In early 2020, just as the breadth of COVID-19 was beginning to show itself, we officially launched Women in Family Law (WiFL) on Friday 13 March, in Gray’s Inn.

The aim: to draw strength and support for all women practising in the field of family law; to bring together judges, solicitors, barristers, paralegals and trainees in a way that came to sharply resonate within the new way of life that was suddenly imposed on us. More than ever, we needed a forum from which we could draw ideas, support, camaraderie and a sense that no woman in family law needed to feel alone.

Across the country we were facing new, unanticipated challenges: juggling from our new remote workspaces; trying to be everything to everyone – mother, lawyer, judge, partner, wife, sister, daughter, friend. Some excelled and adapted with apparent ease, while others struggled, and continue to do so. There are those who are isolated, unwell or overwhelmed. There is sadness. There is grief. It is absolutely not an easy time.

Friendship is at our core, whether it is within or without the profession. Small acts of kindness – a text message, a call – can make so much difference when you spend your day shut in a room. The current lockdown comes at a time of shorter, colder days. In some ways it feels harder than last March, with the President once again warning us to reduce footfall in courts, reducing the direct contact and collegiate time we crave. There is a need to look again to wellbeing and a better work/life balance. We all need to review and reframe how we support each other.

WiFL has found ways to reach out to members of our community. Our numbers are growing steadily. As part of this review I invited some of the founding board to share their thoughts about the association.

Suzanne Kingston, Mills & Reeves:

‘I have thoroughly enjoyed being part of WiFL. From the outset, I have shared Hannah’s vision for a fully inclusive group of women in the family law world to have a forum in which to share ideas and support each other. I think we underestimate the potential toll that dealing with high conflict couples can take. The aim of the group is to offer something for everybody – newly qualified solicitors to High Court judges. It is perhaps ironic that we launched just before lockdown. Indeed, we had many conversations about whether or not it was appropriate to continue with the launch as word of the pandemic spread. Most of our year as a group has been in strange and unprecedented times but that has not prevented us from moving forward with several really important initiatives; networking for junior members, webinars; we have set up a mentoring group to offer support and help for anyone in our family law community who needs it; we have supported charitable ventures such as the Maggie’s carol concert in December and we have so many more ideas ready to roll out in 2021.

Perhaps the most interesting project that I’ve been involved in has been interviewing a huge range of high-profile family lawyers and commentators in the WiFL podcast. It has been fascinating to understand the path that their careers have taken, what subjects they love and are involved in, and what gives their lives balance. It has been a privilege to listen to their engaging stories. If anybody reading this piece would like to participate, please feel free to contact me: The podcasts can be found on your platform of choice (Apple, Podbean, Spotify etc).’

Mehvish Chaudhry, Harcourt Chambers and Yolanda Pemberton, St Philips:

‘Little did we know, when we gathered at Gray’s Inn last March for the launch party, that the world was going to change so dramatically and so quickly. In many ways the global pandemic threw the association into the spotlight in order to provide women in family law with a space to gather, listen, and to support one another during the most challenging of times.

WiFL will be celebrating its first birthday in March and, reflecting over the last 12 months, it is incredible to see how far we have come and how much we have achieved. The diary has been jam-packed with a diverse range of events such as talks, Instagram live chats, panel discussions and much more. The energy and enthusiasm is very much still there and the next 12 months will be just as busy and successful.

My favourite thing about WiFL, without a doubt, is how inclusive a space it is. Our founding board and membership is diverse and truly representative of all the different types of women that work in the sphere of family law. This diversity enables us to be able to share a variety of viewpoints on important topics which have come into focus throughout 2020: to be able to further recognise the need to continue to combat inequality and injustice; to be a space in which all views are valued and can be expressed. Our aim is to grow and expand that diversity and that aim lies at the heart of the association.’

Charlotte Hughes, East Anglian Chambers:

‘The launch in March 2020 was the last event I attended before the country went into lockdown. At the time, no one realised what the next 12 months would bring and I personally had no idea of the support I would draw from my fellow board members and from the membership in general. From chatting to people at the coffee mornings to attending a variety of talks, such as focusing on new practitioners or learning about developing areas of law, WiFL has been a place to vent and keep my mind occupied. One event I particularly enjoyed was the talk on imposter syndrome.

As someone who practises at the regional Bar, WiFL provides an indispensable link and support network to those around the country. Additionally, as someone at the beginning of my career, the advantages of being a member of WiFL are not only related to geography. I have found the other members to be incredibly understanding and sympathetic of the various pressures people are under at different stages in their career. Having a way to liaise and socialise with more senior members of the profession is something that should always be encouraged within the legal sector. Being able to attend events where judges and QCs speak candidly about their experiences has been so motivating for me.’

Jess Purchase, committee secretary & 36 Family:

‘Being at the junior end or entering the profession of family law feels intimidating at the best of times, and more so since the COVID pandemic brought fundamental changes to how we work. Human contact is a huge part of working in family law – haggling your way up a rammed list with the ushers, picking up the silent cues from your client, having a gaggle of fellow juniors to victory dance with after a hearing – and so much of that disappeared last March. For me, this is where WiFL has stepped into the breach: it’s given juniors the chance to rally around a virtual kettle together, and the panel talks have been both a steady comfort blanket and a reignition for the fire in the belly that’s been getting a bit swamped over the various lockdowns. It’s a huge reassurance to know that you’re not floating by yourself. No matter their seniority, women in all areas of family law are facing the same issues.’

Eve Robinson, East Anglian Chambers:

‘The spotlight on wellbeing at the Bar has been shining brighter in recent years and organisations such as WiFL go a long way in addressing it. Most within the profession will have no doubt felt the feeling of loneliness that can come with this job, something that has only been exacerbated by the pandemic. Attending events such as the ‘Welcome to our World’ panel evening, hosted via Zoom, was a timely reminder of the camaraderie that does exist in this profession.’

Looking forwards to 2021

We started the year on 20 January with a session devoted to mentoring. Katherine Rayden spearheads this part of the association and the session was supported by Nadine Stanton. Katherine had this to share:

Katherine Rayden, Rayden Solicitors:

‘If you cannot see where you are going, ask someone who has been there before – J Loren Norris

'Hannah Markham’s initiative of bringing together women from all over the country in every aspect of family law was an excellent idea. Its popularity in the first year (all during lockdown) has shown the value to everyone of a supportive network. The mentoring programme was always one of the aims of the committee and was placed on hold when lockdown was thought of as a temporary measure (!) but, as time has passed, we have decided to pursue the launch of the programme in 2021. With such a diverse membership, we are offering a unique opportunity to our members to draw upon the many different experiences that others have faced in order to better equip them to deal with their time as a woman in family law.’


Last year we heard from some dynamic and inspirational judges: Mrs Justice Roberts and HHJ Vincent led the inaugural Zoom sessions, sharing their experiences both in general and during lockdown. September saw HHJ Williscroft and Rosemary Hunter hosting a lively discussion and analysis of the ‘Harm Report’. In November Mrs Justice Knowles, in her new appointment as Family Division Liaison Judge for the Midlands, hosted the ‘Midland Launch’ led by Vanessa Meachin QC and joined by Judge Burgher. They highlighted that, while there are still advancements to make on social mobility in the profession, you can be a judge and/or barrister and come from any background, privileged or not.

This year will see events in Manchester, Leeds, Wales and hopefully the south of England.

We will be spearheading a year of inspirational women, and for a year from the anniversary of our launch, we will be hosting a monthly event.

However, it is still difficult for us out there: with the loss of direct contact, time together has wide-ranging implications. In particular is the impact on those from all parts of the country who are applying for appointments. I am pleased to share the following:

The President of the Family Division supports the drive to ensure that everyone is supported to pursue appointments and to take part in the judicial competitions, from all chambers and firms from around the country. The President has asked Mrs Justice Theis to lead on this matter. Theis J is aware that the changes to the way in which we work may have hindered many of those casual conversations which occur between us, the conversations where we support and encourage and persuade. We must find other ways to do that and ensure opportunities are not lost for talented young practitioners from a range of backgrounds and experiences.

We aim to work with the judiciary and other associations to build on these first steps and start the process to engender change. Whether you are a High Court judge or a paralegal taking your first steps towards a career in family law – there is space for you here. Join us!’