I founded Ian Walker Family Law and Mediation Solicitors from scratch in 2012. We are now one of the South West leading Family Law Solicitors practices with an exceptionally experienced team. We hold the Law Society Lexcel Accreditation for excellence in Legal Practice.
In 2020 we were named the boutique law firm of the year (11+ employees) at the Modern Law Awards 2020. In 2019 I was highly commended at the Law Society Recognising Excellence Awards in the category of Practice Manager. These are prestigious national recognitions.
My Previous Career
I qualified as a Solicitor in 1992. At a very early stage, I also qualified as a neutral family mediator in 1996. A neutral mediator assists clients to find solutions through voluntary, structured and confidential negotiations.
I moved to Devon in 1999. Before this I had trained in Southampton (my training principle; Ivor Weintroub later became a District Judge at Portsmouth and then Bournemouth County Court). My pre-Devon career included spells with West Midlands firm Brethertons and Trumps (who became TLT shortly afterwards) in Bristol.
Most of my career in Devon was with Tozers in Exeter where I was promoted to being a salaried Partner. I also spent time with Foot Anstey and Plymouth firm – Nash and Co.
Prior to founding Ian Walker Family Law and Mediation Solicitors I had also served on the Law Society Family Law Committee and been elected as a trustee of the Family Mediators Association as well as serving my first term as Chair of Resolution’s Devon region.
However, by 2012 I found myself at a crossroads. Whilst I had worked with some outstanding family solicitors, I felt that the time had arrived to do my own thing.
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- Getting ready in 2012
The groundwork for Ian Walker Family Law and Mediation Solicitors was laid in 2012.
In the 2012 legal aid contract bidding round I successfully applied for contracts for legal aid for family law and for family mediation and successfully passed a desktop audit for the legal aid agency Specialist Quality Mark. This was the practice management standards required by the legal aid agency to be successful in the contract bid. I had previously been the partner responsible for legal aid matters at Tozers and had overseen successful contract bids for Nash and Co., including a successful bid in the contentious 2010 tender process. I therefore knew what was required and I held all the necessary accreditations to be successful (Law Society Children Panel, Law Society Family Mediation Panel and Resolution Specialist Accreditation including a specialism for domestic abuse).
I decided to base the practice in Honiton because I had correctly taken the view that there would be demand for a specialist family law service in East Devon. I had also discovered East Devon Business Centre in Honiton. This provided a perfect location.
- Getting started in 2013.
The timing of the legal aid contract tender was such that the business technically started trading at the end of 2012 – but the reality was how we did not start actively trading until the spring of 2013.
What I wanted to achieve
I founded Ian Walker Family Law and Mediation Solicitors because I wanted to work in a flexible and agile practice which was totally focused on family law and family mediation and where I could use technology to build a progressive practice in order to assist our clients find the best solutions to their cases in the best way.
I was by this stage a combination of being an experienced family law specialist solicitor, and experienced family mediator. By this stage I was a supervisor of other mediators and was an early adopter of the hybrid model of family mediation (which combines the best of the civil mediation process with the family mediation process – see our pages on hybrid mediation to learn more. I had been trained in this by Henry Brown who was one of the pioneers of family mediation in the UK and who had also trained me as a mediator in 1996. I was also trained in Collaborative Family Law at an early stage. Collaborative family law is sort of a combination of mediation and traditional family law practice. There is more about collaborative family law on our collaborative family law pages. In my view this is probably the process best suited for resolving financial issues on divorce.
Having expertise in these different family dispute resolution models meant that I was able to assist clients to identify the dispute resolution process which was best suited to their family situation.
I was lucky that legal technology had also advanced so that I was able to utilise a cloud-based case management system (with legal cashiering support).
- Early years 2013 – 2015
My view that there would be a demand for the flexible family law practice that I was offering was correct and by 2015 I was very busy.
The mediation tender of 2012 invited mediation services to open outreach locations. The reason for this was because there were/are not that many accredited mediators. I initially registered a number of outreach locations including in Exeter, Cullompton and Taunton.
By 2015 the Taunton outreach was starting to become popular – not only for family mediation but also for family law work.
By the start of 2015 there was too much work to do by myself and I was receiving too many enquiries and I therefore reached another crossroads. I had the choice of either starting to build a team or to start turning types of family work away. I decided that the better option was to expand.
- 2015 – 2020
In 2015 I gained my first colleague in the form of Chartered Legal Executive Karen Elliott. (Karen had previously worked with Somerset firms Porter Dodson and KSFLP)
Before I knew it the team expanded further and over the next few years, we gained the outstanding Kim Stradling – a highly respected child law specialist (who had been partner and head of family Law at Everys), and other experienced family lawyers: Sandy Powell, Fiona Griffin, David Howell Richardson and Nicole Phare.
Growth created further challenges and we started to build a team to provide administrative support to our growing team of lawyers.
By 2019 we had reached another crossroads. We have grown from one room and one desk to having four rooms at East Devon Business Centre and 15 desks as well as permanent rooms in Exeter Taunton, Torquay, Weston-super-Mare and Yeovil.
It was clear that we had outgrown our office space in Honiton and we would need to relocate.
- 2020 Onward
2020 has seen us move to our own offices at Vantage Point, Pynes Hill, Exeter. Unfortunately we could not find suitable offices around Honiton. With the move we have retained our original room at East Devon Business Centre as an outreach location.
The offices at Vantage Point are modern offices and will allow us to grow further. We chose this location because it was on the edge of Exeter and would therefore be easily accessible to East Devon clients as well as clients from around Devon and Exeter itself. Pynes Hill is very near the motorway junction and to IKEA and Sandy Park. This accessibility was important to us. We also have a very good allocation of parking spaces.
We wanted to avoid the drawbacks of being based in the city centre. We are conscious that Exeter is congested and parking is expensive.
Planning for the move also allowed us to review our structure generally and as part of the same planning process we have expanded our team to include Lauren Preedy (who joins as head of our divorce team), Kris Seed as head of private law children and Paul Jacobs a management accountant who joined as head of finance. We have additional solicitor joining as head of our childcare law team. I remain as head of mediation.
The team will have grown to 12 experienced solicitors and legal executives by the autumn of 2020.
Covid 19 has been a challenge to us as it has been to many businesses. The court remained open during the peak of the crisis and we therefore remained open as well. Lots of court business moved to videoconference platforms and although we had the technology of Microsoft Teams we had not been using it as efficiently as we should have been.
Meetings by Microsoft Teams have been very popular and we believe will remain so. The time savings for court hearings by videoconference (particularly the straightforward procedural hearings) have been really helpful – as our advocates have been saved considerable amounts of time.
We had already had the technology for homeworking and flexible working – so we were able to take lockdown in our stride.
During the spring of 2020 we were able to expand our oerall network to add Plymouth, Bristol, Bath, Wells and Shaftesbury.
Our intention was always to provide accessible advice and with the combination of out network of locations and use of technology we are really able to do this. It is daft to ask clients to have our team travel 30/40/50 minutes to work every day to see clients who are travelling 30/40/50 minutes in order to meet them – when they could either meet by videoconference or at a location perhaps 10 minutes from both.
With our internal restructure and office move and team growth and expansion of locations – we are now set for the next stage of our development.
Our ongoing mission statement
The objective remains very much the same as when we started.
This is to give clients the benefits of benefits of instructing a niche practice (highly specialist expertise) but combined with the accessibility of the High Street and the discipline and quality control of the more commercial practices. Internally the objective also remains that our practice should be an enjoyable place to work. Where teamwork and sharing expertise is encouraged.
In 2019/2020 we have taken on our first cohort of trainee solicitors. All three are first-time graduates and their families. We want to be growing our own team of future solicitors and if we can improve access to the legal profession then even better
We will also be taking further stock about technology and processes over the next few months to see how we can improve things further
But 2020 sees us having grown from being one man and a computer to a team of 12 experienced family solicitors and chartered legal executives and one of the largest and most experienced family law practices in the South-West. Our goal remains the same – to do the very best for our clients and in the right way – and this will always remain the case…