Celebrations and reflections on being a lawyer for 20 years!
Today I’m celebrating 20 years as a lawyer! I must admit that along the way I’ve had some doubts about my career choice. But I have found my happy place and am grateful that I put in the effort and stuck it out. Read on for more reflections on being a lawyer, and my ups and downs in the legal profession.
In the beginning
When I was 15, I went to a law firm for Year 10 work experience. All I remember of that week is updating “loose leaf files” – a pre-internet paper encyclopedia for lawyers which involved manually replacing obsolete pages. Mind-numbing and soul destroying. For the life of me, I don’t know why it didn’t turn me off studying law! The career counsellor thought I’d be good at it and didn’t offer me many interesting alternatives. So, when I got the marks, it felt inevitable.
I also thought law would be an honourable path, like a superhero fighting for justice. Plus, 5 years of law school was a way of delaying adulthood! I loved uni. A whole year of studying “the history and philosophy of law” almost broke me, but I thrived in the personal freedom and independence, making new friends, growing in autonomy and as a person.
I put my hand up for many volunteer positions at legal centres, got my first paralegal job, and gained some experience beyond filing. My main source of income was in a chocolate shop, so I also learned how to make ice cream. Happy times! I landed a plum clerkship at a top tier law firm, and my career was set for the next 10 years.
Then came the matter of choosing an area of law to focus on. Big law firms are by their nature commercial, so our clients were corporate. Litigation was too adversarial, and I was petrified of public speaking, especially in court. I could not get excited about buying and selling shares and companies. So I chose property law, focusing on planning and environment. Climate change seemed to be a noble and “cool” area of law (if such a thing exists).
For most of my 20s, work was my life. I was a cog in the wheel, putting in long hours. During that time, I married a fellow lawyer, who subsequently saw the light and ditched the law. By my 30s I was more focussed on having a baby than the long-term future of my career. I spent a year of maternity leave with my eldest child, and couldn’t face leaving him to go back to work full time. Plus, I was very sleep deprived!
Fortunately, I was able to return to work part time, which was a great mix of adulting and child rearing. But after a year I wanted another baby and the logistics became too complicated, so I quit my job. I didn’t realise until then how much of my identity was wrapped up in my career. I felt lost and purposeless. For the very first time, the next 5 years of my life were not mapped out for me.
But life was busy and I was distracted by my growing family. We decided to move to Melbourne where my husband is from. We renovated a house and had our third child. And suddenly 5 years had passed! The time had come to go back to work. But what was I going to do? Should I return to law or throw in the towel and study something else altogether? The thought of going back to a big law firm made me feel slightly nauseous. How would I juggle that with 3 young kids? But I had spent so much time practicing law, could I start all over again from scratch?
Starting my own business
Inspiration finally struck in the form of a Facebook post, recommending an old friend’s conveyancing business. She generously gave me insight into how she had built a thriving practice whilst maintaining a busy family life.* I thought it seemed perfect for me but starting my own business was incredibly daunting. My career was based on being a model employee and following orders. I didn’t think of myself as a risk taker. Where should I begin as an entrepreneur? By putting one foot in front of another, until I found myself hanging out my shingle. I think I was more excited than my first client when their property settled. I may have shed a tear of happiness when I deposited my first cheque in the bank!
Sometimes I’m asked whether law is a good profession for women. Yes, it was in my 20s. However, if you had asked me when I was stuck in the trenches with babies, I would have said no. But then, is any career baby friendly? Not unless you can make it work for you. Those jobs are rarely advertised and hard to find. I don’t claim to have found that elusive balance. Running a business is a 24/7 job. But law, and other professions, can and must adapt to life. And it is fact of life that people (men too) have babies. They also have elderly parents. And pets. And hobbies outside of their career. You can’t be expected to work at the expense of your other responsibilities and interests. Don’t live for work, work to live!
*For anyone needing a conveyancer in NSW I highly recommend Key Property Lawyers!
Aliza Taubman is the Principal Solicitor at Prime Property Lawyers
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