Helen Conway is a Family Law Supervisor, Coach, Trainer and Artist. She partners with lawyers, using her creativity to help them think differently about their work and lives and to support them to create the careers they desire. In her art she similarly invites viewers to think biffrety about the world around them.
She was formerly a solicitor, barrister, conference speaker and latterly a full time District Judge for over ten years. She has published over a dozen law related books and hundreds of articles in such places as The Times, Family Law, New Law Journal and the Law Society Gazette and is the owner of the Law for Families Imprint of books for litigants in person in the Family Court.
She is an internationally exhibited artist, making graffiti inspired art. working with acrylics on textile and paper.
My life has always been about stories of people in transition and I’ve been through few of my own. I decided to study law as a fourteen year-old when I was spending a summer in Germany. I was volunteering at the offices of a charity which operated ships housing medical services and bookshops. I was surrounded by people who had moved from all over the world to do work they found meaningful. And they let me read the sample books! In the middle of the teetering pile, I found a huge Reader’s Digest’s guide to law with hundreds of case studies about how law impacted our everyday lives. I was hooked, particularly with the section on families.
Whilst in in Hull doing my Law degree, I lived with a friend who was an ANC activist in exile from the apartheid regime in South Africa and I’d spend evenings listening to what it was like to try to change a whole country and how his life had changed being in England. I went on to study for a Masters in Criminology at Cambridge University where I specialised in domestic violence.
After a year in Chester doing my Law Society Finals I started work as a solicitor building my practice on legal aid family work, particularly domestic violence work volunteering with Women’s Aid. If I ever need to remember how to be brave in the face of adversity or how to start again after a choice I made didn’t turn out so great, I only need remember my own clients.
I was then invited to join Chambers in Liverpool so I converted to the Bar and combined family work with conference speaking and training. I spent a lot of time in London where I had a deal with a hotel at the back of the huge Waterstone’s bookshop in Piccadilly. All alone in the city, I’d spend my evenings on their red leather sofa happily browsing the psychology section.
After a while the government started a policy of dispersing asylum seekers around the country and realising that many were coming to Liverpool, I started Liverpool’s first Chambers immigration team. I sat with people who were starting over after being chased by drug cartels for refusing to cooperate with them, were persecuted for their faith or sexuality or who were simply people just hoping for a better life. From them I learned how powerful it is to have a clear vision for your future and a good grip on your own core values.
Life shouldn’t be all about work though. Creativity was always important to me and I have been a writer since being a small child. I started to write for publication when my father brought me home a typewriter his work was throwing in a skip. My first work was published in an American magazine when I was 16. I obtained a Masters Degree in Creative Writing from Lancaster just for the love of words and learning itself. Once my career as a lawyer and freelance writer was established I surprised myself by learning to become an artist, making graffiti inspired textile art. I used a coach to help me make the transition from hobbies to exhibiting artist and since then my art has been exhibited in numerous group, duo and solo shows across the world. I have been represented by galleries in the UK and Jerusalem. There is a natural connection between my practice as an immigration and family law advocate in that my art gravitates to themes about upheaval, transition and struggle. the art is a visual representation of the storytelling and layers of complexity which permeated my legal practice. I spend a surprising amount of time in grungy back alleys the world over photographing murals and getting excited about overlapping graffiti tags. I tend to see beauty and potential where others see only vandalism and destruction.
At 34, I become Deputy District Judge, one of the youngest ever to be appointed at the time and then I went full time at 39. Now instead of listening to stories and telling them as an advocate I began to be the one making decisions that altered the stories. I continued to specialise in family cases and honed my understanding of how conflict builds between people and, more importantly, how it can be deescalated and resolved. It as a role that was both a privileged and a huge challenge. After some happy years I began to feel the stressors build and build alongside the work-load. Eventually I tipped into burnout and depression. I had a great job, with all its salary and perks but it seemed like a gilded cage. Alongside my own coach, I figured out it was because it didn’t match up with who I was at heart. I had skills and values that I couldn’t express and it was squashing me so I could barely breathe.
I took time out to recover but also to craft a new life in which I could do what really fulfils me – partnering with individuals to create the better life they wanted and helping them resolve conflicts. Part of that time was spent doing my Diploma in Personal Development Coaching. I went back to the judicial job for a year then I took another year off and went to Middlesex University to gain a P.G Cert in Psychosynthesis and Leadership Coaching and to train as a Mindfulness teacher before launching my own practice and joining JSA Psychotherapy as an Associate and Professional Training as a Consultant Trainer. I have also trained in creativity coaching to an advanced level with Eric Maisel. I am a member of the Association for Coaching, undertake regular CPD training and am myself in regular supervision for my coaching and supervision work.
My work now braids together the strands of my experience working with people and their stories and struggles, my creativity and my love of psychology and continued learning. I have the joy that comes with passing on what I learned – both in my formal learning and in my life experiences – in training sessions. There is also the deep fulfilment and honour of walking beside clients as they find their own unique paths to fulfilling lives designed just for them.
Having lived through a period of joylessness in my life I now am privileged to earn my living doing only what brings me the most joy in life – helping people resolve their conflicts and creating better lives for themselves. If you’d like to know more about what I do, check out my blog . Or if you’d like to talk to me about creating your own journey to an ideal future give me a call.
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