Will’s interest in law began in his school years when history was his favourite subject and he had a very developed sense of justice and fairness. Becoming a lawyer was a natural step and he loved learning about the Acts of Parliament and the cases that set precedents that regulate everything we do. Having qualified as a lawyer, 26 years ago, Will noticed his passion lay in the justice system and welcomed the opportunity to apply what he had learnt to practical circumstances. Helping people involved in the Justice system became his focus and passion as he considers this is at the beating heart of the justice system. He moved through his legal education at University and training at law school until he became a trainee solicitor right here in Plymouth. This is where he discovered his love for Family Law because, after all, Family Law is all about principles – right and wrong, fairness and justice.
Family Lawyers aim to protect the rights and responsibilities of family members across a wide spectrum of situations including separation, divorce, finances relating to the divorce including division of the assets, who gets to keep the house, what level of maintenance is paid and how pensions could be shared. This is Will’s main area of expertise, as well as helping parents to resolve disputes relating to their children: who will the children reside with, how often will the parents spend time with their children or which school they go to? Separation and divorce are highly stressful and emotionally difficult for anyone going through them, but especially difficult for parents who may see as much of their children as they had been used to. Woollcombe Yonge are there to support Mums and Dads, Husbands and Wives through these difficult times.
Woollcombe Yonge also assist parents where they are in involved with social services and where their children are at risk of being removed from the parent’s care by social services.
Will joined the Woollcombe Yonge Family Law team 3 years ago when, at the time, the firm had three members in the department. Since Will joined the team he has worked hard to expand the department to a team of 11. It is Will’s ambition to grow the team even more, to be able to service their client’s needs. It is therefore no surprise that Woollcombe Yonge are passionate about encouraging and training their staff to be the best they can be. Three of those team members are currently undergoing training within Woollcombe Yonge to advance to higher levels, whether that is to be a solicitor, legal executive or paralegal.
“For virtually anyone in the world, the most important thing in their lives is their children and when relationships come to an end, they will fight tooth and nail over for their rights to spend time with them, which is why I took an interest in Family Law” said Will.
Will recognises that Court hearings can be brutal battles which encourages parties to say things they never would normally say or want to say about their former partners, in order to get the judge’s attention. Will has been conducting court cases for 26 years and is highly experienced and capable at guiding client’s through the maze of complex laws and procedures that court cases involve. Will and his team support clients through these issues with sensitivity, clear advice tailored to the client’s circumstances from the very first meeting and a focus on reaching solutions as quickly and cheaply as possible. Will has a reputation as an authoritative and fierce advocate.
Will, having been a litigator for 26 years, also recognises the benefits of alternative ways of resolving family disputes and therefore trained to be a mediator and collaborative lawyer. Along with his law qualifications and experience as a solicitor, Will is the only qualified accredited practising Solicitor Mediator and collaborative lawyer in Plymouth, which gives him an almost unique understanding of the issues face when separating and how any family dispute can be settled. Will’s main role in the company is undertaking divorce finance work and the divorce itself, and he sees mediation and the collaborative process as excellent alternative processes to court proceedings due to their promotion of good communication, their forward-looking focus, of promoting co-parenting, and on amicable and constructive solutions in the best interests of the whole the family.
This is why Will and his team would almost always recommend trying mediation and collaborative law, before going to court.
Mediation is the process by which two parties engage in a series of round table meetings, in the same room with one neutral facilitator, the mediator. The mediator helps them to try to resolve their issues amicably. During mediation, the mediator creates a level playing field and focuses primarily on the future of their children. Will asks questions such as, “Where do you see yourself with your children and the other party in 5 years? What would it look like? And what would it look like if your youngest child gets married at the age of 30, where would you like to be then?” This enables parents to focus their minds on the best interests of their children. This process is all about how the mediator can help separated parents to co-parent these children and hopefully avoid long term conflict. Will points that it is crucial that children understand that both of their parents still love them and will co-operate together to do their best for them throughout their childhood.
A common question Will is asked is, ‘Why do I need mediation? I could just talk to the other person?’ However, that rarely ever works because there is often too much distrust or bitterness. This is where the mediator can help as the mediator is neutral and independent and there to help both parties reach decisions that will affect their long-term futures as well as their children’s.
The Collaborative process is a different type of dispute resolution where each party has a specially trained solicitor assisting them, in which the discussions take place with all in the same room. The parties must sign a contract which outlines that if either party cannot reach an agreement then the solicitors will not go to court for them. In the 22 years that Will has undertaken collaborative cases, only 1 case could not be resolved and had to go to court, with different solicitors assisting the parties. The Collaborative process is very difficult to walk away from due to the emotional commitment everyone makes and as it becomes incredibly costly to take it to court, due to new lawyers having to take over.
However, some cases are not suited to mediation or the collaborative process and are better dealt with in court. In certain cases, for example where children or adults are the victims of any kind of abuse, then mediation or collaborative law should not be an option. Will is always conscious of issues of abuse and the protection of children and adults from harm.
Will spent 15 years doing care work, where social services intervene to protect children. He learnt that everyone deserves the right to fight for their child. Most people who have their children taken away from them usually have underlining problems themselves such as learning disabilities, personality disorders or drugs and alcohol issues. Many have been abused themselves. They are often vulnerable themselves and struggle to care for their children. This is where Will and his team come in, to defend the parents and by putting forward all of the client’s best interests to give them a fighting chance of keeping the children in their care. The children’s protection and welfare are of course the paramount concerns of the court, but the parents need to be had their views heard by the court.
“You could be sent to prison” said Will “committing a crime, but having your kids taken away from you is probably the most draconian thing we do as a society.”
When speaking to Will, it came as a gratifying surprise as to how well the company have coped during the Coronavirus pandemic. Woollcombe Yonge are fortunate to have fantastically robust IT systems. Therefore, when the day came at the beginning of the first lockdown, all members of staff received a laptop so they could work with immediately and with ease from home. They were able to rapidly adapt to the new way of working and found that it came with some benefits. The amount of paperwork for one court case mounts up to 1000s of pages, this is then re-printed for the barrister, one for the judge, one for the parties and one for any witnesses and are then confidentially destroyed soon after. Will is now almost 100% paperless, with everything is secured in state-of-the-art computer files which therefore means the carbon footprint for the firm has dramatically reduced.
All meetings and court hearings are currently conducted via telephone or video call so there is no need to jump in your car anymore which also helps to reduce carbon emissions. There is a worry that things, as they always do, will slowly slide back to the way they once were but it is Will’s hope that they can be mindful of their carbon footprint for our future.
The future of Woollcombe Yonge is looking bright, so we asked Will where he would like to see Woollcombe Yonge’s Family Law team in 1-2 years’ time. He said to us, “My aim is to be the best Family Law team in the city! And to grow the mediation and collaborative law processes to bring amicable solutions to more of our clients, also to expand the Family Law department”.
With Will Giles at the helm of his amazing team, we have no doubt in our mind and every faith that they will do just that.