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Lucy O’Donnell Interviews Alistair Myles

This month our Lucy O’Donnell, Student Director, spoke with Alistair Myles who has been supervising students at BPP for 10 years!


Alistair Myles has been acting as a supervisor for the BPP Family Clinic for over ten years. Alistair practises in all areas of family law, with particular expertise in complex financial remedy cases, including those with international elements and/or complicated asset structures. Alistair always had an interest in law, but decided first to study French and Spanish at university. Alistair did some vacation schemes during university and, having concluded that he still wished to pursue a career in law, he studied the GDL and then the LPC at BPP. Alistair is ranked as a leading individual in the Legal 500, Chambers & Partners and Chambers HNW guides.

Journey into Family Law

When Alistair completed his legal studies, he did not have a training contract lined up. Instead, Alistair undertook some work experience at a family law firm, Levison Meltzer Pigott. Prior to this, Alistair had not considered a career in family law, thinking that he would prefer a more commercial practice. This work experience involved a week sitting in the High Court in a leave to remove case, which Alistair found very interesting. Shortly after, one of the paralegals at the firm left, and Alistair was asked whether he would like to step into this role. Alistair accepted, intending to continue applying for jobs in the commercial sphere. However, Alistair never left family law, and persuaded Levison Meltzer Pigott to offer him a training contract. Alistair remained at this firm, working his way up to partner, until two years ago when he left to set up his own firm. Alistair’s journey into family law is an important reminder of the alternative routes to qualifying, beyond the graduate training contract schemes. Moreover, an openness to different areas of practice can completely alter your legal journey for the better.

I asked Alistair what it was that compelled him to stay in family practice. He told me that it was a combination of things, but mostly the fact that in family law, you deal directly with people. This interaction with individuals and what they want to achieve has a real impact on them and their future lives. Often in family law, clients come to you in distressing circumstances. As a family lawyer, you try to resolve matters so that the next stage of your client’s life is much happier and easier. You work to put the client in the best position to deal with the future, financially and/or in relation to their children, which is extremely rewarding. Alistair further highlighted that no one case in family law is the same, meaning that you encounter different facts and issues in each case. The variety of issues means that you may be dealing with questions in different areas of law, such as property, immigration, or company. The result is that family practitioners confront a broad spectrum of legal issues on a daily basis, which Alistair enjoys.

Experience at the BPP Family Clinic

In Alistair’s view, the pro bono clinic offers you invaluable, hands-on experience, and so he would recommend that students engage with it in any way that they can. Firstly, Alistair considers that the clinic enables you to develop skills in relation to client meetings. These include confidence conducting first meetings with clients, knowing the right questions to ask, and not omitting to address anything important. Alistair thinks that a good client meeting requires you not to ask every possible question, but instead to analyse the case, understand what information you need, and ask appropriate questions accordingly. The clinic teaches you to think about the case, what the client wants to achieve, and in result what information is helpful to know. Alistair regards this as a vital skill for practice, so that time is efficiently and effectively used.

Secondly, Alistair thinks that drafting letters of advice furthers this development of practical skills. He pointed out that much of studying law is hypothetical, and therefore it is useful to supplement legal studies with the clinic, which requires practical advice and more accurately reflects what you will be doing in your future careers. Alistair remarked that summarising information and distilling it into a written letter of advice takes skill and experience, which volunteering with the clinic can provide. Additionally, understanding how best to structure advice after meeting a client takes practice. These day-to-day skills cannot be learned in a textbook.

I inquired whether the clinic had changed at all during the time that Alistair has been involved with it. Alistair informed me that the main change is that appointments are now by video link, which is much more representative of how client meetings are conducted in practice. It is encouraging that the clinic is a realistic representation of practice, and thus volunteering with it will have direct application. Alistair also commented that the standard of interviewing techniques and final advice given by students is getting better and better. Finally, Alistair observed that there is a broader range of client and a wider scope of subjects on which clients seek advice. This means that students can expect exposure to more diverse topics than previously.

Advice for Aspiring Lawyers

Alistair sees the key strength of a family lawyer to be in good people skills. Alistair indicated that the academic learning required for family law is not extensive, because there is not a huge amount of statute and case law. Therefore, Alistair perceives the most valuable skills for aspiring family lawyers to develop as those relating to building relationships. Alistair emphasised that it is important to be able to communicate with clients from all walks of life, establish a rapport, find out what it is that the client wants and/or needs, and then assess how achievable that is. He stressed that family lawyers need to have the strength to tell clients that the outcome they seek is impossible and ask very personal questions to facilitate proper advice. Alistair said that although these are skills that can be developed over time, the more experience and exposure that aspiring lawyers can get early on is key. Alistair suggested that the best way to get such experience is through volunteering with the clinic or similar organisations. Alistair further advised that it is useful to do such volunteering in the area of law that you think you may be interested in, as it can confirm your interest or put you off – either of which Alistair considers equally useful.

Given that Alistair specialises in complex financial work, I wondered whether he had any advice in approaching this particular area, as many students find it more challenging. Alistair himself enjoys this area of family law as he is very mathematical, likes working out corporate structures and trusts from an asset schedule, and then applying the law to the numbers on the page to produce an outcome for the client. However, Alistair admitted that financial work can be quite daunting, especially if a client has fairly complicated finances, because it becomes more difficult to ascertain what assets there are. Alistair informed me that it is best to focus on the legal principles, which mean that you know what to look for, what the court will be looking for, and the factors that the court will apply. Alistair advised me that this is the best approach to every case, and that the more financial work you do, the more confident you become in assessing what the likely outcome of the case is. Alistair revealed that early on in his career, he always found cases with a lower financial value more difficult, as it was harder to split the assets fairly between clients, but that it ultimately came down to practice. Alistair recommended making use of the many resources online if there is some element of the financial makeup of a client that you do not quite understand. Alistair also suggested looking at company accounts and trust deeds to make yourself more familiar with the format of those documents and to help you to know what to look out for.

Recent Changes in Financial Remedies

Alistair explained that one of the major recent changes in financial remedy work is the advent of private FDRs and arbitration. This means that clients are more commonly acting outside of court, largely due to the delays in the court system, which have been exacerbated by Covid-19. Alistair commented that as a family practitioner, he is being encouraged to achieve as much as possible through out-of-court dispute resolution. Alistair revealed that the rate of success of private FDRs is much greater than normal FDRs, because clients get their own judge, have all day, and are thus more likely to settle. Alistair says this has changed his practice, in that he acts in fewer trials than he used to, which he views as good news for clients.

Another change has been the introduction of no-fault divorce, the effects of which Alistair considers more difficult to quantify. Alistair was very supportive of the move to no-fault divorce and remains that way, because it removes the initial animosity that clients previously experienced at the beginning of the process. Alistair saw the old system as unhealthy, because the assignment of blame meant the case would start acrimoniously without any necessary fault from either party. Alistair observed that very rarely can sole blame for the breakdown of a marriage be placed on one person. Now, the process of divorce is less acrimonious, which Alistair hopes feeds into financial discussions, meaning that settlement can happen on a more even temperature.

If you are interested in a recent change that Alistair himself was part of, then you may want to read Haley v Haley [2020] EWCA Civ 1369, in which Alistair acted for the husband. This case set out the routes of appeal available to family law arbitration. Prior to this case, the suggestion was that it was very difficult to appeal family law arbitration. However, the husband’s team were able to successfully establish that the test to challenge a family law arbitration is the same as an appeal of a family court decision. Alistair confirmed that it was immensely satisfying on a professional basis to be involved with changes in and clarifications to the law. However, Alistair did add that the big cases are not always the most rewarding, but instead those where settlement is reached quickly in the client’s favour with minimal fuss. For Alistair, to know that you have avoided putting your client through a year of exhausting litigation is the most satisfying outcome.

It was a pleasure to interview Alistair for this feature and he has provided some extremely useful insight for those who are interested in family law and/or the benefits of working with the clinic.