Jane McDonagh

Jane McDonagh

I was raised in the northwest of England by an Irish father and an English Mother in a large, working class family. Both my parents were highly ambitious and determined to ensure that my brother and I would have better opportunities than they did. As a result of their efforts, we were the first in our family to attend university, and I remain very grateful to them for this.

When I was fourteen, my life was turned upside down when my father died in an accident at home.  As our extended family struggled with our loss, I became adept at understanding emotional struggle and how to support those enduring it.  I moved to London in my twenties and found that working as a solicitor, and helping people in emotionally challenging situations gave me great satisfaction. I had no idea what to expect when I started; no one from my family had worked in any similar environment. Although I enjoyed it, I struggled with the culture in the law firms I worked for, and more than once almost left the profession.

After I married and had two children, I juggled caring for them with work as a consultant to a media firm, Simons Muirhead Burton. I was drawn to this firm in no small part because of the ethos and culture, and the respectful way that people are treated. SMB has its roots in civil liberties work and for decades has helped establish and run a charity called the Death Penalty Project, which is still based in our offices.

When I joined in 2010, SMB did not have a family department. So I set one up, and it grew far more quickly than I’d anticipated to its current size of 12 lawyers. I am also one of seven equity partners who run the firm and work hard to retain our unique culture. The family department at SMB is now an established international family law practice and I still get satisfaction from helping my clients through the painful maze of separation.

I avoid court if at all possible. It can be a brutal experience and best avoided unless absolutely necessary. I am a mediator and collaborative lawyer, and there are various ways we approach discussions in a constructive way which gives people agency and retains their humanity. I often use the process of Early Neutral Evaluation, where both parties ask a jointly appointed Evaluator (who is usually a family barrister) to ask for an off-the-record opinion on the merits of a case, and we use this as a springboard for negotiation and settlement.

Outside of my work at SMB, I work with young people who might be struggling with emotional challenges.  I have worked in particular with Caris Islington counselling bereaved children, and I currently mentor students from many different backgrounds.


Circle Square Q&A

What 3 words best describe you?
Hardworking thoughtful, fair

If you could offer your younger self one piece of advice, what would that be? 
You can do this

What do you consider to be your greatest achievement?
My family

Which person (dead or alive) would you most like to invite to dinner?
My late father

How has age strengthened your advantage?
It has reduced my imposter syndrome and made me appreciate more the value of my contribution.

What inspired you to join Circle Square?
I want to expand my friendship circle, learn new things and make new connections.

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