SJ Interview: Ken Fowlie, Stowe Family Law
This issue, Chaynee Hodgetts interviews Ken Fowlie, chair of a top firm, Stowe Family Law
Stowe Family Law is renowned firm, practising in public and private family and child law, which has seen significant growth since its inception in 1982 – including major growth throughout (and since) the pandemic. This issue, we speak to Ken Fowlie, the firm’s chair.
CH: Thank you for joining us, Ken. Please tell us about yourself - what is your current role?
KF: I am an Australian qualified lawyer (for over 25 years) who is chairman of Stowe Family Law. Before Stowe, I previously spent time as CEO of Slater and Gordon in both Australia and the UK.
CH: What does your firm do – and what does your firm do differently?
KF: Stowe Family Law is the UK’s largest specialist family law firm. We aspire to be the UK leading family law practice by providing outstanding service and support to both clients and colleagues, always with an eye for opportunities to innovate what we do and how we do it.
CH: What do you enjoy most about what you do?
KF: Stowe is a great firm to work for, with lots of kind and ambitious people, who love what they do. It’s a pleasure to work in that sort of environment and hopefully influence it positively through leadership.
CH: What do you find most challenging?
KF: Ambitious organisations are always balancing the simultaneous desire for performance, growth, and improvement, while remaining conscious of the demands on colleagues. Stowe is no different. We wrestle with those challenges every day – and some days we do better at managing them than others.
CH: What led you to the role you're in today?
KF: I followed a reasonably conventional path as a lawyer, working my way up to partner and legal team leader. I then completed a business management degree at London Business School in 2012 –and following that pivoted to full time firm management and leadership, which is what I have been doing ever since.
CH: What is a typical working day like for you?
KF: Like everyone else, covid-19 has fundamentally changed the rhythm of my work – and consequently how I spend a typical working day. Like most of my colleagues at Stowe, I work mainly from home but try to get to one of our offices every week. Internal meetings occupy a significant part of most of my working days, but I try and carve out time for reflection and ‘getting stuff done’.
Coming out of covid-19 and now a few years into this role, I am trying in 2022 to spend more time meeting people out of the firm to understand their perspectives on our market. Covid-19 has certainly been isolating in terms of interactions within the wider legal industry. I’m hoping to rectify that, to some degree, this year.
CH: Are you involved in any charitable or pro bono work?
KF: Stowe is full of generous, energetic, kind people – and the firm supports a wide range of charitable and pro bono activities to support our communities. The activities the firm and colleagues within the firm support are wide ranging from local legal walks through to our support of the Tyne & Wear Museum Trust. We are really pleased to have raised more than £80k in the past 12 months for various charitable causes.
CH: Where do you see your firm heading in the next few years?
KF: We see huge opportunity to continue to grow Stowe and innovate how we support clients and colleagues. Over the past few years, covid-19 excepted [when the firm still continued to grow], the firm has grown by more than 25 per cent year-on-year, and we expect to do that again in the next few years. Our growth comes from building our presence in communities we already serve, as well as entering new communities. There are lots of places where we’d like to play a more prominent role.
CH: What are the main projects you are working on at the moment?
KF: Stowe is a vibrant place with lots of things going on, all the time. We are always looking for ways to innovate how we serve clients, including the role for fixed fees – and various digital tools to make it easier for clients and colleagues.
Until very recently, all our growth was organic. In April, we completed our first firm acquisition, when the team from Chapman Pieri joined us in North London. We think there might be other opportunities like that – and I expect to spend quite a bit of time focused on that activity this year.
CH: Are there any laws you think need to change, or any laws that currently work well?
KF: The number of couples who set up a home together, who may have children together, and create financial bonds often with one party dependent upon the other, but choose not to marry or enter a civil partnership, is increasing.
According to recent research, the number of couples who were cohabiting in these circumstances was around 3.5m – and yet the legal remedies that are available for them are unclear, reliant on convoluted laws of property and trusts, and often leave the financially vulnerable party exposed. While there are remedies available if there are dependent children, these are often regarded as the preserve of more affluent families – and, so far as property provision is concerned, limited only for the period that the child is regarded as dependent.
There is an urgent need to reform this area of law to provide remedies akin, if not necessarily identical, to those of married couples.
CH: What are your views on the recent ‘no-fault divorce’ provisions?
KF: No-fault divorce is a most welcome development. Separation is hard enough, without a legal requirement to attribute blame. It enables couples, and the professionals who support them, to focus on looking to the future, rather than dwelling on the past.
CH: What are your views on the recent raise in the legal age permitted for marriage?
KF: An important reform, which is designed to address the practice of child marriage where children aged 16 or 17 can marry with parental consent. People who enter into a marital arrangement should be doing so freely, willingly and with full understanding. The age of 18 is widely considered as the age one attains adulthood – and is a more appropriate age for those individuals to make decisions on their own behalf.
CH: Which things would you most like to change in your sector, in an ideal (or more practical) world?
KF: I have spent my career in firms which have provided legal service to ordinary people. I think, as a profession, we could do more to make the law more accessible to people in our community. There are many ways in which the law is difficult to access for people who never or rarely have cause to interact with, or be impacted by, it. Everything from how we communicate, to how we operate, to how we charge. I think there’s a lot we can do in that territory to make things better and easier for the community.
CH: What would your advice be to new starters in your firm or role?
KF: Stowe is a great place to work – and I would encourage anyone who is interested in family law and who wants to work in a dynamic, specialist family law firm to reach out to us. We are always looking for talented, growth-minded people.
Similarly, I think management and leadership in law firms is important. It is not a path that many lawyers seem to want to follow. That’s a shame, because I think it can be both stimulating and rewarding.
CH: What one thing do you wish you'd known before now?
KF: I think experience and perspective are extremely valuable attributes. Unfortunately, they are hard to acquire without time spent. Finding a way to accelerate the gaining of wisdom would be brilliant.
CH: What do you do to ensure work-life balance when you're not working?
KF: I’m a creature of routine and that helps me keep things in balance. As part of that, regular exercise is important for me.
CH: Are there any key themes, ideas, or issues you would like to discuss or raise awareness of?
KF: There are plenty of folks offering lots of ideas and raising plenty of issues for discussion in our world today, through numerous forums and platforms. I’m not sure I need to add to the list.
Ken Fowlie, chair of Stowe Family Law, was interviewed by Chaynee Hodgetts, our features & opinion editor and barrister with Libertas Chambers: stowefamilylaw.co.uk