Rebecca Cockcroft is a leading family lawyer who advises UHNW’s HNWs and City professionals on all aspects of family law, including divorce.
She goes above and beyond simply advising on legal matters in what are often very sensitive and difficult cases.
Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role
I am a family lawyer, but also have the privilege of heading the leading family law department at Payne Hicks Beach LLP. Our team tackles some of the most complex and high profile cases in the family courts and we are fortunate to have the renowned Baroness Shackleton within our ranks, unarguably the most high profile divorce lawyer in the country.
Did you ever sit down and plan your career?
No, it evolved organically. I studied English Literature at University and then undertook a law conversion degree. I always suspected that my interests would lead me in the direction of either criminal or family law, but on my first day as a trainee in the family department, I knew I had found my vocation. If anyone had told me twenty years ago that one day Fiona Shackleton would ask me to head the prestigious PHB team, I would have taken it with a hefty pinch of salt! Life often takes you on a path you would never have envisaged. My current position is as much a surprise to me as it is to some of my friends, but everything happens for a reason.
Have you faced any challenges along the way?
Of course, and at the time they seemed insurmountable, but once they’re in the rear view mirror you can see they weren’t so bad and often an opportunity to learn and develop. Family law is very emotionally demanding as you are advising people who are often facing the most traumatic event of their lifetime. You have to be able to persuade your client to trust your judgment and presentation of their case, listen to your advice and most importantly let you implement it. It is challenging but very rewarding.
The profession has also changed dramatically over the years. As trainee/junior lawyers, too many solicitors (particularly women) had to tolerate unacceptable behaviour in the workplace that would not be sanctioned or condoned in 2023. Trainees today cannot comprehend some of the experiences my contemporaries had to put up with from people who should have known better. I hope that my juniors see me as a fair and considerate colleague who not only looks out for them, but also rolls up her sleeves whatever time of the day or night and joins them in the trenches!
What has been your biggest achievement to date?
Personally, I am incredibly proud of my daughter and all she has achieved. She is a phenomenal musician playing several instruments and as a young child was on the West End stage. It is just the two of us. I should not really take credit for her entirely because I have had help from my parents, sister and friends along the way. Her achievements are also due to her own determination and hard work. As she matures, I feel very proud of the woman she is becoming.
Professionally I am very proud of the juniors in our team. They work with a passion and commitment to their clients which one might say is part and parcel of their job, but they also champion one other and invest in their collective futures in a way which really fills me with pride.
What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?
Loyalty; that which I have been shown and that which I have shown others. As a young single parent working at a very high level in family law, there was not much flexibility or understanding in the profession. I will never forget the support I received from one particular partner I worked with- James Stewart. He saw that I had established a solid client base early in my career and with some mentoring had a great future ahead of me. I just needed a bit of support. His loyalty and commitment to my future was so important in keeping me on this path and I owe him a great deal.
I have shown similar loyalty to my own colleagues so when I moved to Payne Hicks Beach, I insisted that my then assistant, Catherine Costley, joined with me. It was a case of a package deal and if they wanted one of us, the firm had to take both of us. 10 years later and we are still working together. Catherine is my rock – an incredible lawyer whom I am so proud of and a huge star of the future. The value of those long standing relationships with people who will stick with you through good and bad is huge factor in achieving success. Looking around my department I see similar relationships forming and loyalty is a key factor. The depth of those relationships benefit our clients and enable us to work together to produce work of the highest standard.
How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?
There is huge value in sharing experiences. Particularly now we work more remotely. Although I do not directly mentor, I have implemented a mentoring scheme in our department and some of my colleagues do actively mentor outside the firm, which I fully support.
As a firm, PHB has for many years supported local charity Coram’s Fields and, in particular, with their Employability Scheme where our lawyers provide mentorships, expert advice and opportunities for young people looking to pursue a career in law.
If you could change one thing to accelerate the pace of change for Gender Parity, what would it be?
Change women’s attitudes and stop them being embarrassed to talk about money. A male colleague used to push back and ask for more every year he received his review. We were the same level but by the time I found out, he was materially better paid than me and had been for a number of years. I do not blame him. I just wish I had known my worth and been confident enough to say to my then employer what that looked like.
If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self what would it be?
See above! And trust your instincts
What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?
Watch this space! I am however looking forward to continuing to lead the family team and helping the stars of tomorrow make their way in the profession. I also have some brilliant new recruits joining the team and intend to keep growing the department with the very best talent in the coming years.