For people working outside the law, there can be a big divide in opinion about how people perceive that lawyers spend their day versus what actually happens in practice. For those who are interested, this is how my day as a family lawyer “typically” transpires. I have put the word “typically” in quotation marks as one of the biggest reasons that I enjoy working as a family lawyer is because, in reality, no two days as a family lawyer are truly the same. That is because the nature of our work varies substantially from matter to matter based on the problems that our clients are facing. With those comments in mind, here is a sample of what a “typical” day might look like for me since joining the Phillips Family Law team at the beginning of 2019.
Rise and shine
Most days I usually get up around 5.30am and meet friends for a bike ride or a jog. This has always been a big part of my life and I like to keep this as consistent as possible in my daily routine. I also use my bike as my transport to the office as much as possible. I have formed some good friendships with people that I exercise with. However, I equally enjoy exercising on my own.
7.30am – 9.30am
I aim to get to the office between 7:30 and 8.30am so that I can get settled into my routine before our phones are connected at 8.30am and the flood of daily enquiries will usually begin. However, before I get going I usually start the day with a large coffee to get me going.
Three mornings a week we have a team meeting at 8.30am. Sometimes those meetings are short (approximately 15 minutes) and other times they can last for longer (up to an hour). The reason for these meetings? We take the opportunity to discuss the day-to-day progress of our files and manage our individual workloads (both lawyers and our support staff).
These meetings have been a big transition for me compared to previous workplaces, which chose to adopt a more autonomous work environment, rather than a team approach. I’ve found these meetings to be a great way for us to manage any deadlines we have coming up and to generally make sure we’re on top of the work we need to undertake for our clients. It’s also a good opportunity for us to discuss our capacity levels with our directors, Tony and Fiona, who oversee our workload. For example, if some lawyers are extremely busy, we will look at sharing certain tasks amongst other lawyers within our team who may have time to assist on that day.
Having been at the firm from the start of the year, I have now been able to see just how important this is for our lawyers individually, for the firm as a whole and more importantly for our clients.
9.30am – 1pm
Unlike on television, the majority of my time as a family lawyer is spent in the office, rather than at Court or at mediation. Of course, from time-to-time, that type of work does form part of our role as family lawyers. Generally, though, most of my regular day-to-day work involves reviewing correspondence from clients, self-represented individuals on the other side, lawyers acting for another party, accountants, valuers, financial planners, family members and other third parties. I then prioritise my time and attention to the correspondence based on what we assess to be the most time-sensitive or urgent. Most days, there will be a large volume of less time consuming enquiries that need to be attended to. Our role is often to juggle those enquiries in amongst the larger tasks. I usually like to spend the first part of my day addressing the smaller matters first based on urgency.
I usually take a lunch break from around 1pm each day. Yes, we do get a lunch break despite the way in which the media might portray a typical work day for a lawyer and despite what it might actually be like at some law firms.
It is important for me to take the opportunity to leave the office building and go for a short walk, which helps me to reflect on the work that I am doing and schedule my afternoon. There are a few favourite lunch spots amongst my colleagues, one of which is called Cheese Pleaser. It’s a good place for roast meats and vegetables, but we have a good range of options in the city where we can get quick meals.
In addition to the tasks I mentioned that I generally attend to in the morning, the rest of my day is usually spent drafting more complex responses to people, including letters of advice (for example about offers of settlement) or drafting agreements once a matter has reached a resolution so that we can ensure those agreements are then formalised in a way that is legally binding and enforceable. All of this happens in between the continuous flow of enquiries we receive by email and telephone.
In a more general and broader sense, my workflow is usually centred around an upcoming event on an individual matter, such as mediation, a court date or some other time frame that has been prescribed by a Court. I need to regularly re-prioritise my day around those tasks to ensure that the matter is on track and to ensure that the end goal (reaching an amicable resolution) can ultimately be achieved.
If we do have an upcoming court date, the preparation process will usually involve reviewing Court documents, drafting Court documents for our own clients, negotiating procedural steps with other litigants, exchanging financial disclosure, organising valuations, preparing for mediations and preparing offers of settlement. A good example of this is we often find that parties are unable to agree on the value of an asset, such as a property or a business. As such, it is an issue that usually needs to be resolved as part of the settlement process. Therefore, to address this issue, we usually look at engaging an independent valuer (not a real estate agent) to conduct a valuation. This then leads to further discussions between the parties about how we agree on appointing a valuer and who will meet the costs of the valuation.
If these procedural steps can be agreed, sometimes a particular Court date can be avoided by asking the Court to make Interim Orders in line with the agreement that has been reached. These discussions and agreements quite often occur in the lead up to a Court date and as such there can be extremely tight timeframes to ensure that the Court has enough time to process that agreement.
Of course, we like to try and reach agreement about these tasks as early as possible to minimise and unnecessary legal costs. However, on occasions the timeframes are out of our control and there is a level of uncertainty as to whether the Court date will proceed or not. In these circumstances, we continue with our preparation for Court until we have confirmation one way or another about whether the Court date needs to go ahead.
I generally leave the office around 5.30pm, but this is dependant on the amount of work I have at that time and depending on what needs to be done prior to the next day. Again, this is pretty unique compared to some other law firms.
Phillips Family Law provides staff with wellness initiatives. In the short period that I have been working here, I have participated in both yoga and boxing programs after work at the office, which I’ve found to be really good ways for us to unwind at the end of the day. It’s also been a good opportunity to interact with my colleagues about non-work related matters.
Occasionally, I might have a networking or professional development event in the evenings. For example, I recently went to an evening about different trust and business structures, which was hosted by an accounting firm. These events are usually a good opportunity to meet with different professionals, including accountants, family law solicitors, barristers and judges.
Both before and after work I like to read the news using a series of apps on my phone. I generally read the news about international sports and international politics. In the evenings I will unwind by watching sports highlights. Sometimes I jump online and read about shares and investing.
How I came to join the Phillips Family Law team
I began in the law working as a Judge’s Associate approximately five years ago. I took an interest in family law matters, as I was intrigued hearing about the issues everyday people were facing arising out of their separation. The Court was an exciting environment to be in and I was captivated by watching practitioners negotiating outside of courtroom in the Court precinct. I remember thinking, ‘these are real people’s lives on the line and it requires a lot of negotiation on the day. How does it all come to this? That’s still part of why I’m doing the job that I’m doing now. I like the idea of being able to assist people through a really challenging time of their lives.
I believe that I am able to think about a problem logically and apply a common sense approach to a dispute. As a client, it can be extremely overwhelming when you are caught up in the separation process and you are trying to navigate the legal system. I try to assist clients by diverting their attention away from issues that are less important and instead focus on the big picture items to achieve a resolution. I also like to break things down into small tasks for a client to put them on track to help them achieve their end goal. That’s not always easy and it doesn’t always happen, but that’s the approach I generally adopt to a family law dispute.
While I was working as a Judge’s Associate and observing people in and around the Court, I was exposed to different approaches that are adopted by individual family lawyers. I knew fairly early on that I wanted to align myself with a firm that had similar principles as me. For me, that is about focussing on reaching a resolution as amicably and collegiately as possible, but also being able to adopt a more firm approach if it is required. Those principles seem to be shared by all of my colleagues at Phillips Family Law and this truly underpins the way we operate on a day-to-day basis.
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