Joanna Abrahams is Head of Family at Setfords and one of the country’s leading specialists in parental alienation.
How does your day begin?I’m normally up at 6.20am to walk the dog then it’s back home to get the kids off to school. After that it will depend if I’m working from home or from the London office, or meeting a client or at court. Every day is different.
What prompted you to become a consultant?I was approached by someone who was recruiting and it came at the right time. My Head of Department had refused to let me go to sports day at my son’s school for no reason. And my firm had docked my pay for going to my father-in-law’s funeral. I work really, really hard and I realised there was no reason to feel loyalty. The big appeal at the time was my ability to balance childcare.
Has consultancy been what you expected?It has been better. I have earned better. It has given me huge amounts of freedom. I don’t have to ask anyone to do anything. For me it has been ideal, I really haven’t looked back.
It has given me huge amounts of freedom
Your specialism, parental alienation, has gained a lot of media attention during this past year, how did that come about?It was kick-started by Setfords’ PR department who got me in the Guardian and on BBC Two’s Victoria Derbyshire programme. But I took it and ran with it. I have written numerous articles, been on lots of radio programmes. You need to put the effort in. If the BBC’s Woman’s Hour calls and says they want you on the next day, you drop everything and do it. It is a lot of commitment. But it has been massive for our business. I am getting so many enquiries, which convert into work. It has been brilliant. To have the issue of parental alientation raised in a House of Commons debate earlier this year shows how far we have come in raising awareness. Hearing your name and that of your firm mentioned in such a setting is obviously a very proud moment.
What have been the greatest challenges of being a consultant?It took some getting used to being self-employed, having to do tax returns, VAT, all of that.
What have been the greatest benefits?Financially it has been a massive benefit. I’m head of a department of 30. I enjoy the set-up. It works for me. I like the fact that the harder you work, the more you earn and the fee split percentage goes up. You earn more. It is a very strong incentive. I know it sounds corny, but I also really like Chris, Guy and David. It makes a massive difference to like and respect your bosses.
Financially it has been a massive benefit
What is the most important thing someone considering becoming a consultant should know?You need to make sure you have a following. You have got to work really hard. Nothing is given to you on a plate. A family lawyer came to me the other day about joining the firm and I had to explain that you have got to be very active. You’ve got to think about how to generate work. Could you run a clinic? Could you find some local media work? I approached BBC3CR and do an advice clinic for them. You need to go to Setfords’ functions and talk to other fee earners. For example, with conveyancers, ask them to think of you when they are handling property sales when there is a divorce. Maybe their clients need a family lawyer. You will get sent some work but a lot is down to you. But if you do put the effort in the rewards are great, financially and career-wise. I’m really happy where I am.
What do your clients think about you being a consultant?All they know is I’m their lawyer. That’s all they care about.
How does your day end?I try and have a cut-off at 6pm and go and make dinner. I close the door of my study and try not to log-on in the evenings so I can spend time with my family. But it doesn’t always work out that way – the other night I got home at 11.45pm.