Writing our annual submission to Chambers & Partners UK always generates mixed feelings. How can the deadline have come around again? How can we possibly whittle down all of our cases to meet the submission limit? But more so, it’s a time we come out of our comfort zone and we do something we instinctively find really hard.  We force ourselves to look at what we’ve done, what we’ve achieved and what we’ve crammed into a year that’s simply flown by.

As we continue our core work of helping our clients at what can be an emotionally fraught time of year – as well as preparing for Christmas with our families and friends, and in my case, the added pressure of leaving my Secret Santa gift to the last moment  – it’s easy to get caught up in the rush and panic of the to-do list. Nevertheless it’s important to make time to reflect on our year.

We’ve always been a firm focussed on the future.  Seeing what changes need to be made and being proactive, rather than reactive, enables us to be in the best possible position to help our clients and creates a dynamic working environment for our team. Pressing pause and reflecting on 2017  we realise it’s been an exceptional year for FLP. In our final blog post of the year we’ve brought together some of our highlights and key events. With an eye on the future, technology has played a big part in what we have done.  Being impatient is a development point for both Alan and me.  Our desire to focus on innovation and technology left us with making a big decision!  Given the pace of, and opportunity to drive, change Alan needed to focus where he spent his time.  He moved from being client facing to become our Head of Technology and Innovation!  What firms outside the Magic Circle and those with a national profile would do that?

Ready, steady, grow!

We got off to a fast start in January and expanded our team at our Brighton HQ with the arrival of Gemma Hope. Lauren Guy followed quickly in early February. Both Gemma and Lauren had come from established family teams in Sussex and being collaboratively trained, they both slotted straight into the ethos of the team. They hit the ground running and haven’t stopped! Establishing an office in Horsham – in particular to promote dispute resolution work – has been one of the items on their to-do list.  2018 will be a busy and exciting year for them.

We also saw expansion to our specialist team beyond Brighton, when we welcomed Julian McEvoy as our leading expert in Guildford.  Julian is a natural fit for FLP, bringing his mediation and collaborative skills to his role as Consultant. Alongside Hazel Manktelow in Hampshire and Sarah Jelly in Lewes we have continued our charge to roll out our solution focussed approach to family law across the South. With some interesting conversations going on at present we are likely to expand our consultants’ team in the New Year.

March saw the arrival of our Knowledge Systems Developer Sam Paul. Sam joined us through our Knowledge Transfer Partnership with The University of Brighton. Sam, in collaboration with the University, is creating tools which, amongst other things, will apply artificial intelligence to the divorce process.  He is looking at ways of improving and making efficiencies to various aspects of the client journey. Watch this space!

In May, and consistent with meeting our ambition and desire for personal and professional development within the team, Chris Maulkin successfully completed his collaborative training, bringing our number of collaborative lawyers up to eight.

August saw a significant change as one of our founding directors, Linda Lamb, left to start her new firm with a focus on Mediation and Child Arbitration. We wish Linda well.

Lords a ‘listening

In October, a submission of evidence Alan made to the House of Lords’ Select Committee on Artificial Intelligence (AI) was published. Sitting alongside a number of other evidence-backed papers considering the economic, ethical and social implications of advances in AI, it looked at impact and opportunity presented by AI on the provision of family law services.

Catching Caroline Lucas’ ear

In November, we joined Resolution and our family law peers up and down the country in supporting Cohabitation Awareness Week 2017.  As well as developing unique resources to help make information about cohabitation available to all, we shone a light on how Brighton & Hove residents might be affected by a lack of understanding of their legal position. In a real coup, Lauren Guy secured an exclusive interview with MP Caroline Lucas to discuss how Parliament can change the law to give cohabiting couples more protection. Following the meeting with FLP, Caroline tabled an Early Day Motion in Parliament, calling for greater rights for cohabiting couples.

One man innovation show

It’s no secret that we are evangelical about the opportunity presented to family lawyers, and ultimately our clients, by new technologies. Our innovation agenda has become a hallmark of how we do things at FLP and this year we were delighted to have the chance to share our journey with a wider audience. As well as being invited to comment in the legal and family law press about topics as wide-ranging as unbundling to AI, Alan has spoken at a number of events (including Resolution’s Changing Practices conference most recently) about the technology we’re creating  now, what we see on the horizon for our profession  and the benefits we will deliver for our clients .

IBM and little old us

In December IBM sent their cameras down and Alan and Miriam did the talking!  Global tech powerhouse IBM have already published a case-study detailing our use of its data-analytics platform IBM Watson. Published online, the case study showcases how we’re using data analytics to help clients decide which resolution method best suits their unique circumstances. This was an exciting moment for our team, as the fruits of our labour in respect of innovation and investment in unique tools were recognised for helping to meet client demands for affordable, bespoke family law advice – as well as offering alternatives to the court process such as mediation, collaborative law and arbitration. We can’t wait to see what they produce.  The IBM firm crew were taken aback when they realised they weren’t filming a global giant (well not yet anyway!) but a core team of 12!  It was refreshing for them and exciting for us to have the message reinforced that we are punching well above our weight.

So, that’s just a few of our highlights. As with our annual Chambers submission, trimming the number down wasn’t easy but we can’t help but feel that we have earned a well-earned glass of something mulled.

We’d like to thank the regular readers of our blog, together with our clients, contacts and peers, for your support in 2017. With our further expansion in Horsham, and progress with our innovation and technology agenda, plans for 2018 are already shaping up nicely.

All of us at Family Law Partners wish you a peaceful festive season, a Happy Christmas and a successful New Year.

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