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Farhana Shahzady joined the London team of Family Law Partners as a Director in April 2021. She is currently standing for re-election to Resolution’s National Committee. Voting opens at midday on 24th May and closes at 9am on 11th June 2021.
What excites you most about the family law space?
I have practiced for nearly 20 years and remain as completely captivated today as I was 20 years ago. Some may describe divorce lawyers as “purveyors of misery” but I prefer to think of us as rescuers. I often remind myself that: “No good marriage ever ended in divorce!” Supporting the client as well as protecting wider, long-term family interests is what a decent family lawyer should be aiming to achieve and that is still what motivates me. Family law at its best is a delicate and skilled exercise of balancing competing interests and delivering a fair and sustainable outcome using dispute resolution techniques if possible. If that is out of the question, then principled litigation is an important and legitimate way to get matters resolved. Not everything in family law is “win/win” but the “smash and grab” mentality of some lawyers is outdated and should be outlawed in my view.
You have been a member of the Resolution National Committee for three years and are hoping to be re-elected in 2021. What excites you most about playing a strategic role in leading Resolution and shaping the future of family law?
The last 3 years have flown by and I feel incredibly fortunate that during my time on the National Committee, no fault divorce has been achieved. It has taken decades of Resolution campaigning for this to happen but the real victory in my mind is not just the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 but the overwhelming recognition that it is (and always was) absurd and pointless basing a divorce system on alleging fault and pointing a finger of blame. How could that have ever boded well when it simply took clients down the rabbit hole of reprimand and recrimination. It is sadly the children who often get stuck in the middle of this type of hostility and occasionally trampled over. But no-fault divorce is just first base in my view and there are so many other aims for Resolution such as ensuring that family lawyers have the skills and training to embrace and deliver dispute resolution processes to clients as a matter of routine. If on the evolutionary scale, we have now finally crawled out of the murky swamp of blame and are standing tall, then I want to be part of a Resolution National Committee that makes Dispute Resolution (DR) mainstream practice and fully supports its members for the benefit of clients.
What do you think are the biggest opportunities (or threats!) for family lawyers today?
In some ways, the threats are easier to evaluate since we are living through a pandemic and have seen much that we take for granted, change overnight. Lawyers have been forced to work more flexibly and grapple with disruptive new technologies, not to mention deal with the online divorce portals and lodging online bundles. The court system is awash with litigants in person which adds to the confusion and complexity. Clients demand timely outcomes but the court queues are lengthy and you are at the mercy of the Judge on the day, who may exercise his or her discretion in a very unpredictable way. The costs can be huge especially if confronted by one of those litigious firms who may well think DR is an acronym for ‘Daily Rudeness’. Sadly family lawyers all then get tarnished with the same brush although most are hardworking, decent lawyers who want to deliver positive, family focused outcomes in a proportionate way. The demise of legal aid under LASPO was one of the biggest setbacks in my view and has been a huge obstacle to accessing family justice.
But on a positive note, resourceful lawyers who can be more flexible and responsive to their clients will survive. There is no doubt in my mind that progressive, proportionate lawyers who are DR and client focussed will always have a role,
If you could see one change, what would it be?
An honest answer is to see the return of legal aid i.e. access to justice for all. I see so many people fall between the cracks now since they cannot afford proper (or even improper) legal representation. I, along with some of my colleagues, volunteer at Rights of Women or other advice centres but that is just fragmentary advice and hardly suitable for complex cases where, for example, domestic abuse is involved. Access to Justice is a hallmark of a civilised and fair society but sadly lacking now although when I started 20 years ago, I had the pleasure of working in the legal aid sector for a number of years. I learned my craft in those firms and it has held me in good stead for which I am very grateful. I will always try to fly the banner of the underdog if I can, it’s important to me.
Finally, you joined Family Law Partners in April. What attracted you to the team?
The Family Law Partners team is very special. It has the feel of Mary Poppins mixed with Iron Man! As a firm, it blends core values of decency, kindness and fair play alongside state of the art technology, legal innovation and a fastidious (if not steely) approach to delivering sensible settlements. I’m not saying we are saving the world but we’re having a go!