Barbara Corbett, Partner, Hanson Renouf
How long have you been working for your current company?
Since September 2007
Briefly explain your career history and what led you to your current position.
After completing my law degree in 1981 I brought up my 5 children, doing voluntary work and sitting as a magistrate, until the youngest went to school. I then obtained an LLM in Welfare Law and the LPC before starting as a trainee at Brethertons in Rugby in 1996, qualifying in 1998. I became a partner there in 2002. I had been doing some family law consultancy work in Jersey from 2003, through contacts of my husband, a London QC, who was involved in off-shore trusts litigation. By 2007, all the children having left home for university, I realised that I didn’t need to be on hand for the school run any more, so could spread my wings. I had worked with Tim Hanson, founding partner of Hanson Renouf and asked if he was looking for a family lawyer. My call coincided with the firm moving to new offices with space for a family department, so I came to Jersey to establish the Hanson Renouf Family Department. Not having rights of audience in Jersey was incredibly frustrating, so I embarked on the first Jersey Law Course at the Jersey Institute of Law in 2009, being one of the first students of the Institute to be called as a Jersey advocate in September 2010. I became a partner of Hanson Renouf in April 2011. In 2012, having out-grown the offices which were new in 2007, the firm is locating to 12 Hill Street, the traditional home of lawyers in Jersey.
What is your proudest professional achievement and why?
Qualifying as a Jersey advocate. The exams have a reputation for being hard, but this is more because of the amount of information to be mastered rather than the complexity. As well as procedure the substantive law which has to be learned includes Jersey customary law, which is written in Norman French! As I was impatient to qualify, I undertook all 6 exams in one academic year, which necessitated long hours of study while working, and then study leave where I and my fellow students felt we were living at the Institute of Law as we were there from 8am to 9.30pm each day. We had our food in the Institute fridge and some even dried their shorts on the radiator after their morning swim!
What are the greatest challenges that you face in your current role and what do you do to overcome them?
Jersey divorce law needs modernising. The challenge of this can be met to an extent by promoting good practice and a conciliatory approach. For the things that really need a change in the law, providing information to the Law Commission and encouraging changes to the law by Jersey States members is the way forward.
How difficult is it for you personally to attain work-life balance and how do you endeavour to do this?
I live 10 minutes walk from the office in a beautiful location and I have a passion for my work.
Did you have a mentor or role model in your career or while you were studying law? Who were they and how did they help you?
My first training principal, Ian Walker inspired me in respect of family law, I was given lots of help in the early days from the barristers at St Philips Chambers in Birmingham, especially Vanessa Meachin. In Jersey Tim Hanson has encouraged and supported me by having exacting standards and not being afraid to put his head above the parapet and letting me do the same.
How effective do you think corporate diversity initiatives are? What methods do you think are most effective and why?
At each firm I have been a part of, there has been diversity without any particular initiative. As I work in an area of law in which there is a majority of women, the problem in larger firms can be convincing others of the value of family law. That is not a problem at my present firm, largely because of the background of the partners and the size of the firm. Specific methods to increase diversity are not as effective as having an open attitude. It is essential to remain vigilant.
Were there any points in your career when you felt you were at a disadvantage or at an advantage because you were female?
There were times in the past when I have felt at a disadvantage because family law does not have the status of other areas of law and this may be because it is an area of law which is seen to be “women’s work” and therefore of lower importance, but this can also apply to criminal law, which is not considered to be a female area. The different ways in which men and women work can sometimes create challenges, but I would not categorise this as putting me at a disadvantage. I have found that being female can be an advantage in court.
What do you think have been the most significant changes for women in the legal industry over the past five years?
I think that the biggest changes have actually been incremental ones. As more women enter the profession and make their way to partnership and onto the bench the more it becomes accepted that they should be there. In Jersey, the establishment of the Institute of Law has enabled more people with family responsibilities to study law.