1st September marks our 4th Birthday. What have we achieved over those four years? When Emily, Irena and I opened four years ago, we had a team of 8, with pa Lois joining us a few weeks in, making us 9. Four years on, we’re a team of 18, so have doubled in size.
But more importantly than simply growing the firm, we have also done a lot of what we set out to do – helping others. Apart from stating the obvious, helping our clients and the families we act for, we have also done much more than that.
We have helped our team. In the short space of time that we’ve been open, we have employed three apprentices. We have employed six paralegals at different stages of their careers. Beth, one of those paralegals, is about to become BH&O’s first trainee solicitor, starting her training contract with us on 1st September. In January, we will welcome Jade, from our friends at employment firm Crosslands LLP, to swap seats with Beth, so that they can both have a rounded training contract. Karen, one of our Consultant solicitors, has also qualified as a family mediator and will be joining me in re-launching and expanding our mediation department.
We have helped our community. We remain committed to helping small, medium and sometimes larger charities in Abingdon, Oxfordshire and beyond. I am a trustee at Abingdon Carousel, Emily is a trustee of Adoption UK, and Irena is a Trustee of Flag DV. But we also make sure that we raise funds for these three charities, and also volunteer for them. Our team also support this effort, and in particular, for Flag DV, six of our lawyers regularly provide free legal advice to victims of domestic abuse.
In addition to those three charities, the following charities and organisations have been supported by the BH&O team since we started: PACT, the Abingdon Christmas Toy Drive, Against Breast Cancer, Macmillan, London Legal Support Trust, South & Vale Citizen’s Advice, Alana House, Helen & Douglas House, The Abingdon Bridge, Blue Skye Thinking, The Oxford Playhouse, Music at the Unicorn, Abingdon Drama Club, the Amber Philpot Trust, Great Ormond Street Hospital Trust, and A2 Dominion. We also support some of the local schools and are looking at ways of providing some legal careers advice going forward to interested secondary school pupils.
Projects for our 5th year, include me taking part in a charity Fire Walk in November, to raise funds for The Abingdon Bridge and the mental health support they give to young people. We’re already into our 2nd year of sponsoring one of their six therapy rooms, and it really is a fantastic, but so needed, service for young people in South Oxfordshire and beyond.
We’re also sharpening up our baking skills for another Great Legal Bake offs. More of that soon!
Central to all of this, is our team’s desire to continue to provide the best quality legal advice and representation possible. Our matrimonial team are committed to thinking holistically about a client’s needs, and with that in mind, we have a relationship with two wonderful Therapists, who we can refer clients to, so that they can receive the right support to enable them to deal with the legal, financial and practical implications of their family difficulties. We are actively looking at ways of expanding this added service, particularly given the difficulties in finding support for mental health, but also for dealing with domestic abuse, substance issues, and so on, that often run alongside family breakdown.
Having the relationship with Lorinda and Daphne, also means that we can try and find ways of helping some of the parents that our Care Team act for in Care proceedings and related matters. With long NHS waiting lists for mental health support and treatment, we have managed on a number of occasions to find ways of supporting these parents to access help which has sometimes meant they have kept their child or had their child returned to them. We will actively be looking at ways of expanding this provision going into our 5th year, so watch this space!
Very early on, we also decided that as we were lucky enough to have the space in our office, with both a cellar and attic that were barely used, we could do something else to help our clients. We started a stock of baby and children’s clothes, and also baby equipment, such as cots, buggies and so on, so that when clients need items, we are often able to help them out. Our stock has continued, and even during the pandemic, we were able to lend or gift items to clients in need.
That brings me to mention the P or the C words…BH&O did what it could, to help its clients and team during the Covid Pandemic.
We were lucky in many respects, that we had only been open for around 18 months when the pandemic hit, and we went into the first lockdown. It all seems slightly surreal now, but we were actually in a fairly fortunate position, in that we were already largely paperless, and working in the Cloud. But we had no idea of just how essential that would be in March 2019….it meant that our entire team was able very quickly, and mostly easily (!) to instantly work from home. I remember sending some of the team home the week before the Lockdown was announced, telling them to make sure they had all the might need ‘for a few weeks’…but we not only managed, our team did brilliantly.
Not only did we think quickly and creatively for the team, but we did the same for our clients. We quickly converted one of our rooms into a virtual Court Room. At the height of the Pandemic, we regularly had not only our clients and their solicitor or barristers accessing their hearing remotely from our Court room, but some times had both parents and both their lawyers there. It was important to us that some of our most vulnerable clients could still not only attend their hearings using decent wifi on proper IT systems (as opposed to using their mobile phone), but that they could also ensure they had proper access to Court Bundles and support from their legal teams. In short, we made it a priority for them to have access to justice.
Alongside this, we were one of the first firms to sign up to the Only Mums and Dads Green Telephone Scheme at the start of the pandemic, which alongside our commitment to Flag DV clinics, made sure that we were providing free legal advice to many of those who needed it most. Irena and I both contributed to the books and online publications that Only Mums and Dads put out in Lockdown.
How are we celebrating our 4th Birthday? Well, we’re having cake (BH&O is powered by our stomachs!), and planning a well overdue party for our team, their partners and children. We’ve also undertaken a post pandemic tidy up, and are really looking forward to showing our historic office off to the public on Saturday 17th September, as part of the Heritage Open Weekend. We’re planning on sorting out some new Artwork for the office, and hope it will be ready to show off on 17th.