So many of us have pondered this question. Long hours, increasing amounts of pressure, no work/life balance, disheartening days in court, poor health, billable hours and an increasing anxiety to meet our clients and/or bosses expectations are but a few catalysts which may see us asking this question. But do we have to leave law completely to alleviate all the negative drains our profession brings?
Shall I stay or shall I go was question I asked of myself about 5 years ago. And my answer was, I should go. To be fair, I had a toddler and pregnant with number 2 trying to continue along the same path I had before I went on maternity leave. Life wasn’t particularly easy, and owing to severe lack of sleep I probably wasn’t thinking straight. However, in saying that there were other factors involved too. I was being overlooked at work because I was ‘only part time’ (so obviously wasn’t career minded), I was being given all the mundane tasks and had no prospects of progressing until my kids were at school so I could go hard at my career again. But that didn’t sound like a great option to me.
As I struggled with where my less than satisfying career was headed, I wasn’t doing a great job as a mum because I was always stressed, preoccupied, trying to do to much and just downright exhausted. So when I went on maternity leave to have my second child, I left thinking I was done with this law thingy. Some people can have it all, but I told myself I just wasn’t one of those people.
So after I had my second child I was a domestic goddess.....not! I was still a stressed out, preoccupied, trying to do too much, exhausted mum. Whilst I had the most beautiful little family and a wonderful and incredibly supportive husband, I was sad. Sad, probably because I’d lost my sense of purpose. Sad that I’d lost a little part of me.
When I fell pregnant with my 3rd (because that’s what you do when you’re not coping!), my very wise and fabulous barrister friend talked me in taking the leap to the private bar. My excuse of ‘but I’m pregnant’ was ignored and she soon signed me up as her pupil and found me a pupil master. And because I like to completely complicate my life, I enrolled at Bond to do a Masters of Law in Dispute Resolution. But that extra complication turned out to be a blessing in disguise. I’d found a new me.
Dispute resolution resonated with me. Upon reflection I’d always been a ‘resolution focused’ practitioner throughout my career. So there lay the beginnings of my path to becoming a mediator. The more I did, the more I wanted to do. Mediation was originally designed to compliment my practice as a barrister but somewhere in between my mediation practice took over. It now forms the majority of the work that I do, and I am really happy about that. Steering people away from the expensive adversarial court system towards a path of empowerment and ownership of their future. For me personally, my mediation work is more flexible and family friendly. I am no longer at the whim of court hours. I am no longer under a constant cloud of stress. And I'm a better mum.
Whilst I still have the occasional bad day in court, I feel like I have found my way. Found my path in law. And whilst it is not the usual track for barristers to tread, it works for me. It is a path that allowed me to stay, and most importantly, be happy in law.
So it can be done. It might take you 12 months or 12 or more years. Find a direction that works for you. Find what ignites your fire. Be bold, take risks and follow a path you are passionate about. What have you got to lose? You may just find yourself becoming a happy, well balanced and fulfilled legal practitioner!