Naomi Angell tells us about her time at Osbornes Law
2023 is an auspicious year both for me and for the law firm, Osbornes Law, where I have worked for the last 20 years.
This year Osbornes is celebrating 50 years since its inception and has grown into a large firm covering most areas of law. It now has one of the largest family law departments in London. Osbornes covers all areas of family law from high net worth divorce and finance to child, abduction, adoption, and surrogacy. I am head of the Adoption, Surrogacy and Fertility Law unit.
For me, 2023 is an important year as it marks the 50th anniversary of my practice as a solicitor. In the early seventies I was just one of a handful of women training to be a solicitor. In court we had to be careful to wear discreet jewellery and fought for the right to wear trouser suits – which had to always be black. Thankfully, we have come a long way since then. Now more than 50% of new entrants to the profession are women; though we are still finding places to break through the glass ceiling as there are still obstacles that we face when trying to juggle our careers with family responsibilities.
During my career as a children’s lawyer I have witnessed far reaching changes in family and children’s law but particularly when it comes to the concept of ‘family’. Now heterosexual two parent families, bringing up their biological children, exist alongside families with cohabiting, gay or straight parents, step children and half brothers and sisters; children who have been fostered, adopted or born via surrogacy or assisted reproduction into gay, straight and single parent families. Societal changes have meant that these modern families are now mostly accepted as recognised pathways to parenthood. Research data has shown that these children fare as well as children of traditional families but, the key factor to this success is the parents’ openness with their children as to how they became a family and for there to be no family secrets about this.
What is also clear is that the law will always lag behind advances in medical science and that law changes – whilst happening – tend to change course very slowly.
The seismic change in society’s acceptance of alternative families is demonstrated for me by cases I fought in the seventies for women separating from their husbands and coming out as lesbians. If the husband contested custody of the children of the marriage, he would succeed without any consideration of the best interests of the children at being removed from their mother who had usually been their primary parent since birth. Now, the thread that runs through all children’s law is that the courts must treat as paramount, the best interests of the child in all decision making about their futures.
Among all the law changes – mostly for the better, if a little too late – reform of surrogacy law is the most recent and far reaching. The Law Commission’s review of the now nearly forty year old law on surrogacy, recommends ‘root and branch’ as no longer ‘fit for purpose’. With surrogacy finally being recognised as an accepted way to create a family, a new structure is proposed for domestic surrogacy, which will make intended parents (IPs) the child’s legal parent from birth, with a short period of time post birth for the surrogate to change her mind. It is anticipated that this will be very rare as the new pathway only applies to surrogacies conducted through recognised clinics, when all arrangements are agreed between the surrogate and the IPs before the birth and there will be counselling for all throughout the process.
The new pathway will not apply to international surrogacy arrangements. It is the Law Commissions hope that, with the fundamental changes to law on domestic surrogacy, there will be fewer IPs who choose the expensive and uncertain route of international surrogacy.
Currently the Law Commission’s proposed reforms are in a draft bill and for this to be taken forward it needs the support of either the current or the next government. So sadly, it is likely to be some years before the Law Commission’s proposed reforms come to fruition.
If asked what the highlights of my career are, it has to be the master class of how to adopt. I learnt on the job the English court adoption process and how to gain recognition in this country of the international adoptions of our three, now grown up children.
Looking back on my long career in law, what advice would I give to young lawyers just starting out? I have been lucky enough to enjoy nearly every chapter of my legal career and still continue to do so. If you are lucky enough to find something that you cherish, commit to and feel passionate about, stick with it and you will thrive.