Or a doctor? A police-officer? Teacher? Rigger? Builder? I’m curious about why people follow the career paths they do. I’m curious about what it is they enjoy in their work.
I was speaking with a colleague recently and I asked him why it is he does what he does.
Interestingly, or perhaps unsurprisingly, although in different professions, we are both motivated to help people. We are both driven and motivated to work with people to help improve their lives.
Why we do the work we do is so often at the forefront of our mind. It’s what drives us to be the best professional we can be, to provide the best service we can, to implement new ideas.
So.. why family law?
It’s a question I’m commonly asked and often with tones that range from curiosity to horror. I suppose, because it’s an area that involves working with people in the grips of emotion. And it can be messy and challenging. It is mostly rewarding.
The easiest answer to give is “because I wanted to help people”.
There’s a deeper reason.
There is a quote I have on the wall in my office which I read and silently recite most days.
“Ask yourself what is really important, and then have the courage and wisdom to build your life around that answer”.
My colleague asked me what made me decide to be a family lawyer.
I have known the answer to this question for a long time, but have struggled to articulate it well until recently.
And I’m honestly not sure, even now, if I can articulate the reason adequately, or with any great clarity.
Do you remember the moment you decided what you were going to do with the rest of your life? And why?
I remember the precise moment I decided I would be a family lawyer.
It is indelibly marked in my mind.
It’s what gave me the courage to move to Queensland at the start of my career; and it’s what brought me back to South Australia.
It is also what motivates me to provide personal service to my clients, making sure they know and understand they are not alone during one of the most difficult periods of their life.
Throughout high school, law was the only career I was interested in pursuing – although as a criminal lawyer. And only as a criminal lawyer.
My interest in criminal law and the criminal mind was strong. I wanted to understand why certain people are driven or wired to behave in certain ways. I was determined to be a prosecutor and work in the DPP.
In the moment I decided my future career was in family law, I had not yet applied, nor been accepted into a law degree.
I simply knew that I would go and study law, and be a family lawyer.
I had only recently finished my psychology degree, which was, in my mind, my second prize after being distracted in high school and not achieving a high enough grade for entry into law.
My psychology degree has, of course, been utterly invaluable in my career as a family lawyer.
In the precise moment I decided I would be a family lawyer I was working in a small accounting practice. I was doing the very uninspiring task of my weekly filing, which was a job that did not require a great deal of concentration, and oft times provided me the opportunity to let my mind wander.
On this particular afternoon, I was thinking about a couple I was quite close to at the time. They were quite a bit older than me. And things were not great for them.
The wife had told me that she was going to end her marriage.
As with many relationships, there were so many complexities and challenges in their family at the time. And so, on reflection, and sadly, I wasn’t surprised to hear the news.
At the time my friend told me, she hadn’t told her husband. We didn’t speak about it much after that initial conversation.
It was as if she needed only to say out loud what she wanted to do, to then find the courage to be able to do it.
I can only imagine how terrifying and overwhelming the prospect of preparing for, anticipating and then having that conversation was.
The response from her husband was unknown, and therefore, how her immediate and long-term future looked was uncertain.
In that moment, the only thing she could control was the timing of when she felt strong enough to tell her husband that she considered their marriage was over.
She had no control over how her husband would respond or react to the news.
And so, on that day, while I was doing my filing, I was trying to anticipate how her husband would react when that conversation eventuated. I was trying to work out how he would respond; and how her future would look.
But mostly, I was trying to work out how I could help her.
If her husband had been a lawyer, he would have been described as a gladiator – but less entertaining, and more aggressive.
While some people may take great pride in being labeled a gladiator, to be clear – it’s not something I associate as a good thing. The gladiatorial approach makes me uncomfortable. I consider it unnecessary for most aspects of legal practice, but particularly in the “human” areas of law, like family law. And otherwise, I find it to be a disingenuous way to approach life generally.
Perhaps my fears were borne out of watching too many movies and reading too many books in the law genre of messy divorces and long drawn-out court battles.
I was worried for my friend that her husband would move quickly and take the position of gladiator in their separation.
Or worse, I was worried he would hire a lawyer with a gladiatorial nature, presenting her with a settlement proposal and a great deal of pressure to “take it or leave it”.
I was worried the proposals and pressure would come with little care or thought for the impact that hard-lined attitude would have on her; that my friend didn’t have anyone to help her understand the process, to provide her with information and advice about her options; and there was no-one to help make space for the time and patience she needed to consider and process all the information.
I knew she was perfectly capable of being able to negotiate the outcome once she had all the information, advice and the time to prepare.
In that moment, and for sometime after, I felt deeply concerned the only lawyers available were gladiators.
I was worried without support from a peaceful lawyer, she may not feel strong enough to find her voice, or feel empowered enough to make an informed decision about any proposals her husband would make.
I knew that if she had the information, the time to process the information and understand her options, she would have the confidence to find her voice for those discussions. She would feel empowered to ask the questions she needed to ask, and the outcome would be better for her… for them.
It never occurred to me that she might make the first or ultimate proposal because her husband was the one who had control over the finances and all the information.
She couldn’t make any informed decisions until she had all the information, and that first required telling him their marriage was over.
He was the one with the professional contacts and the access to the gladiatorial professionals – the lawyers, accountants, financial advisors.
I wanted my friend to have the time to understand their financial position, understand the options available to her to be able to make the right decisions that would help her start her new normal.
In that moment, standing at the filing cabinet, somewhere between A-Z, I decided I would become the peaceful family lawyer my friend needed.
I decided I would be the one to provide the information and options bundled up in legal advice. I would be the one to advocate for patience and time and outcomes that provided the better future until she found her voice to say what she needed to say.
In the moment, I decided that I would help her understand the information and the options available to her before she made the decisions that would, ultimately, impact the rest of her life.
So on that day, while I was filing – in my mind, I became a family lawyer.
And over the next 3 years at university, I relentlessly pursued that special piece of paper that made me qualified to help people find their voice in the legal jungle, and make informed decisions about their future.
My experience has only served to show me that there are better options available for the families who do separate.
I have learned much from my peaceful colleagues and my gladiatorial colleagues about what works well for families experiencing separation. And what clearly doesn’t.
Peaceful processes produce better outcomes for all involved.
My experience has shown me that it’s possible to sort out even the messiest of separations with a peaceful, purposeful approach, focussing on positive problem solving.
I can’t emphasize enough how satisfying it is to help someone who has separated make informed decisions about their separation and achieve a peaceful separation.
It is also satisfying knowing that their spouse is also committed to achieving an amicable separation; and chooses to speak to a lawyer who is motivated to take a peaceful and positive approach. In those circumstances, the outcome is better for everyone.
Megan Sweetlove is a divorce lawyer and the owner of Sweetlove Family Law. Megan has worked with families who are experiencing separation and divorce for over 10 years. She is committed to assisting her clients find respectful outcomes to their separation, away from the Court process and with a focus on having a healthy future.
If you or someone you know needs assistance during divorce you can organise a complimentary 15 minute phone appointment with Megan here.
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