Pippa Colman, Director of Pippa Colman & Associates, was for much of her career the only solicitor in her office without a degree. Having completed her articles through the Solicitor’s Board, she worked as a general practitioner for two years and then was a member of a partnership.
In 1989, disenchanted with the law, she bought a campervan and went around Australia for six months. When she returned, she found mediation, did locum work and in 2001, she started her own firm on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast.
Insights spoke to Pippa Colman about what attracted her to family law, how she founded her own firm, and what she appreciates most about practising as a family lawyer.
Colman found herself specialising in family law quite by circumstance. “I did locum work for a firm in Mooloolaba, doing only litigation and family law,” she said. “I found I was good at it, enjoyed it, and quickly became so busy that my hours had to be doubled.”
From 1995, Colman practised only in family law, obtaining Specialist Accreditation in 1997.
To address the needs of her ageing clients, Pippa began her studies in the College’s LLM (Applied Law) majoring in Wills & Estates.
“My College of Law Studies brought me up to date with the law of wills, estates, enduring powers of attorneys and also elder law, and I work in these areas most days. My clients are ageing, and inheritance is often a factor. Sometimes they are looking after a mother or father, and there is a granny flat at the house.
Striking out on her own with her firm was also initially a family affair.
“I brought furniture from home, and set up with my husband as my secretary. He wasn’t much good at that,” she admitted. “In the first week, I put on two part timers. I had clients pay for each interview, and used a credit card to fund expenses.”
For lawyers looking to set up their own practice, Colman advised realism – and compassion.
“Be interested in your clients; treat them well and with compassion. Get your clients involved in the file and have them do as much as they can themselves. Be settlement focused. Be realistic. Work hard. Read cases every day. Look at legislation when you are preparing your documents.”
It is a challenging area of practice. “Every day there is something urgent,” said Colman. “You have to juggle. You will need back up team members – solicitors, trainees, students and administrators because you cannot possibly do it all by yourself.”
Regardless of the relentless time pressure in family law, it remains a field which Colman finds constantly rewarding.
“You can make a difference to a family with just one interview. Often people are nearly beside themselves with worry when they come in. There are a lot of silly negative and scary stories circulating in the community about family break-ups.”
“I don’t know if I found family law or if [it] found me, but I love what do and could never contemplate leaving family law.”