Going through a legal dispute is never straightforward and COVID-19 adds extra complications, but we’re here, just like we’ve always been.
Sarah Balfour is a partner in our family law team - where she's worked for over 15 years, offering legal support to clients going through divorce and financial matters, and private law issues relating to children.
We caught up with her virtually, to talk about how we support our clients during difficult times, and her journey into law.
Sarah, how would you describe the clients you and your team look after?
We act for a range of clients from varied backgrounds - busy city professionals who find themselves separating, grandparents who've not been able to see their grandchildren and parents raising children on their own. Whoever they are, or wherever they've come from, they're all looking for the same thing - someone who really understands their concerns and can guide them both carefully and expertly. They want someone who's genuinely invested in achieving the best outcome for them, who can offer tenacious, determined and fearless representation.
What issues do they face, and what needs do they have when they come to you for help?
Most of our clients come to us when they're at the lowest point in their lives. They've experienced the trauma of a relationship breakdown, or loss of contact with a child. There's so much going on in their lives that it can be difficult for them to know where to start.
We provide our clients with clear, jargon-free, non-judgmental advice, delivered with understanding and empathy.
Family law deals with the fundamentals of human relationships - love, life, and loss. One of the hardest things about these types of legal disputes is the feeling that control has been lost over the things closest to our clients hearts. They trust us with the things most precious to them - often their children and their future security. We never forget that.
How do you and your team support people when they're facing legal disputes?
We place our client at the centre of all we do and take the time to understand what it is that they really want.
The process is just as important as the outcome. Regular, clear communication empowers our clients, as does allowing them time to make decisions.
We challenge the clients’ assumptions about litigation, and talk about alternative way to resolve disputes early on in the process, such as mediation, collaborative law, early neutral evaluation, private dispute resolution and arbitration.
Our clients also want (and need) the help of other professionals. We don't advise speaking to only one expert. Family law clients often need counselling or coaching services, and we can draw in our contacts. They often need financial advice and this is where we turn to our financial planning experts who offer clear, honest and practical advice.
What makes you proud to be a lawyer here at Irwin Mitchell?
I've been here for my entire professional career. I started at the age of 21 as a trainee solicitor, and was promoted to partner at 34 when I was on maternity leave with my second child. I chose Irwin Mitchell because of its reputation for tenacity and pushing the boundaries - every day we aim to live up to that reputation.
We have more issued cases than any other firm in this country, and more litigation partners than any of our competitors. We have experts in every area of law and we come together to strive for the best outcome for our clients.
In terms of the people at Irwin Mitchell – we have a camaraderie and shared set of values that other firms don't have. Our colleagues come from all different backgrounds - the diversity of our people lends itself to the service we offer to our clients.
Can you tell us a little bit about your background? What inspired you to get into law?
I was born in Punjab, India and moved to the UK when I was 2 and half years old with my parents. They both worked as doctors, sharing a desire to care and support people, which is something I’m passionate about too.
My mother tells me that I was an early talker and once I started I just didn’t stop. I asked her endless questions about everything I could and loved all forms of interaction. Not much has changed over the years.
This, alongside a love of reading, led me to study law at university. Once I was there I knew that I wanted to be a lawyer.. I wanted an area that was both technically demanding but also had heart. I thought family law would tick all the boxes, and I was right.
Finally Sarah, what’s the proudest moment of your career to date?
I’ve been to the Court of Appeal twice, and for a litigator these are always memorable occasions. However, the thing that offered me the most satisfaction was not the result but seeing the journey that my client went on. She went from a stay at home mother who had often been side-lined during her marriage, to a successful businesswoman.
She pursued the case with a heavy heart - having attempted to settle on amicable terms at every stage - but she had a quiet but steely determination that I’ve taken inspiration from.
If I could choose one more, it would involve a case where I acted for a grandmother who had been prevented from seeing her grandson for no good reason. It was a long and difficult road, but in the end we got the solution we wanted.
Six months later I received a postcard from my client who was on holiday with her grandson – I’ve kept it to this day as it reminds me home how important the work we do is and the difference we can make.
If you need legal advice in relation to a divorce, separation, or any other family issue, visit our family law section.
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