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The shape of the family law profession in Wales is changing – both in terms of presence and recruitment – especially in South Wales where a number of family lawyers have recently announced a move to new pastures.

This wave of change is positive and keeps the legal sector on its toes. I’m currently and looking to speak to a few of those practitioners and teams in Wales to understand what a renewed focus means for them, what it means for the family law offering in Wales, and for clients and communities. In this interview, I spoke to the new-look family law team at Hugh James.

Hugh James has an entirely new family law team which has the benefit of accessing and supporting the firm’s existing client bank, supporting other departments, as well as attracting new clients. The top 100 full-service law firm is headquartered at two Central Square Cardiff, and as many will know, has offices in London, Plymouth, Southampton and Manchester.

Hugh James has recently announced their new team of family lawyers – some of whom have previously worked together and all of whom have worked in specialist private family law firms. Meeting the team of four today, you can sense the passion and energy to create something different together and to make the most of the resources and client base in the firm.

Victoria Cannon is the firm’s new head of Family Law and a partner, previously at Stowe Family Law. She has over 20 years’ worth of experience in family law, particularly focused on high-net-worth clients. Victoria is joined by solicitor, Hannah Newberry, and trainee solicitor, Meg Walters, (both from Alun Jones Family Law), alongside paralegal, Sophie Nguyen.

Being part of an established firm like Hugh James, you’d assume there would be little need to build new processes in a firm that has significantly invested in its offices, technology and systems, marketing and people in the last five years. However, this new team reports it has been given the autonomy to create something new.

Sophie has been credited with leading on building an entirely new way of working for the team, to allow them to work more collaboratively in a style that works for them, for the business, with other experts, and importantly, in a way that works for their clients. One of the benefits of joining a top 100 law firm is of course access to premium resources – from internal cross referrals and technology to marketing – but it takes a tight, committed team of professionals to make the most of it – especially in such a competitive field as family law. Victoria explains:

“We know we’re lucky to have access to a wide range of resources but it’s what you do with the tools you have that counts. We want to put Hugh James’ Family Law team back on the map and show what can be done for our existing client base, and in the wider community.”

Victoria’s drive to support clients’ needs and collaborate with other specialist teams, such as Military Law and those working with vulnerable clients (including Court of Protection and Serious Injuries), has the potential to offer family lawyers access to a different client base with specialist needs, and hone new legal and client care skills.

Community is important to Victoria and her team. Hugh James is a national law firm, and its acquisitions mean her clients won’t all be based in Wales, but this doesn’t mean they can’t do more locally. Hannah Newberry is the current chair of the Cardiff & South East Wales Junior Lawyers Division, and Meg is also a Committee Member. In the last two years, this regional JLD has overhauled its events programme and collaborations, attracting solicitors, trainees, paralegals and counsel to its sell-out events, including significant sums raised for the Access to Justice Foundation at its annual quiz night in November.

Hannah is ambitious, doesn’t suffer fools gladly and takes a no-nonsense approach to doing the best by her clients. She is also, like Meg and Sophie, part of a wave of junior lawyers who expect a greater work-life balance but are also committed to building opportunities for their team and themselves. All of them want to progress and Victoria is keen for them to shine, which is why, from day one, she has ensured they collaborate over putting the right systems in place to enable them to do more for clients.

Victoria has already spent a fair amount of business development time working with other departments in the firm which undoubtedly offer a prime source of referrals for the family team. Like any law firm – internal cross-referrals need investment – investment in relationships with other teams, and with clients (many of whom may have already undergone a significant trauma or may be long-term clients of the firm). It’s a resell in a way – an offer of the same core values and resources to clients – but Victoria’s team need to sell their expertise and client care – and not just to clients who could technically turn to any family lawyer.

“Internal networking,” she says, “is just as important in building a reputation and trust. Nothing can be assumed”.

The team does have a thriving flow of high-net-worth clients and an awareness of where they are heading, Victoria is already actively seeking to grow the team. Family law is a hot recruitment market in Wales. Take a scroll on LinkedIn and I guarantee you’ll see family lawyers and teams in Wales stepping up their personal brand awareness, showcasing collegiate working to raise the profile of their work, expertise, values and client care. As well they should. The family law offering in Wales is strong. Private clients have plenty of talented practitioners to choose from and are well served by a range of personalities and talent. The sands have shifted; long-standing family teams are alive to keeping up with the pace of change. In fairness to Hugh James, this is something they’re acutely aware of and Victoria isn’t one to rest on the firm’s brand laurel:

“We’re an entirely new team in an established firm but we know we need to prove ourselves – to clients, to each other and to our peers. We aren’t working to any former conventions because we’re passionate about what we want to achieve and understand what we can do differently with this new opportunity.

“We’ve redesigned what we want family law to look like at Hugh James – which is to create holistic solutions for our clients – and that will include working with other teams – and offering additional services to support clients in new ways. We’re working on that now.”

Hannah adds:

“It’s been incredibly cathartic to create something new. Unlike a move to an existing, embedded team or firm, we’ve been given the autonomy to start again – if something doesn’t work for us internally, it’s gone.”

“We’re able to pull in the best of the solutions within the firm and build something that works for family lawyers, and for our clients. It’s added another level of professional development and excitement to this new role and one I didn’t expect.”

“Building this together has enabled us to get closer as a team, and fast. We’ve been candid with each other over our expectations, needs and suggestions – and the wider buy-in from the firm is really encouraging. I don’t think we’ll be a team of four for long!”

The Family Team at Hugh James (Back L-R: Victoria Cannon, Hannah Newberry. Front L-R: Sophie Nguyen, Meg Walters).

Hugh James’ global offering undeniably sits at a consistently high level for clients and is well-known for spotting new opportunities and markets. However, Victoria is aware that even a major legal brand needs to earn its place with clients, and in the wider legal sector if it’s to attract new team members. Being a smaller team, she is also aware of the need to deliver internally to validate the freedoms and investment. Investment that has been offered to the team.

In the last month, Hugh James’ family team has co-sponsored the first 5 Jurisdictions Family Law Conference in Cardiff, hosted in March 2024, and welcomed a flurry of interest and enquiries around the new team and its vision at that peer-led event. There will likely be more events and local investment to follow and the team’s USP will need to be tailored from the start to make its mark in a competitive area of law – especially for high-net-worth clients. A good opportunity for Hannah, Meg and Sophie to test sharing a consistent message amongst peers.

“Collaboration is one of the biggest themes in family law today – how professionals can work together to create better outcomes for clients,” stresses Victoria, adding:

“We need to ensure that as a team, we’re supporting each other and have the freedom to put our clients first; our processes and culture need to enable that and empower our team to thrive and deliver. We’re also incredibly keen to do more in the local community, such as expanding our team’s pro bono activities and working with charities and community groups.”

“I’m personally incredibly passionate about supporting charities and pro bono. I recognise the privilege of being in a firm that can enable change at a local level and look forward to sharing that privilege. It’s also great experience for us as practitioners to step away from private practice and test different skills and approaches – and, of course, pro bono and charity work is incredibly rewarding and bonding for us as a team.

“We have a rich array of charity partnerships including Ty Hafan, Velindre Cancer Care and Theodora Children’s Charity and are already in discussions with a number of Welsh-based family charities about pro bono work.”

Team growth plans

Victoria hopes the firm can offer a broad range of roles to self-driven family lawyers, keen to make their mark, as she explains:

“We’re always looking for individuals with a can-do attitude, to support the professionals around them, and also to learn from them.”

“Diversity of experience and thought is important to us – we have a diverse range of clients from across the UK, with specific needs and life experiences. We also want to work with professionals who want to make the most of opportunities beyond billing – those keen to flex their business development and collaboration muscles. We have the resources to help – and a great range of professional development training on offer to underpin that passion for personal and professional growth.”

The growth and value of family law in Wales is also noted in strength and depth of specialist family practitioners and work of Welsh chambers, the arrival of other national law firms, growing boutique practices and a rising interest from barristers and leading experts over the bridge to work on the complex and high value cases steered by lawyers in Wales.

This competition means family law firms are under constant pressure to offer greater value and point of difference to clients. Victoria believes this come downs to identifying and supporting clients’ needs holistically, having the freedom (and systems in place) to enable this pro-actively, whilst also being collaborative. This includes, she says, taking a common-sense approach in family matters that have seen a rise of Litigants in Person. With pressures on the family law and court system, lawyers need a good reputation amongst their peers to progress matters effectively, and with long-lasting positive outcomes, she suggests.

When it comes to client choice, Victoria believes there’s something for everyone in Wales and outlines where Hugh James’s family team will sit:

“We want family law at Hugh James to be more accessible and offer as much initial steering as we can to help clients make an informed choice; being transparent about the options available to them and where we as lawyers can add value. If a client can see that, and value your advice, they’re more likely to choose you.”

“I am very proud of this team and what we’re going to build at Hugh James, and we value the autonomy to get on building a service that we believe in, to help clients navigate the diversity of modern life, in a way they expect and value.”

Hugh James is by no means a new kid on the block but it’s refreshing to see even the most established firm in Wales can embrace and enable change, while offering junior lawyers a voice and process-establishing roles. All eyes will be on the team to see how it progresses and finds its own voice in a highly competitive market, particularly in South Wales where recruitment will be focused.

Emma Waddingham

Emma Waddingham

Editor, Legal News

Emma Waddingham is the Editor & Founder of Legal News. She is a seasoned legal editor and journalist and experienced marketing & events consultant, working almost exclusively with the UK legal sector.