egg meets …Philippa Cunniff, Family Lawyer Gilson Gray

egg meets …Philippa Cunniff, Family Lawyer Gilson Gray

a month agoPosted in Egg Partners

Philippa grew up in Kildare in the Republic of Ireland but moved to Scotland as a teenager and has been here ever since. She’s now Partner and Head of Family Law at Gilson Gray, an Edinburgh-based full-service law firm, covering legal issues, property, and finance. Here she talks to egg about how experiences shaped her life and shares her top tips for anyone going through a separation or divorce…

Why did you choose to specialise in family law?

My parents had a particularly unpleasant divorce, which took years to works its way through the courts. I feel that gave me a really good insight into the personal perspective of how difficult it is to deal with separation/divorce. I didn’t have any contact with my father after I turned 16 (which in the circumstances was the right decision), and that has underlined for me the importance of maintaining relationships where they can be maintained, but also that in some, very limited circumstances, that isn’t the right thing to do.

What are you most proud about?

Being ranked as one of the top family lawyers in Scotland consistently for the past 14 years

What actually is family law?

 It covers a huge range of issues, from negotiating and drafting Separation Agreements to dealing with the financial and child-related arrangements following a relationship breakdown to handling litigations (divorce, child-related cases, applications for emergency orders – interdict/non-harassment orders aka “restraining orders”). It also covers orders to prevent assets being moved, financial cases and Prenuptial Agreements.

What side of family law do you focus on and how can you help someone?

I deal with the full range of family law work, but probably deal more with financial cases (though these often involve children too). I also do a lot of international and cross-border work (I’m dual qualified in English Law too) and a significant amount of asset protection work.

How do you make a difference?

I try to remember that clients aren’t just a legal problem – they’re people who often struggling. I think my own personal experience with my parents’ divorce has given me empathy in that respect. It can be easy to focus on the legal aspects and overlook the fact that clients do need support that goes beyond that.

Your top tips for someone going through a separation or divorce?

Plan ‘A’ should always be to deal with things in a non-acrimonious a way as possible, particularly if you have children. No matter how much you might feel angry with/hurt by the other party to the relationship, if you have children together you have to bear in mind that you will have to co-parent with that person. It will be easier for the kids if you can at least be civil to one another – that doesn’t mean that you have to pretend everything is fine when it isn’t, but letting the children see that it’s OK to have a relationship with the other parent is important.

Get advice early. Think of it as an information gathering exercise rather than anything else. People worry that “going to a lawyer” means committing to an expensive process – sometimes that is necessary, but often it’s just about being armed with the information to allow you to have constructive discussions. I’ll often have an initial meeting and send the client off to have a discussion with their partner. It’s not uncommon for them to come back having reached agreement in at least some things. That said, ALWAYS have any Agreement checked over by a lawyer before you sign it.

Also, listen to the advice you’re paying for and bear in mind that well-meaning friends and family may unintentionally give you unrealistic expectations. We fairly often have situations where we have to moderate expectations where a client has been told by a friend/Uncle who was a conveyancing lawyer in England in the 80s that they are entitled to XYZ. Even where the “advice” is coming from someone who has gone through a divorce themselves, their situation may be very different to yours.

Finally, remember that you can only control your side – if your partner was unreasonable when you were together, they may be equally unreasonable when you separate. Make sure you have a good lawyer, keep your chin up and you’ll get there.

Best part of your job?

Seeing people come through what is often the worst experience of their life and moving on to better things. A recurring theme when speaking to clients, months or years later, is that despite going through what can be a really traumatic time, they do find happiness again.

Who inspires you?

My daughters – all of the things I thought about parenting have gone out the window as they’ve got older. I’ve tried hard to be a good example for them as a working Mum, and that will be even more important as they get older.

Your top tip for working mums?

Get all the help you can. We were very lucky to have a nanny for many years, having her was a Godsend.

Fun fact?

Our house is always full of very lovely wine - my husband is a winemaker! I also hum all the time. Half the time I don’t even know I’m doing it, but it ranges from jaunty little tunes when I’m in a good mood to death march style when I’m annoyed.

How do you spend your weekend?

Walking the dog at the park, hanging round the stables waiting for my horse-mad daughter or just at home eating.

Your New Year’s resolution? 

To go on a safari! We did a few days of safari for our honeymoon about 15 years ago and I would love to go back and experience it again.

Listen to our conversation with Philippa on the egg talks to...podcast here.

Gilson Gray are egg sponsors. They are a full-service law firm, covering legal issues, property, and finance. Read more here.

Gilson Gray offer exclusive rates for egg members, send a query here.

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