We introduce Victoria Varty, senior associate in the family law team in Edinburgh.
1. Tell us about the day in the life of a family lawyer.
It's a bit of a cliché to say no two days are the same, but it is true. The day starts with checking emails, usually on the bus on the way into the office, and normally ends with checking emails at home in the evening. In between will be spent with a mixture of meeting clients, drafting documents, talking to colleagues, clients, Counsel, and experts and yes, sending emails (so many emails!).
It used to involve regular trips to court but since the advent of the pandemic and remote court hearings these have become far less frequent…I do miss the chat and the bustle of Edinburgh Sheriff Court and Parliament Hall.
2. What three things can't you do your job without?
- My colleagues: I've been fortunate throughout my career to have the assistance of excellent support staff, who keep everything ticking over and who often have really important relationships with the clients as the first person they speak to when they contact the firm. I also have had great teams of colleagues to discuss difficult cases with, compare notes and sympathise after particularly tricky court appearances!
- Empathy: I think it's important to be able to try hard to understand a client's problems and circumstances, while at the same time keeping a degree of distance from the emotion of the situation (this is something I have definitely learned and developed over my career).
- A sense of humour: I'm often asked if being a family lawyer isn't really depressing. It can be very sad, at times, and I am always conscious that most people don't really want to have to come and see me, but it's also important to be able to see the lighter side of life with clients and colleagues.
3. What drew you to become a family lawyer?
I found the academic study of family law really interesting at university and was drawn to the types of issues which it dealt with, and the problems it sought to solve. Family law is a good fit for someone who likes to work with and for people, trying to help make a little bit of a difference in people's lives. It's also a good fit for someone who likes to talk!
I started my career in a more general litigation role but found the family law cases that I was involved in were more professionally fulfilling. When the opportunity arose to move into the family law team I was delighted, and I have never regretted that.
4. If there was one piece of advice you could give to separating couples, what would it be?
That you must think of the longer term and the bigger picture. People often consult me at times in their lives when they are angry, hurt, or both. They may feel extremely negative towards their estranged partner, often for good reason. It's very hard to appreciate it at the time, that the emotions will pass and that you won't necessarily feel like this forever.
Whether negotiating a financial settlement, or agreeing arrangements for the care of children, you have to try and think beyond how you are feeling in the here and now and look to what is likely to be the best outcome in the longer term, once the immediate emotional toll has passed.
5. Is there a case that stands out for you?
So many- for a variety of different reasons, some which were extremely complex and demanding, others which appear far more insignificant but were of real importance to an individual or a family.
A real professional highlight was to be part of the team that took a case to the UK Supreme Court in London and successfully challenged the law regarding the rights of unmarried fathers in the Children's Hearing System. It was one of the first family cases to go to the UK Supreme Court after its creation- I got to work with extremely experienced Counsel, and it was fascinating to watch the Justices grappling with the issues.
6. What attracted you to join the Brodies family law team?
I had reached a point in my career where I was ready for a new challenge. When an opportunity arose to join the Brodies team I couldn't say no – it offered me the chance to work with a family law team recognised as one of the very best in the country, with a large and experienced team based across Scotland. I've always had a particular interest in cross-border and international child law cases, and this provided me with greater exposure to that type of work. The view from the Edinburgh office is pretty good too!