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Vanessa Fox in the New Law Journal

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hlw Keeble Hawson partner, Vanessa Fox, marks 25 years as head of the firm’s family law department in 2016. Collaboratively trained and a qualified mediator, she has modernised South Yorkshire Resolution since becoming chair in 2013 and is also a member of the Law Society’s Family Law Panel and the Children Panel.

What was your route into the profession?

I genuinely wanted to put something back into the community; before going to university I considered being a probation officer or a social worker. My father thought that the law would be perfect for me, so I took his advice, studied Law and History at Cambridge – and started working in Sheffield 29 years ago. It was a tough time and a steep learning curve, as in those days young lawyers were simply given a desk and a pile of files to work on. I had to get to grips with the Sheffield accent quickly, and soon found that the people in my chosen city are the best in the world.

What has been your biggest career challenge so far?

Like most women in any profession, my greatest challenge has been balancing the demands of home and work. Most working women lawyers would agree that it is hard to be a good mother and a good lawyer all of the time. In my case, I definitely put my work first!

Which person within the legal profession inspires you most?

My local female family judges, both present and past, exemplify the highest commitment to family law and to the advancement of women in the profession. I would like to single out Her Honour Judge Carr - our designated family judge for many years in Sheffield, and the late Her Honour Judge Shipley, who have inspired us and shown all of us that it is possible to be the best and still have a human side.

If you weren’t a lawyer, what would you choose as an alternate career?

I would have loved to write children’s books or to work for a publisher such as Puffin - I find the best children’s books both comforting and exciting. The Harry Potter books in particular resonate with my daily work in family law. For example, the actions of the Ministry of Magic and Professor Umbridge in the fifth book in the series, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, reflect the government’s hand in the removal of legal aid.

Who is your favourite fictional lawyer?

Rumpole of the Bailey, partly because these books have some reality to them! Doctor Foster, a BBC drama shown in 2015, was very frustrating for family lawyers to watch as it depicted not only their profession - but also legal procedures and the divorce process - almost entirely inaccurately.

Wht change would you make to the profession?

Women still don’t have equality at the very top of the profession. Only time will make a difference to this, as young women lawyers who have grown up in a more progressive world continue to fight for the recognition, respect and equality that they are due.

I would also reinstate Legal Aid. Recent cuts have placed added pressure on couples going through a divorce, which is already a difficult experience, both practically and emotionally. It may help the Government cut spending, but there’s a bigger social cost in the long run - the lack of access to legal advice could see an increase in drawn-out courtroom battles, increased acrimony between ex-spouses, and most worryingly, a detrimental impact on children. Unfortunately, I don’t think that it will be reinstated anytime soon!