A day in the life of… top divorce lawyer Claire O’Flinn
Claire O'Flinn, one of the UK's top family lawyers, spills the beans on the highs and lows of divorce, why she loves to win (it's not what you might think!) and - the biggie - whether she's a tea or coffee person.
Claire O’Flinn is one of the country’s top divorce lawyers. She’s a partner at Keystone Law, one of the UK’s leading law firm, and when she’s not busy helping families get through the turbulent waters of divorce in the most dignified way possible, she enjoys spending time with her own young family. We caught up with Claire (remotely, of course), to find out more.
Claire, you’re a solicitor and specialist in family law? So tell us how your typical day might work? Is it mostly about squabbling couples?
Whilst my working days generally have a similar structure, no two days are ever the same which is one reason why I love my job. I am one of life’s early birds and am at my desk before my family wakes. I find that peace before the world starts is perfect for cracking on. I then have breakfast with my husband and two sons and get ready to face the day. Most days I have phone calls and Zooms with clients and occasional phone calls with solicitors (but most prefer emails and letters to communicate). Each day demands a lot of drafting and writing of emails and letters! Thankfully all my court hearings are now remote which means I can snuggle into my office in the depths of the Surrey Hills and don’t have to hoof to my usual court in London or a far flung regional court. My power heels haven’t seen the light of day since last March!
Do you find you often end up seeing people when they’re at their most unpleasant? How does this impact on you?
I would say that generally, people are at a low when I first meet them. Of course, there are the few who feel liberated to be leaving a toxic or broken relationship but for most, there is a sadness akin to bereavement there. This can manifest itself as grief, loss and often anger and I remind myself that it is not me who they are angry with. I would be lying to say that I do not get touched by my clients’ sense of loss but knowing that I am helping them on a journey to the exciting next stage of their lives keeps me going.
What led you to a career in family law? And how did you get here?
I always thought I wanted to teach English or to become a journalist but whilst I was a legal secretary with City of York Council’s Children and Mental Health Services Team to support myself through my Politics MA at York University, a conversation by the kettle opened my eyes to training as a lawyer. The team were so supportive once I had made the decision to train and suggested that I went to hearings and meetings for some first hand experience and for me, that was what made me want to become a family lawyer and I have never ever changed my path.
What’s the best thing about your job?
Winning! That might sound trite and I should probably explain. For me, winning isn’t “taking him to the cleaners” – although undeniably that is sometimes fun and the right thing to do – but winning for me is achieving what my client asked of me. Sometimes it is to stay in the house. Sometimes it is selling the holiday home to put the money in trust for school fees. Sometimes, it is a completely equal split of the pot. But once my client and I have worked together to understand what is to be achieved, when you achieve that for someone it is the best feeling.
And the worst?
My work with clients experiencing the trauma of abuse only reminds me of the darker side of humanity. Abuse is far wider than the eye can see; it is not all bruises and black eyes. The effects of gas lighting, narcissism and parental alienation are just as destroying as domestic physical violence and child abuse. Each and every one of those abuses are real and need to be heard. I can honestly say that the damage is so far reaching it never ceases to amaze me and my experience of helping victims has formed such a strong side to my practice that many of my previous clients refer me to others who need my help.
Any funny stories. I’m thinking you could probably write a book about some of your experiences over the years?
All I can say is where do people find the time and imagination?!
Advice for anyone who might be considering a similar path?
If your heart is in it, go for it. Whatever sparks and drives you is certainly the path for you.
You run your own family law team and have young children (who are currently at home doing remote-schooling) – how on earth do you juggle it all?
Good question! I live by lists. Organisation is the key for me. I head a wonderful team of family law specialists across London, Surrey, Kent and Sussex and between us we get the job done every single day. There is a lot of humour in my team because without it, we would go mad. As you can imagine, our work is very stressful and if you don’t have the comfort of saying to someone “that phone call was really tough for me”, “Oh my God! You will never belief what the other spouse has done now!” or “look what I have just found on his bank statement!” we wouldn’t be able to do our job as well as we do. Family solicitors are not endless sponges for the hard stuff of life.
Home schooling has pushed every parent to new limits but I think wives and mothers have borne the brunt to be honest. Who knew that thinking of new ideas for lunch every day would become like water torture?
But life’s not all about work, is it? How do you have fun?
Most definitely with my family and usually outdoors. We are a very sporty family and in usual times, my life revolves around either a football pitch or a cricket boundary.
Living in the Surrey Hills has been a Godsend in lockdown. Getting out in glorious countryside and watching the seasons change whilst you walk, cycle, run, meander because there is nothing to get back for …… Even though we are all cooped up with each other, having a walk with my sons promotes conversation we would never have indoors, it is like some sort of Narnia effect. Children’s mental health is so precious and I think talking is a limitless was of keeping minds healthy.
I have also discovered local businesses who deliver which have previously escaped me, reminding me that staying local has definitely had benefits.
Okay and now for the really important questions …
Tea or coffee? Decaf black coffee
Red wine or white? A really nice Malbec
Morning person or night owl? Before dawn morning
Cats or dogs? Cats
Fantasy dinner guests? After a year in lockdown, any new face at my dinner table would be amazing!
Your most perfect holiday location? Whilst I adore the Surrey Hills, it would be lovely to escape to a sun-kissed white beach lapped by a crystal sea with endless cocktails brought to me on an exquisite sun lounger.