What is your position and what you do on a day-to-day basis?
I am a qualified paralegal and a legal adviser on the Wikivorce helpline, and provide advice and support to members of the public on all aspects of family law.
The calls are always varied, and I never know what questions I’m going to be asked when I answer a call; I have become very good at thinking on my feet! I have an empathic approach and recognise that family law clients tend to suffer from stress and emotional trauma. I work with them, breaking down their overwhelming problems into manageable chunks and giving them the information and tools they require, thus empowering them to put themselves back in control. I’m also the Wikivorce Community Manager which involves looking after all the members (we currently have around 126,000), managing a team of volunteers and writing content for the site.
How long have you been in this role and what brought you here?
I’ve worked for Wikivorce, both as a volunteer and then as a legal adviser/paralegal since 2008. What brought me initially to Wikivorce was because I was looking for advice on my own impending divorce. I became so fascinated with family law, that I took a specialist paralegal course and I’m now a qualified paralegal, specialising in family law (in both Scotland and England & Wales). My particular interest is the law as it relates to children, and writing about the law, and legal developments (it’s more interesting than it sounds!).
What are the people you work for/with like? Any memorable stories?
I work with the most amazing, selfless, committed, people I have ever had the pleasure of working with. The volunteers devote hours of their own time each week helping and supporting members on our forum, and my colleagues on the helpline do a very difficult job under great pressure but never lose sight of the fact that our callers are often in great despair, and facing an exceptionally traumatic life event.
Bizarre story - we often get some very strange requests from people on the helpline - one male caller asked me to send a nude photo of myself so he could hang it in his new house, another asked me to write a parenting plan for his dog, and one caller wanted to know if it was possible to get married by proxy - he had a meeting the same day as his wedding and wanted to send his father to the wedding in his place to marry the bride on his behalf.
What is the best and worst part of the day for you?
The best part of any day (and no two days are the same for me) is knowing that I’ve helped someone make sense of an overwhelming situation, usually by constructing a road-map with manageable sections that the client/caller can then action themselves and move forwards. The worst part is probably taking a call from someone who is so desperate and crippled by their situation that they feel ending their own life is the only way out. Those calls are really tough.
I would like to think of myself as empathic, straight-talking, a problem-solver and creative. My family would say I’m a workaholic.
What keeps you motivated?
The desire to help people, to make sure people have access to the appropriate support, information and advice; and also to do the very best I can for each caller and member.
Tea or coffee?
Tea - Yorkshire Tea. I drink about 12 mugs a day. And red wine, but only in the evenings.
What would you say to anyone thinking of a career in your field?
Take advantage of every learning opportunity that comes your way - even if you think it isn’t particularly relevant to you at the time. Be prepared to work very hard, and go the extra mile for your employer and your clients. Make the most of what the Institute of Paralegals has to offer it’s members. Always keep your knowledge up to date, so make the most of the publications, law blogs, journals etc that are on offer.
What song do you listen to the most?
She Sells Sanctuary by The Cult - it transports me back to my teenage years, and is always guaranteed to get me dancing and singing along (badly).
How do you enjoy your time outside of work?
I love spending time with my family, it’s when I’m most comfortable, regardless of what we are doing. I’m an avid reader, and also enjoy photography: a passion inherited from my dad. My guilty pleasure is watching Emmerdale – I would love to be an extra in a Woolpack scene. I also enjoy walking and exploring the beautiful Hampshire countryside (we always manage to find an excellent pub along the route!) My husband and I spent many weekends collaboratively writing and recently published our reference book - The Family Law A-Z.
If you could change one thing about the family justice system what would it be and why?
Reduce the separation periods to one year with consent, and 2 years with no consent required, and have the financial settlement and child arrangements agreed prior to issuing divorce proceedings, - similar to Scotland. Also, if I am allowed a second wish, cohabitation reform is desperately required, there does need to be some degree of legal protection for co-habitees that are financially disadvantaged by the end of the relationship, Scotland offers limited protection under The Family Law (Scotland) Act 2006, I would like to see similar provisions for those in England/Wales. Ruth Langford is nominated for the Family Law Chartered Legal Executive or Paralegal Award. You can find out why she was nominated and place your vote here.
Ruth is the co-author of 'The Family Law A-Z'. You can follow her on Twitter at @Ruth_Langford.
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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 email@example.com.