IAML Studentship Winner - Maya Kaye

Posted: 14 Oct 2013

For a second year, the International Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (IAML) ran an essay competition for those studying Family Law at the University of Cambridge. Applicants were asked to submit an essay on any area of Family Law, along with their C.V and references. Two winners were selected, winning the prize of a studentship with an IAML member anywhere in the world. My entry was successful, enabling me to partake in a studentship with Larry Moskowitz, at his firm Perry, Johnson, Anderson, Miller and Moskowitz (‘Perry Law’) in Santa Rosa, California, for a month, this August.

My experience could not have been better. Not only was I given the opportunity to spend time with different attorneys, but the paralegals and other staff took the time to show me what their respective roles were in ensuring the success of the firm. As well as shadowing attorneys, both at Court, in client meetings, and in mediations, I was given my own tasks. By way of an introduction to Californian Matrimonial Law, I familiarized myself with sections of the Family Code, thinking about how certain provisions could apply to the facts in some of the cases the firm was currently dealing with. As I gained more insight into how the firm practiced, I helped by summarizing depositions for paralegals, helping writing e-mails to clients, drafting legal documents including Requests for Order and a Memorandum of Key Points and Authorities, and doing legal research for the attorneys. I was introduced to the Californian Child and Spousal support software, ‘Dissomaster'. I used this to make my own estimation of what the spousal support for one of our clients should be, using my own figure of the ‘Marital Standard of Living’, as though I were the Forensic Accountant. The figure I came to was significantly different to the final amount settled upon, although Larry assures me that my methodology was on the right lines.

As well as working on cases involving Californian clients, I particularly enjoyed working with Larry on a case where our client was both a Citizen and Resident of another country altogether. Although working across time-zones added another hurdle to overcome, alongside the questions of what country it would be best to go to Court in, and thus which deadlines needed to be adhered to, this added to the excitement of the work. I loved the feeling of being able to help the client on the other end of the phone. Clients may not be impoverished, ill, or in any danger, but what I learnt was that their family problems consume their whole life. A Family Lawyer, as well as dealing with statute and case Law, doubles up as somebody who helps their client to piece their life back together, moving them forwards. Larry told me that what he enjoyed about practicing Family Law was that he was dealing with people, rather than corporations, governmental entities and agencies, and other ‘faceless’ clients. To supplement seeing Family Lawyers working to improve the lives of their clients, I was pleasantly surprised that both the Lawyers at Perry Law and their opposing attorneys, appeared to approach their cases in good-faith. What I learned was that Family Lawyers are not setting out to pull sly tricks on their opposing counsel; the sort you would expect to see in episodes of ‘Suits’. Of course, initial settlement offers never appeared to be the most realistic figures on either side’s part, but ultimately the goal would be to find a compromise, and end the litigation. The main aim of a Family Lawyer is to resolve their clients’ problems, and from what I saw, there was no room for wasting time on politics.

During my stay, both Larry and his colleagues did everything they could to show me some of the highlights of Santa Rosa, and the San Francisco Bay Area. As well as staying amongst the impressive Redwood trees of Sonoma County, I was taken to visit ‘The City’ of San Francisco, to shop, sight-see and attend a Giants baseball game. I spent Labour Day week end visiting Berkeley University, and visiting local wineries of the region: Jacuzzi and Gloria Ferrer to name a few. Of course, one of my favorite highlights was being invited to watch Larry’s band ‘Court ‘n Disaster’ play at the Cloverdale Car and Motorcycle show, whom I thoroughly recommend to any IAML members thinking of attending a gig. Everyone was kind and welcoming both inside and outside the office. Only in California would I have received cookies to welcome me to the firm!

For young aspiring British Lawyers, gaining an insight into the practicalities of Family Law is nowhere near as accessible as other areas of the Law. Many Family Law specialists are reluctant to take younger students on for work experience, understandably, due to the sensitive nature of the work. But this, coupled with the fact that many family cases, in Britain, are not open to the public, means that Undergraduate Law students, like myself, have not had a chance to explore the possibility of becoming Family Lawyers by the time we graduate, and start choosing our career paths. Studying Family Law, as with any area of the Law, academically, as interesting as it may be, does not give you a taste of what the practical job will entail. Having now done my studentship, I believe that this must be particularly true of Family Law. No textbook or lecture can teach you why the dynamics between your client and their family are as they are, let alone how they will treat you personally as their Lawyer. Instead, at my University at least, we are left the audience of many of the large Corporate Law firms, who wish to attract as many good Law students as possible by hosting functions and presentations. Having to choose between this sort of career, or going into an area of Law which you have only studied for one year, is not a hard decision for most.

The purpose of the IAML studentship is to give Law students the opportunity to see Family Law in action. It has demonstrated to me that a career in Family Law could be just as challenging, varied and rewarding as working in a City Law firm. Working in Family Law also carries the possibility of an international element; often something that corporate Law firms have focused on at career talks and events. The international element of Family Law is exciting, in that it allows a Lawyer to continue their legal education by learning the Law of another jurisdiction. Today, more than ever, where families have the ability to travel, the multi-jurisdictional nature of the work provides a challenge. Now, having been exposed to the Family Law of California, it is something that I can take with me, and build upon, wherever I choose to qualify.

I cannot express how thankful I am to the IAML, and for Larry, for giving me this opportunity. Perhaps one day I will be able to return the favour to the IAML.

Maya Kaye, Pembroke College, Cambridge

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