in the course of our work and my team members need to offload to someone so they can continue to do their job effectively..

What drives you on?

What drives me is that I know people are relying on me.
Ultimately I feel I am making a difference to clients’ lives and I am enormously privileged to be in this position though of course you can only do so much and have to work within a process which can be sometimes burdensome in itself….

Clients might tell me things they have never told anyone before and I am very often in complete admiration of what they have had to cope with and how they find the confidence to try and move on in their lives. I just want to find the best solution I can for them.

Does your work keep you awake at night?

Oh yes it can do. Some things certainly do keep me awake but ultimately we are not counsellors we are lawyers. What we can do though is bring in other relevant experts by way of a support network – this is increasingly what we seek to do.

A major stress of course is the constant accessibility. I do have to make myself inaccessible at times otherwise it is impossible to switch off and equally impossible to maintain objectivity. We have to remember our clients are clients not friends.

Team photoWhat skills do you need?

To be a good family lawyer a lot of the traditionally female skills are very valuable – such as listening and having empathy and understanding – though of course there are men out there who can and do the job as well.

The majority of our trainees are women just because they interview so well and are such high achievers academically. The numbers keep coming in.

Can women have it all!?

No you can’t have it all!!!

Something has to give if you want a career and a family. Every woman has to deal with it as best she can. I think you need to follow your instincts and speak to other women about their experiences. My view is that women can continue working; they have to make some sacrifices but things will work out. Go for it and don’t expect to have it all…and remember not to be a martyr especially in times of stress (and it is very stressful)! To a large extent just accept as you go along that it is how it is.

I think it is hard for women to get back into the profession if they do have a long career break because of the loss of confidence and of course just the sheer competition. You can do refresher courses designed to help you get back in….insert link

Have you encountered a bias against women in the legal field?

I cannot speak for larger practices having always worked in medium-sized firms but my own personal experience as a woman in the law has been entirely positive.

That said the upper echelons of the law are still dominated by men and it will take some time for the increasing number of women joining the profession to make their presence felt. Hopefully it will be different for our children’s generation.

How do you relax?

Well I am trying to do more physical activity – walking, tennis etc as really the job is very sedentary. However I could and should be doing better!

What’s next for you career wise?

Well I would like to qualify as an Arbitrator. I just need to get around to booking myself on that course!

Thank you so much for talking to us Jane. Keep on making a difference.

If you have any questions for Jane about a career in the law or if you have personal questions to put to her in her professional capacity she will be very happy to respond. You may contact her in complete confidence by email on jane.porter@LA-law.com

If you have a career story to share, please get in touch.

Carolyn Lazarus

About Carolyn Lazarus

This is the author biography the late, great Carolyn Lazarus (1960-2015), founder of totally4women wrote for herself. Her words are typically self-effacing and humorous... 'Well at 50 I looked 40 and at 54 I look 99...someone explain that to me if they would. In addition I am, allegedly, a woman with little or indeed no sense of chic. Shy by nature or nurture it is difficult to say but it is what I am at heart. When I was 14 my mum bought me, “The Shy Person's Book" ...if you are a shy person this can be a difficult title to deal with every morning when you pass by your bookshelf. I like to run, nothing funny to say about this, it's just what I like to do. So that's me in a nutshell. It remains to say that I love my husband (long - suffering), my children (totally bored) and my parents (concerned).'