17 January 2017

EQ, Wagyu, and Parallel Universes: Inside Perth’s Largest Family Law Firm, Leach Legal

Published on 17 January 2017
 

 

 

In the aftermath of a marriage, family lawyers face a critical, and at times unenviable task – helping their client through one of the most destabilising periods of their lives. Their role is a strange hybrid, part legal technician, part counsellor, part advocate, requiring empathy and objectivity in equal measure.

Catherine Leach is Managing Director of Perth’s largest family law firm, Leach Legal, and an alumnus of the College’s Master of Applied Law (Family Law). Insights spoke to Catherine about her approach to family law, how she keeps her personal life apart from the emotional demands of her work, and all she has learned along the way – from Sharia Law to wagyu beef farming to the cycle of grief, separation and attachment.

 
"Remember, you are in a parallel universe,” said Leach, relaying wisdom conveyed to her early in her career from a family law colleague. “You should not immerse yourself in the problems of your clients because you are never going to be them.”

  

“I have found that the best way to manage clients and conflict is to listen more and talk less,” Leach said. “I think as lawyers we want to quickly step in and solve the client’s problem when in fact they are just thinking out loud. Often clients will come to their own solution just by me asking the right question and probing into the issues. Similarly, when dealing with others lawyers and other parties, a little bit of active, non-judgmental listening is a great technique to dispel conflict.”
 
Ensuring work remains at work is essential. “I always focus on working efficiently – Monday to Friday and out by 6pm,” Leach said. “I try to take regular holidays, even if it is just for two or three days and we close the office over Christmas to give everyone a complete break.” Her weekend work is minimal. “Limiting my time in the office is a priority to ensure I stay fit for the long haul.”
 
Prior to her current role, she commenced studies in psychology and high school English teaching.
 
“Teaching was not for me,” admitted Leach. “I was cleaning offices over the summer holidays and got talking to a lawyer. I decided Family Law would be a nice intersection of psychology, English and law. The lawyer suggested I ring the Law Society to find out about Five Year Articles. If I could find a job within two weeks, I could be part of a special Five Year Articled Clerk scheme run by the Law Society to provide more lawyers to the profession.”
 
Having gone to school in Bunbury, she realised the town may lack lawyers as few university graduates returned to Bunbury after graduation. Eight letters to eight law firms and three interviews later, she landed a role with Young & Young. “I moved out of my house, quit my teaching course and relocated to Bunbury.”
 
She hasn’t looked back. “Family law is incredibly challenging but also very rewarding. The system can be unpredictable. We need to continually walk our clients through ‘best case/worst case’ scenarios. Even then, the Court or other side can do something completely unpredictable which completely changes our strategy.”
 
The emotional aspect of family law can also be demanding, especially with children involved. “Particularly since I have my own children, I really struggled with cases where children were being used by parents to further their own case – for example denigrating the other parent. You need pretty good EQ (emotional quotient) and life skills to support and guide your client; the requirement to act as a psychologist and/or counsellor can be overwhelming. We always recommend counselling in those cases.”
 
“The real turning point for me was realising that I didn’t always know what my clients were thinking. Often things that I thought were not negotiable were actually not a problem (although unfortunately sometimes vice versa). I stopped imagining conflict until I knew where the client really stood. That helped me detach and be more objective when we discussed the issues.”
 
Her enthusiasm for her field remains undimmed. “No two cases are ever the same,” she said. “You learn about so many things. I now know about wagyu beef farming, car dealerships, construction companies, accounting partnerships, wineries, medical practices, Sharia law, fashion labels and cattle stations. I know about the cycle of grief in separation, attachment theory in young children and narcissistic personalities.”
 
Family lawyers, she said, are in a privileged position for many reasons. “Most of all, you can change people’s lives and put them on a path to a better future.”
 
 

 

 

 

Nicole Davidson

Principal, Growing Beyond & Adjunct Lecturer, The College of Law Victoria

Nicole is a qualified lawyer with a background in law, investment banking and insolvency.

 
Over her career, Nicole has worked with and consulted to leading organisations including Ernst & Young, Minter Ellison, Ashurst, DLA Piper, Lehman Brothers, DHL, Optus, Lend Lease and Michael Page. 

 

More recently, Nicole has transitioned into the professional development space where she has taken her knowledge of business and married it with in depth knowledge of the process of negotiation and communication. 

 Career Lab Series

 

 

 

Nicole Davidson

Principal, Growing Beyond & Adjunct Lecturer, The College of Law Victoria

Nicole is a qualified lawyer with a background in law, investment banking and insolvency.

 
Over her career, Nicole has worked with and consulted to leading organisations including Ernst & Young, Minter Ellison, Ashurst, DLA Piper, Lehman Brothers, DHL, Optus, Lend Lease and Michael Page. 

 

More recently, Nicole has transitioned into the professional development space where she has taken her knowledge of business and married it with in depth knowledge of the process of negotiation and communication. 

 Career Lab Series

 

 

 

Nicole Davidson

Principal, Growing Beyond & Adjunct Lecturer, The College of Law Victoria

Nicole is a qualified lawyer with a background in law, investment banking and insolvency.

 
Over her career, Nicole has worked with and consulted to leading organisations including Ernst & Young, Minter Ellison, Ashurst, DLA Piper, Lehman Brothers, DHL, Optus, Lend Lease and Michael Page. 

 

More recently, Nicole has transitioned into the professional development space where she has taken her knowledge of business and married it with in depth knowledge of the process of negotiation and communication. 

 Career Lab Series