What is your position and what do you do on a day-to-day basis?
I am a barrister and arbitrator at 1 King's Bench Walk, specialising in financial remedies and TOLATA claims. I sit part-time as a deputy district judge in London in civil and family work, and as a panel member on the Bar Disciplinary Tribunal.
How long have you been in this role and what brought you here?
I've been a barrister for 20 years and have been sitting for 4 years. The thought of being called to the Bar didn't occur until after graduation: up until then I vaguely imagined that I'd be a historian, or possibly a critically acclaimed singer/songwriter. I did my 12-month pupillage at 1KBW, before joining 1 Garden Court as a tenant in 1997. Sixteen years later, in 2013, I rejoined 1KBW.
What are the people you work for/with like? Any memorable stories?
I'm lucky to have worked with, and been instructed by, intelligent and interesting people throughout my career, many of whom have become friends. In the early years of my career at 1 Garden Court - a time of plentiful and decently paid legal aid work - the junior end would go on holiday together, causing unappreciated havoc in a clerks' room denuded of barristers under 10 years' call. I am now happily settled as a member of 1KBW which, as well as being a leading set for financial and children work, has to be one of the most sociable chambers in the country.
In terms of lay clients, I don't think I've ever acted in a dull TOLATA claim or an uninteresting ancillary relief. It is easy to take for granted the privileged position we are in as solicitors and barristers in family law. All human life is here, including the Russian wife of an oligarch who (after I had attempted to be gallant by hailing her a taxi on the Strand) said in a deadpan voice, 'Is not necessary', as her chauffered Bentley drew up...
What is the best and worst part of the day for you?
As a barrister, it helps if you like early mornings. I travel less than I used to, but still enjoy getting to the train station at 7 am, dosing up on coffee and boarding a train that was crammed with commuters on the way in, but is now almost empty as it leaves. Equally, it's a pleasure to come back from court and have time to read on the journey back home, and to check my Twitter feed.
Without wishing to sound sappy, I don't have a worst part of the day. Having said that, I doubt I'll look back on being regularly woken up by a child kicking me forcefully in the jaw with great fondness.
My middle daughter was recently asked this question at school. Her reply was 'strict, playful and tall'. To which I would only add: '... and committed to tirelessly achieving the best possible outcome for my client, regardless of the personal sacrifices involved' (if any prospective instructing solicitors are reading).
What keeps you motivated?
Doing a professional job, broadening my understanding of the law, and pushing myself towards greater clarity and precision. I believe the applicable term is 'kaizen', according to my studies of Japanese philosophy (ie reading the blurb on the menu at Wagamama).
I also keep in mind a story Matthew Brunsdon-Tully relates about how Lord Wilson used to tell his pupils, 'you've got to make the papers sweat!'. That really is the key: being on top of your brief.
Tea or coffee?
Coffee before 11 am, tea afterwards. In fact, that's a rule more honoured in the breach. My eldest daughter (now six) recently drew a cartoon called 'The Man Who Drank Too Much Coffee'. In it, a woman - who is possibly my wife - says, 'No more coffee!', to which I, sitting with my head in my hands, cry: 'NO! I must have coffee'. The story ends happily.
What would you say to anyone thinking of a career in your field?
It isn't easy to come up with original advice. The two clichés that always apply are (1) the profession is more difficult to break into than it used to be, so don't bother unless you are determined, but (2) keep at it if you are. To which I would only add, remain humble. Don't approach the law if you're a contestant fromX Factor.
What song do you listen to the most?
According to iTunes, my most listened song isWar on War by Wilco, followed byFor a Spanish Guitar by Gene Clark. (Full list is available on request; I can, quite literally, bore for England when it comes to music.)
How do you enjoy your time outside of work?
The first casualty of having children (I have three) is your social life, followed by newspapers, relaxing holidays and a car that is smaller than a tank. In their place (the activities, not the children), my weekend rituals involve taking the kids to Kew Garden, running the Tamsin Trail around Richmond Park, reading, and cooking. Thus far, my midlife crisis has involved me entering half- and, now, full marathons in day-glo attire.
If you could change one thing about the family justice system what would it be and why?
While I enjoy TOLATA work, it is simply ridiculous that the financial claims of unmarried couples are determined by reference to trust law, where the court's objective view of a fair outcome has such a limited role. I would favour a change in the law towards the Scottish model of cohabitee rights. Alex will be speaking at the forthcoming Family Law Conference - 'Strange Bedfellows: Unmarried Couples, TOLATA and Schedule 1'. Online subscribers can read the Family Law version of it here.
This year the Conference will feature breakout sessions to cover even more topics and a drinks reception for networking after the event.