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Family Law

The leading authority on all aspects of family law

17 AUG 2015

A day in the life of ... Natasha Phillips (Legal Researcher)

A day in the life of ... Natasha Phillips (Legal Researcher)

What is your position and what you do on a day-to-day basis?

I’m a freelance legal researcher and copywriter working on child welfare projects. A typical day usually starts at 7am, when I’ll check my mail and look for any incoming questions or requests for assistance from families. Since LASPO was implemented, and before, getting support has become almost impossible for parents and vulnerable children, whether due to the cost barrier or the legal aid threshold, so acting as a pro bono McKenzie is a necessary part of family law related legal research. It allows me to keep up to date with how the system is responding to cases in real time, and most importantly to give support to families who are often tremendously anxious about the family court process.

After meetings in London, and grabbing a quick bite to eat, I’ll work on briefs I've been given for the week. At the moment, I’m working with an incredible organisation that specialises in language learning for young children and other initiatives which centre on education and supporting children from disadvantaged backgrounds. There isn’t really an end to the day; I usually keep working until late, as there’s always something to do and the nature of remote working means that your clients are based around the world, so when you’re ready to put on your pyjamas, some of your projects may just be getting started ...

How long have you been in this role and what brought you here?

I’ve been working in this role for a little over eight years. Like some of the most wonderful things in life, becoming a legal researcher wasn’t something I planned, it was a job I fell into. Having gone through the divorce process as a mother and barrister, and despite the sometimes extraordinary things I witnessed inside the family courts, I became fascinated by the process and the way the justice system deals with what are fundamentally emotive rather than legal problems. Now I work for government bodies, charities and organisations with a family welfare related focus.

What are the people you work for/with like? Any memorable stories?

Although legal research is predominantly a remote work profession, sometimes clients like to meet in person, so I get the opportunity to know my clients, sometimes very well if we’ve been working together for a certain length of time. I’ve been very lucky so far; all the people I’ve worked with have been genuinely lovely, talented people who are ambitious and creative and passionate about improving outcomes for families and children. I have met some very colourful characters too, through my work. One, now very high profile family judge once passed a remark about children to me, which I’ve never forgotten. That experience was a turning point, which made me realise how much work still needs to be done in order for the Voice of the Child not only to be heard, but understood in family proceedings.

I’ve embarrassed myself a few times, too. When I first started work as a legal researcher, I organised a debate in the House of Commons and a very well known peer celebrated for his work helping disadvantaged children, asked to sit on the panel. To my shame I didn’t know who he was, and asked him for his name, not once, but five times. On another occasion, and without the caveat of being able to say I was new to the sector, I organised another debate this time on child abuse, which was attended by a wonderful audience, including survivors, and a high profile human rights lawyer. The lawyer introduced himself, but I was none the wiser for it.

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What is the best and worst part of the day for you?

The best part of my day is any part I get to share with my son. I’m not sure I have a worst part, anything can be fun if you add music to it.

What adjectives best describe you?

I think you could describe me as a tender radical – It’s a psychology phrase which means I’m probably a little too sensitive for my own good!

What keeps you motivated?

The hope that the work I get to do is helping or will help children and families, even if it’s just in some small way. This kind of research is based on problem solving and highlighting issues within the family justice system. At its heart, it is about promoting the welfare of every child and ensuring children are cared for, and loved, which is what makes it so special. Legal research does sound very dry on paper, but it is a window into some of the most fascinating corners of the justice system.

Tea or coffee?

Fennel tea when I’m being good, Frappuccinos when I’m being naughty.

What would you say to anyone thinking of a career in your field?

Child welfare is a field that needs passionate people. Caring is an essential element of that.

What song do you listen to the most?

Probably Solomon Burke’s 'Cry To Me'. 

How do you enjoy your time outside of work?

With my son, mostly. But I go wild swimming without him because he doesn’t like cold water!

If you could change one thing about the family justice system what would it be and why?

Levels of training. I’d like to see the system pioneer child welfare. The only way to do that is to arm people with cutting edge skills and let them forge a new path.

Natasha runs the website www.researchingreform.net. You can follow her on Twitter at @SobukiRa.

Join the conversation #familylawdayinlifeof

As part of this feature we are asking a wide range of people who have links to the court system and family law to respond to the above questions and give us some information about what their role entails. We hope to get a wide cross section of people - to this end, if you would like to contribute please email editor@familylaw.co.uk.
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