By Katherine Couper

I’m four months into my first six of pupillage and it has been a busy few months. With the exception of only a handful of days, I’m out at court every day with my supervisor or other members of chambers. I’ve had the opportunity to see a variety of family law cases, including finance, public and private children law. Aside from court work, I’ve attended conferences and undertaken drafting, case reading and legal research.

The bulk of cases I’ve seen in my first six have been public law proceedings, including care, supervision, emergency protection and secure accommodation order applications. I’ve also had my first experience of the Family Drug and Alcohol Court (‘FDAC’). It was interesting to see the collaborative approach of lawyers, parties and other professionals in FDAC, and it’s great that the programme is being extended to locations outside of London.

My supervisors often act for local authorities. Working on cases for local authorities has been a huge learning experience. Prior to commencing pupillage, I worked in a firm where I regularly received instructions from parents. Representing local authorities can be a very different role as there’s a greater responsibility for ensuring that a case keeps moving forwards. This has provided me with valuable insight and a balanced experience that I will draw from when I’m on my feet.

I’ve also had the opportunity to see the application of new law. In November, I observed the use of the single family court’s new powers under s.31F of the Matrimonial & Family Proceedings Act 1984 which grants the court the power to vary, suspend, rescind or revive any order made by it (see Giles Bain’s analysis at page 2). This power to set aside a final order appears to somewhat undermine the doctrine of finality and it will be interesting to see if test cases are brought in 2015 relating to this issue.

Before Christmas, I attended a five-day, fully contested final hearing in an unusual TOLATA case. The matter related to a former couple who had never cohabited, nor had they been engaged. The claimant’s primary claim was for a 50% share in the client’s property on the basis of an alleged oral agreement, despite the fact the property had been entirely financed by the client and was purchased in his sole name. The client succeeded in defending the claim. Nonetheless, it was a valuable reminder of the need to ensure that a client is always given a realistic view of their case’s merits and is fully informed of the risk inherent in all litigation, even where their defence is a strong one.

In only 2 months I’ll be on my feet and I’ll start taking on my own cases, which is an exciting (and slightly scary) prospect! I have no doubt that the remainder of pupillage will be just as challenging, interesting and rewarding as everything I’ve experienced so far.