Helping couples become the legal parents of a surrogate child is my favourite area of family law

Kristina Steele discovered her passion for law while working as a legal Personal Assistant. The family law trainee Legal Executive and Graduate Member of CILEx (GCILEx) is now working towards qualifying as a Chartered Legal Executive.

What does working in Family Law involve? 

Family law mostly consists of advising clients through very difficult periods of their lives, for example, during divorce, separation and children disputes.  

There are exceptions to this, such as advising in relation to prenuptial agreements and surrogacy. A prenuptial agreement is entered into prior to marriage and determines how the parties’ assets and income will be dealt with if they were to separate in the future. Surrogacy is my favourite area of family law. This area involves advising a couple who have had a child through a surrogate mother how to become the legal parents of that child – known as a Parental Order (under English law, the woman who gave birth to a child is the legal mother). 

Family law has two branches – private and public.  Private law generally relates to divorce, financial settlements (known as “financial remedy”), and arrangements for children (previously known as “contact” and “residence” orders); whereas public law relates to children cases involving a local authority because a child is at risk of suffering, or has suffered, harm due to, for example, ill treatment or neglect.   

What are your responsibilities? 

I have very recently started a new role as a trainee Legal Executive at a boutique family law firm in London. I anticipate my role to be similar to my previous position as a family law Paralegal but with more autonomy and responsibility.   

As a Paralegal, my responsibilities included reviewing and drafting correspondence, documents, court applications and pleadings, legal research, reviewing and collating financial disclosure, attending court, client meetings and conferences with counsel to support smooth case management.  I also managed a small divorce and non-contentious (not disputed) financial settlement caseload.   

What skills do you need to work in Family Law? 

Working within family law not only requires you to know the law, but also to provide practical, empathetic advice as you are helping your clients through what could be the most difficult period of their lives.  This is what I enjoy; the feeling that you are helping the clients and making a difference, even if in a small way.  Family law is a very busy area which requires good organisation skills, methodical thinking and attention to detail.  

Why did you decide to progress your career by following the CILEx route? 

I started my career in law immediately after finishing secondary school when I studied the ILEX (before they became Chartered) Legal Secretarial Certificate and Diploma at college.  Once I had completed that, I found a job in a local legal aid firm in Kent where I started my career as a junior legal secretary in family law.  Over the years, I continued on this path and remained within family law.   

It was when I was employed by a London law firm as a legal PA that I realised I had a real passion for the law and I decided I wanted to do more. I therefore studied CILEx Level 3 at university before progressing to study my CILEx Level 6 qualifications by distance learning with CILEx Law School.   

My studies have allowed me to progress from a legal secretary/PA and I am now a trainee Legal Executive at a reputable Legal 500 firm, where I am collating my qualifying employment portfolio to become a Chartered Legal Executive.   

What were the benefits of studying with CILEx Law School rather than at university? 

I found it really beneficial to complete the written study exercises and get feedback.  The study exercises can seem like a chore at times after all the reading, but they are such good practice for the exams. If you do not understand some of the feedback, you are easily able to talk to someone at CILEx Law School during the week for assistance.   

When I was studying my Level 3 courses at university, the only time we could ask questions was during lectures (when most students would also have questions) or by email outside of lectures, so I was really pleased about this aspect of the course with CILEx Law School.   

When I started distance learning I did have concerns that I wouldn’t have the commitment to do it, but I was wrong.  I preferred the flexibility and out of four Level 6 exams, I passed them all and attained three distinctions.