Why I chose this job: Q&A with Andrew Weeden
A few weeks back, Andrew kindly asked me to write a guest blog post for his website…I didn’t need asking twice. I have known Andrew for a while now, and it didn’t take long for our relationship to grow on a personal and business level. He has become a good friend, and we have developed a great working partnership.
The first blog I wrote talked about how two people can meet and just click; I believe that some of the best business collaborations start in the most random of ways. How boring would life be if everyone met at business events…suited and booted up to the nines. It’s much more fun to bump into a friendly face on the school run - or in the queue in Tesco - and you start talking. That’s something that people don’t do enough of anymore. Fortunately, both Andrew and I have degrees in talking, so that was not an issue for either of us. Anyway, enough waffle; let me cut to the chase.
We decided it would be fun to do a little interview. I asked Andrew a series of questions we thought you guys might like to hear the answers to, and he promised to reply openly and honestly. McKenzie Law Partners has always had a strong ethos around transparency, so this was an excellent opportunity to showcase that. They also believe in bringing that element of personalisation into the way they work…and what better way to do that than by offering their clients a raw – straight from the heart - interview. I loved this idea!
After chatting with Andrew Weeden, let’s see what he had to say for himself…
Q. Did you always know you wanted to work in law?
No. At least not initially. I was a talented musician who could play several instruments (my main instrument is the piano). I wanted to pursue that. But then I broke all my fingers in two unrelated incidents, and my opportunities changed. My next love was mathematics. Not to boffin level, but the order and structure that maths provides and how it helps make sense of things. Maths and music are very interrelated.
My father is an accountant, and it suited both of us for me to article under him and his practice. It gave me the best training in administration. The place was run by the chief secretary, who had more authority than Moses! I learnt a little maths and accountancy along the way too. That financial career merged two other skills, my ability to understand tax law and translate tax law into compliant, tax-efficient employment or subcontractor models for expatriates working in Europe and the USA. I wrote complex programmes for the recruitment sector so that they could comply with local employment and immigration laws. Sorry, that’s a bit of a mouthful.
However, for health reasons, I returned from America to the UK and the support of my family. I needed and wanted a change of scene. But what I knew was that I love the law. From there, I chose children and family law as my specialist area.
Q. Why children and family law?
Good question. Very different to tax or immigration law and undoubtedly different to corporate law. I have focused my career on effecting change. Taking something and improving it, if that is possible. I have never followed the crowd. I wanted to excel in an area where my involvement improves situations and outcomes. The most defenceless in society are the children. They have no voice and are often caught in the middle. And the pandemic brought about the bitter end of many broken relationships, exposing innocent children to their parents’ acrimony.
Q. How has your former career supported your career in the law?
I came from a very corporate world, both internally and externally. I always believed in developing friendly relationships with my clients. Customer service is vital, from reasonable response times to doing a good job. I am a good administrator and have a very organised mind, which is helpful in this area because being analytical and process driven significantly improves the quality of my work.
Q. What makes your job so special?
The people, for definite. I meet all characters through this work, from the ushers and clerks, judges and magistrates, opposing counsel, solicitors and most notably, our clients. No two cases are alike. Many share similar features but being able to listen to their stories and craft advice specific to their needs makes this role very special and unique.
Q. Do you have cases that go wrong?
I think the term ‘wrong’ is very subjective. I have had some very challenging cases. Challenging and complex are not the same. Challenging from the perspective of tough judges making decisions that I would not altogether agree with the reasoning behind. Most of the time, the challenging cases are the ones the firm inherits part of the way through. It is essential to be transparent with the court about what is being requested and why. A case made out poorly initially is far more likely to incur problems as it journeys through the court process. Those cases can be complicated to turn around. And sadly, there are cases so damaged by poor previous representation that the best we can do is damage limitation. Those cases are regrettable for their outcomes which became inevitable because of the way the issues were aligned in the case.
Q. How does a case go wrong?
Not giving adequate consideration to the features of the issues a party brings will translate into not raising those issues and addressing them correctly from the outset. The substantive application does not identify all the aspects the court will be required to resolve. For example, where a child is being home-schooled, and one parent wants their son or daughter to attend mainstream school. If it is an issue at the beginning, it should be part of the case from day one. The issues brought dictate which track the case will take.
Cases deemed suitable for the Magistrates never see a district judge. Magistrates have no legal qualifications and rely upon a legal adviser for the law; whereas district (or higher) judges are legally qualified and previously were solicitors or barristers who have become judiciary qualified. You will have heard of Magistrates as the lowest criminal court dealing with summary offences as criminal cases. Family and children law is an entirely different area of law and not even an aspect of criminal law; it falls under civil law. Cases that make it to a district judge suffer from a lack of judicial continuity, meaning no judge takes ownership of a case or carries the hearing-by-hearing knowledge of a case as it unfolds. This can translate to poorer case management decisions which, in turn, impact the final welfare hearing.
Q. Do you feel that your client’s outcomes are correct?
It is reasonable to say that it rarely happens that either party get exactly what they would wish for. If safeguarding issues remain at the end of the case, sometimes the case needs to be reconsidered at a future time, for example, a party whose final order provides for only supervised contact centre contact. That punitive contact cannot continue forever unless there is no better choice. Many clients arrive wishing for shared care 50:50 orders. These rarely happen. Where the client wanted 50:50 to avoid child maintenance, and yes, we have had some clients who feel this way without any judgement on our part, the court seems to see that the motivation is not for the best interests of the children and prefers the established contact principle that children need a base with the live-with parent and that their need for a routine and stability eclipses the financial advantages or disadvantages of shared care. In those circumstances, the court outcomes tend to be reasonable and reflective. It is, therefore, essential to manage expectations from the very beginning so that our clients are better aligned with realistic options for what a final order may look like.
Q. What gets you frustrated with your work?
I never get frustrated with a client. It is important to hear their views and responses, even when disagreeing. I do get frustrated with the way the system is being used. Unfortunately, parties can only obtain legal aid if domestic abuse allegations are raised. This promotes a culture of blame and claims rather than negotiating and coming to fair outcomes. But sometimes, the domestic abuse issues are to such a significant extent that only the family court can resolve how to move things forward for the family safely.
I also believe that Family Magistrates are not beneficial to cases because these cases need to be decided upon finely balanced and nuanced facts impartially and without emotion. I question, from experience, how Magistrates are equipped to make anything other than decisions which take their personal beliefs into account; they have, after all, become Magistrates because of a strong sense of administering justice against those who break the law. Unless a party breaches a family court order, they will not have broken any laws! Family matters should not be decided by a committee.
Q. Do you get nervous when you go to court?
I hope anyone attending courts has some nervousness; it aids focus. Court hearings do not come around very often; therefore, a lot must be accomplished on a hearing-by-hearing basis. So yes, especially where there is a crucial outcome awaited.
Let’s wrap this up…
I loved my interview with Andrew. It was an excellent opportunity to dig a little deeper into what makes him tick and why he does what he does. One thing that stood out from everything else was how passionate he is about McKenzie Law Partners and supporting his clients in both a paralegal and McKenzie Friend capacity…I really like that. From day one of meeting Andrew, I knew instantly who I would call if I needed someone fighting my corner. So, make sure he is in yours.
If you live in East Anglia and need support with any aspect of Child or Family Law, I highly recommend Andrew and the team. They care; it’s that simple. And for me, that means so much more than anything else.
Charlotte Milbank (guest blogger)
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