Seismic changes in family law hailed

Anne Dick talks about how her dedication of turning vengeance into justice has been made easier, writes David Lee

Anne Dick accepts her Lifetime Achievement honour with David Lee and Dougie Vipond. Picture: Rob McDougall

Anne Dick has been involved in family law in Scotland for more than 40 years – but her passion remains undiminished.

When she collected the prestigious Lifetime Achievement honour at the Scott+Co Scottish Legal Awards 2016, she stressed that solicitors could deliver real change in people’s lives: “We can make vengeance become justice, we can make chaos become order and make fear transmute into courage. What we are doing is very,very important.”

Sign up to our Opinion newsletter

Sign up to our Opinion newsletter

Dick, who works for Family Law Matters Scotland, dedicated her award to the whole family law community and said it had moved on significantly from a discipline seen as based largely on emotion to one that now has considerable black letter law.

She describes the “absolutely seismic changes” she has seen, a revolution reflecting the “wonderful expansion of family life”.

Dick says: “There were very few rules and now there are many, which I think have been innovative and creative in the main”. She cites the Matrimonial Homes (Family Protection) (Scotland) Act 1981 & The Family Law Scotland Act 1985 as providing an excellent framework to build family law structures for the modern age.

Dick’s journey into the law began at Glasgow University in the late 1960s, a time when she says law was seen as a “deranged” career choice. But she was inspired by the 1966 film A Man For All Seasons and Paul Schofield’s memorable speech as Thomas More on the importance of law: “This country’s planted thick with laws from coast to coast– man’s laws, not God’s– and if you cut them down—and you’re just the man to do it—do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then?”

After graduating in 1970, Dick became an apprenticeship with Macroberts Son and Hutchison (now Macroberts) and first encountered family law when she moved in 1972 to Mackintosh and Bain (now Mackintosh and Wylie) in Kilmarnock. She says: “I saw the difference you could make at a very individual level – to give people a path out of a dark place into light.”

In 1975, she formed her own firm and through a series of mergers, it became Mowat Hall Dick, MHD Law LLP – and in July 2013, Family Law Matters Scotland LLP. 

Anne Dick recognised very early that the process used by separating couples had a major influence on what kind of post-separation family they have and has always been committed to making that transition as constructive as possible.

In parallel to the changes in black letter law, she highlights the “wonderful evolution of dispute resolution” which has allowed families different ways to create their own futures. She was Convener of the family lawyers’ mediation group CALM and became one of the original four founding members of the Scottish Collaborative Family Law Group, now Consensus Scotland. Dick is also an Associate Member of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators and was a founding member of FLAGS (Family Law Arbitration Group Scotland).

She was also the founder Chairperson of the Family Law Association, which now has over 350 members in Scotland. She has also written extensively on family law and is the author or co-author of: The Art of Family Law; The Science of Family Law; Child Centred Legal Practice; the website The Right Kind of Divorce; and a practical guide for individuals going through separation called Breaking Up - Without Falling Apart!

Legal 500 and Chambers have both recommended Anne Dick’s expertise and in 2015, she celebrated 40 years as a family lawyer. Her enormous contribution has led to her being described as “the mother of family law in Scotland” by peers.

Anne Dick is still, in her own words, “enthralled and totally enthusiastic” about family law and any thoughts about her future are couched in terms of transition and change rather than retirement. She is especially keen to continue her work in training lawyers in collaborative practice

She has always appreciated being part of the family of family lawyers: “There is a really strong core of family lawyers in Scotland .”

Beyond that, she has travelled widely and always found a “comradeship and shared purpose” between family lawyers around the world despite different legal systems.

What is that shared purpose? Dick describes family law as a “balance between heart and head”, a combination of the protective and the creative.

She says: “Sometimes people need the law as a protective barrier, not a bridge; there are times when problem solving is not appropriate. That’s the challenge for us – should people be in the problem solving process or the protective process?

“It’s amazing what can be achieved when people who are very hurt by one another are given the right support, using the handrails of the law.”

• To view the winners and images from the Scott+Co Scottish Legal Awards 2016, go to: