Do you ask yourself that question? I know I do, and often.
Let me begin the Integrated Family Law blog by telling you a little story. My story. Well, one of my stories 🙂
I came to the law knowing nothing about the law, legal practice or the profession. I finished high school, and knew very little about what I wanted to do. I simply knew that I wanted to wear nice clothes, be away from dirt, and truth be told, I wanted people to pay for my advice.
Yep. Bossy from way back! Just ask my family, and my school friends. I’m sure they would agree.
I let my QTAC application select my career. I had a machine gun approach to my university application forms, and when the lottery of my university acceptance letter spun up a Law Degree, I began training in a new way of thinking.
I remember at university getting the distinct sense that the primary purpose to our law degree, was not really about teaching us torts, and criminal law, and property law and equity and the many other legal boxes that they made us explore. But rather, it was to get our brains working in a particular way. A very specific and often hard to understand way of thinking.
After all, that’s why legal advice is necessary and helpful when you are facing a legal issue. It is because legal thinking, and legal logic, can be quite different than common sense.
After uni, I started work as an articled clerk, which in true legal style, is a ridiculously fancy way of expressing a supervised training period. A bit like an apprenticeship. I did 2 years as an “apprentice” under the eyes of my Master, before being admitted as a Solicitor in February 1998.
I have worked on the Sunshine Coast, in small firms and for Legal Aid Queensland, doing privately funded and legally aided work. Mostly doing family law work. This was because no matter how many times I heard a similar story of separation, of abuse, of bad behaviour and of the desperation of not knowing what will happen for the children, I genuinely found a way to connect with each of my clients and their families.
I threw myself into the system, and found myself wearing jackets and suits, often in and out of Court . I tried to ignore the bits that didn’t seem fair or feel quite right, and just kept making sure I was “doing a good job”.
For the first 10 years or so that I was working as a lawyer, there was “lawyer Kathryn” and then “Kathryn”.
The me outside of work, was determined to make sure that I wouldn’t lose myself to or in the lawyering. In fact, when I would meet people in a social setting, and they would ask what I did, I was always secretly relieved when they would look mildly confused when I said I was a lawyer. That moment always felt like, “phew, I’m still me”.
Because, I was beginning to see that the law was often doing less than good by the people in it. Those who visited for the time of their case, their dispute, and also for those who lived and worked in it.
I began thinking that there was an obvious solution for me and for my family. I needed to leave the profession, and go do something else. Anything else.
I began to plot my escape. Which wasn’t easy by that time as I had a young family, a mortgage and my own business. No easy escape routes from there.
But one day, I spoke with a dear friend, about my ongoing dilemma. I’m pretty sure I was crying. And she gave me the gift of another view. “Maybe, just maybe, you are meant to be there”.
At first I was furious. How dare she say that I was meant to be working in this profession that treated so many people so badly, so often.
In time though, I began to see a new question. What if, instead of escaping, I could simply change my view.
And so I started looking. For ways of working that felt more like me.
I started bring more of “me” to work.
It began with a family portrait in the reception of my office. Instead of being a faceless suit, I was very obviously a wife, and a mother, to anyone who met me at my office.
Then I began to bring more and more of my heart to work. It didn’t change how much of my head was at my work, using that legal thinking to find a sound legal strategy available for my clients.
But it did add something completely new. No longer was I was the detached expert, telling people what to do and how to do it. Instead, it gave me the capacity and the willingness to sit with my clients, as one person beside another. Talking about options, about what the next decision could lead to. Providing advice, in a much broader sense of the word.
So now, 16 years after my admission ceremony, I wear the suits and jackets as little as I can, and stay out of Court wherever possible. I work using a collaborative framework, with a daily mindfulness practice in my office, and firmly believe that Family Law can continue to be done better. Ever so much better.
That is the short story of 20 years of working in legal offices (a couple of years part time at uni, my 2 year “apprenticeship” and my 16 years as a solicitor), with people who come to me at their very worst of times and ask for help, for direction and sometimes, just for a safe space to park their troubles for a while.
It would be my honour to sit with you, to hear from you the thing that you have been scared to talk about, and to look at it together, and see what your next step might look like.
PS – I don’t always have fresh flowers 🙂