While there is no typical day in my life as a family lawyer, I do like to bring some structure and routine to my work life where I can. In fact, the whole firm does so with measures put in place for us to have consistent breaks and a regular check in with the wider team.
Despite what it might look like in movies, very little of my time is spent in court. Instead, I more often than not, am working in my office. Here is a rundown on how my days look as a lawyer specialising in family law.
I generally get up and go for a walk along the Brisbane river because I live close by. It’s a great way to start the day and then I will walk into work. On the walk to work, I enjoy listening to all genres of music as it gives me some downtime before the busyness that comes along with client calls and being on the computer, starts for the day.
Starting the office day right
I arrive at the office around 8am most days. This gives me a bit of time to prepare for the day before client calls start to come in. A few times a week the firm has an 8.30am meeting with all lawyers and paralegals present. It is great because it gives us all an opportunity to bounce ideas off the other solicitors in the firm as to what is going on with each case.
We are given the chance to raise any concerns that we have about any matters and it acts as a bit of a think tank involving the whole team. It’s something I’ve never done on a regular basis at any other law firm, but it’s always been so beneficial and helps me to continue to improve in my role as a family lawyer.
In those meetings, people within the team might recommend different ways to go about matters or confirm that you are taking the right approach on certain matters. This benefits our clients too as they are getting options and ideas on their case from other solicitors in the firm, at no extra cost.
Family law is a discretionary area, so it is important I seek the advice of others I work with to make sure I can give my clients a range of outcomes that is relevant to their matter. For example, a client might ask what they are entitled to by way of property settlement or ask us what we think the court would do in terms of making parenting arrangements for their children. Three different lawyers could give three different answers based on their past experiences. So when everyone is in the room, there are other lawyers thinking along with me about the various things that could happen, what to keep an eye out for and that helps to get a broader view of where my client’s case could go.
I was very fortunate when I was a graduate lawyer, I worked for another firm and had a wonderful mentor who helped me. But I have heard so many stories about people who are just left to their own devices. They do not get that access to senior lawyers like Tony and Fiona here who have been doing this for decades. I have grown in terms of my own knowledge and the way that I approach cases because of these regular meetings each week.
The meetings also allow the team to celebrate their successes. If something has gone well on a matter, it is an opportunity for everyone to recognise the good work that another solicitor has done. It is a really positive experience and something I quite look forward to because I know if I have a question, I have a scheduled time to ask it. It also gives me the time to plan my day and get clear on what needs to be done.
Days in court are rarer than you might think
I’m probably in court on average about once or twice a month, sometimes more, sometimes less depending on what’s going on. Court is really a last resort for us so I like to keep most matters out of court if I can. But if I am in court, I generally like to get there early so I can get a room to sit in with my client rather than spending the day in the foyer. I will either have a meeting with a barrister before 9am or if I am doing my own advocacy I will meet my clients around that time.
Tackling the big jobs first
Because court days are rare, most of my mornings are spent in the office. The way I like to manage it is that I do the big jobs first up, such as drafting letters of advice, final orders, financial agreements or affidavits. I do these heavier tasks in the morning because I find that my mind is fresh. I can really concentrate and sometimes I will switch off my emails so I can focus on drafting a particular document without interruption.
What I tend to do is block off an hour to an hour and a half, and let the team know to hold my calls. Obviously if there is anything urgent, they can put them through to me but often my clients can speak to my paralegal to leave a detailed message and arrange for me to call them back later that day. That way the paralegal can get as much information about what the client wants to speak to me about and it minimises the time the client is on the phone to me because I can have a think about what is required before calling the client. This gives them a more considered response.
As a firm we all stop for morning tea at 10.30am. This gives our brain a reboot and we have some time to catch up with colleagues for some mindless chatter on silly things like what has happened on The Bachelor. I’ve never had a break like this before at other firms, but I find it really useful. Everyone gets a chance to have personal conversations about different things as opposed to people speaking throughout the workday.
After this break I feel back on track and ready to focus again on completing more time consuming tasks before lunch.
For the first time in my entire career I’m at a firm where we all stop and take a lunch break. Pretty much everyone stops at the same time, and we have a kitchen area where everyone goes to enjoy their meal together. Some days I will go out and go for a bit of a walk to get some fresh air. I find it is really good to break up the day because I need a break by that time. It lets me refocus on what needs to be done at the end of the day and gives me a chance to feel re-energised.
Making good use of the afternoons and early evening
Afternoons are generally where I will be calling clients and having meetings, plus seeing if anything else has arisen during the day. I will go in and speak to Tony and Fiona if I need to discuss anything with them. They block out time in their diaries for this specific purpose which is always handy.
Sometimes late in the afternoon, or shortly after 5pm there are family law seminars or family law related meetings to go to. I will go to one of them probably once or twice a month. This gives me a chance to catch up with other family law solicitors or barristers. It is really important with family law being such a small community to have those professional relationships with the people that you work with on the other side of matters. I think often it makes it easier to resolve the matter if you know who the other solicitor is and how they practice.
It also benefits my clients as well because I can give the client a bit of an idea as to how I anticipate their matter is going to progress, subject to who the other solicitor is on the other side. I know sometimes clients get a bit uncomfortable about the fact that outside of work you may catch up with the solicitor on the other side, either at a professional networking event or at a seminar, but I think it is actually really crucial those relationships are formed. At the end of the day we want to get our clients matters resolved. So if you know the best way you and the other solicitor are going to work to resolve the matter, that is really important.
The other seminars I attend might be about a family law topic, case updates in terms of what is happening or new developments in the law. It also gives me a chance to brush up on vital skills such as presenting or preparing a case or resolving a case. Family law is an ever evolving area and things change quite regularly, so it is really important in order to be the best lawyer I can be, that I stay on top of developments in family law, so I can give the best advice and representation for my clients.
I have just been elected to the board of the Family Law Practitioners Association of Queensland, so I anticipate my 2020 will involve going to those meetings and their events. I am really excited about it because it is a way for me to be able to give back to the family law community and to be able to work with the board.
Outside of work
Sport and travel are my main loves outside of work. My height impacted upon me being able to excel at sports at school but I have always been a keen spectator. Netball and rugby are a favourite and I am a season ticket holder for the Queensland Reds so you will often find me at games.
On weekends, I like to go out for breakfast or brunch on most Saturday mornings and I spend about two hours at breakfast reading the papers and Vogue. I find that it is a really nice way to start the weekend and unwind. Then I might catch up with friends later in the day. I really like Howard Smith Wharves and regularly go down and sit there of an afternoon on the lawn. I also enjoy going to the theatre and am looking forward to seeing many of the shows that are playing this year in Brisbane.
I also love to travel abroad. After living and working in London for two years, I made friends who live all over the world and definitely developed the travel bug. I did three overseas trips in 2019 to spend time with friends and see new places. I went to New Zealand where I uncharacteristically hiked Tongariro Alpine Crossing, London where I attended a family law conference although the highlight was seeing Celine Dion in concert at Hyde Park and I also did a small road trip through America. I am working on when I will be able to take a trip this year too.
How I came to join the Phillips Law team
Just after I graduated university here in Brisbane I originally thought I wanted to do criminal law. However, someone I knew who was working in a family law firm in Toowoomba let me know about a job opening there for a graduate family law solicitor.
I went to this interview in Toowoomba and I got along well with the people who interviewed me. That afternoon they offered me the job. In the space of three days I packed up my house in Brisbane and moved to Toowoomba, thinking I would only stay there for a year. I ended up staying in Toowoomba for six years and have been in family law since then. I worked in a family law firm in London for two years before I started at Phillips Family Law in 2017.
Now, I cannot imagine doing any law except family law. I like that it is constantly changing and that I am intellectually challenged every day because I have to problem solve different scenarios. I really enjoy being able to find different resolutions that suit different people because not all people are the same and not all family law matters are the same.
It is also great to work in a role where I am not chained to my desk in front of a computer from 8.30am to 5.00pm. I go to court, mediations, meet with clients, my day is broken up. I would describe myself as being a people person, so I thoroughly enjoy having this interaction.
What is most rewarding about being a family lawyer is that I know it is one of the most difficult periods that my client will ever go through in their life. So being able to guide someone through that and see them come out at the end of their matter with a resolution and clarity about how their life is going to be moving forward is something that makes me feel like I am contributing in a positive way to someone’s life.
Related: My day as a family lawyer – Gareth Walters
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