WHAT’S IT LIKE BEING A LAWYER?
Recently I was asked by my daughter’s all-girls College to present to the Year 9 and Year 10 students on what it is really like to be a lawyer.
At first, I thought – no worries, I can do that! But then, when I started to think about it from the perspective of a 16-year-old girl, it became a very different question.
What did it mean to be a lawyer, when I was a high school student? When I was young and single? When I was watching shows like Law & Order (or for the young generation Suits)? And then I reflected on how life has changed as a mother of 3 kids and what it now means to be a lawyer.
So, I headed into the classroom filled with students, ready to listen about how ‘amazing’ it was to be a lawyer. But also to provide an insight on a realistic ‘day in the life of being a lawyer’. The girls (or should I say young ladies) I was presenting to, were at the cusp of trying to decide what they want to be when they grow up (some of us adults may still be asking ourselves that question, and wondering when we are going to grow up!?) and what subjects they were going to choose for their final few years of high school.
I started by trying to tell them that I can relate to how they are feeling – overwhelmed by all the choices, questioning whether they are good enough, doubting whether they can get the results they need and also possibly the peer group pressure of having all the answers. It’s a very scary time… but now with hindsight, is it really the be-all-and-end-all for our kids at this age? So my first point was to try to reassure them that life has a way of working itself out, and as long as they work hard for what they want, but are also passionate about what they are doing, then they need to believe that it will work out the way it’s meant to (but perhaps not necessarily how they think today it will be!).
When I was in high school, sitting where they were, all I wanted was to work at a prestigious national law firm and perhaps have the opportunity to travel with my job. I was very fortunate to be offered a 5-year scholarship to study law/commerce after high school, so I couldn’t have been happier. But then, after I thought the hard stuff was done, I realised this was just the first decision of many. I had a whole list of life-career choices I needed to work out. What law subjects did I was to study at uni, what law firm did I want to apply to, what practice area did I want to specialise? When was I going to grow up so these decisions would stop?! Ha! Little did I know… Not for a few years yet, actually, debatable whether they actually ever did stop!
I told the students the importance of not putting too much pressure on themselves, and that it was important to look outside of the studies. Focus on getting some great work experience, life experiences and acquaintances. It is a tough world out there, so employers won’t only look at whether they are an A+ student. They’ll look at whether they will fit with the culture of the organisation, whether they have practical skills and whether they have life lessons to add value to their work.
I was very fortunate in my career to work for a prestigious national law firm (where I represented government departments and also commercial builders and corporate clients). I was supported by an amazing network of professionals who helped me grow into the lawyer I wanted to be. But not the lawyer I imagined I was going to be in high school. In high school and university I always thought I would be a corporate lawyer. But so did the other 20 article clerks, so I was placed in the construction team! What does a female, who went to an all girls’ college (learning how to sew!) know about construction? Nothing! Which actually turned out to be a blessing in disguise. I needed to work very hard to come up-to-speed with what everyone else already knew. But it wasn’t until I became an in-house legal counsel and was provided with some great opportunities by three of Australia’s volume builders that I really found my passion. And that is why I stressed to the girls in the presentation that life plays a big part in the overwhelming question “What do you want to be when you grow up” – So just go with it. Don’t shut doors on opportunities, keep an open mind, because you never know what is behind the next door. You just need to have the courage to open the next door.
Being a lawyer is not an easy career path as many people would know. It means long hours, high pressure, colleagues and clients who expect you to always provide the answers they want, and constantly doubting yourself. But on the other hand, it is also the most rewarding opportunity. I have met so many amazing people (both clients and other colleagues), I have been fortunate to travel with my job and most importantly, I am so passionate about the building industry. I really appreciate the opportunity that being a lawyer has brought to myself and my family. Why do I love the construction industry? That’s a tough question. But I think it is because there are genuine businesses building dreams for real people, providing homes for families and giving people the start (or retirement) that they have always dreamt of! It’s also about some exciting projects that make Victoria or Australia a better place to live.
As a principal of Spectrum Lawyers, I am able to combine my passion of the law, with the flexibility for my family, but also give back a little by speaking to students, presenting at seminars and sitting with clients to really understand their business and issues.
So, to any student thinking of being a lawyer, whether female or male, whether young or old, do it! But do it with an open mind! Will it be the perfect career path – absolutely not! There will be some pretty tough days, but is it rewarding, absolutely (once you find your passion!). Always look after yourself and when you stop enjoying what you do, then it’s time to open the next door to see your next opportunity.