Law, it’s often said, is a moveable feast. As such, being a good lawyer requires constant study. While lawyers graduate with a fundamental knowledge of the Priestley Eleven, keeping up with changes to the law, or seeking to specialise or expand into new areas necessitates further study. However, pursuing study amidst the demands of work and family life can seem daunting. Here are some tips from College of Law graduates on how to navigate these competing commitments without unduly compromising work performance or family life.
Commit to striking a balance
Lawyer Bree Mawhinney knows all too well the challenge of balancing study with work and family – she was still studying as she went into labour.
“After I became pregnant with my third child, I knew I wanted to change my career direction and go into private practice. The College of Law offered the best online platform to complete a Masters, and I wanted my study to be practically focused,” said Bree.
For Bree, a mother of three, the key was making a conscious decision to commit to balance.
“I had a lot of late nights with my youngest asleep on my lap while I typed my assessments,” Bree said. “I do remember actually studying while in labour with my third child, Sage. Soon after she was born, my end of semester exam was due, which I somehow managed to complete!”
Kimberley Martin, also a graduate of The College of Law LLM, put extra focus on her career goals early on.
“I was prepared to do what was necessary, including sacrificing other pursuits which were less important to me than the law,” said Kimberley. “However, it is important to have a plan, and to be effective and efficient with your time, and to chart your expectations and achievements. It is important to stay present and to stay focussed not only on your career goals, but your life goals, and to allocate a balance to both.”
Be disciplined with your time
Johanna Byrne, a widowed mother of seven, became national indigenous law student of the year after graduating from Southern Cross University with honours.
“On a day-to-day level it was not easy,” said Johanna. Discipline and time management were essential. “I would study at night when the kids went to bed (usually from 9pm to 1am – 2am). On the weekends, I would take the kids to the beach or to the park and bring along my laptop and text books and study.”
Keeping a clear routine for her children was vital, and her two teenage daughters pitched in to help get their younger brothers to school.
“I read a lot – on the train on the way to work and home from work. I got assignments done as early as I could so I wouldn’t be rushed at the last moment.”
Share the load
It takes a village to raise a family – so Bree found the village. She called on her mother to assist with her newborn daughter, Sage, while her husband took the children out of the house so she could study.
“Lack of sleep and lack of time made it hard, but I would just have to set aside time and try to totally focus. Lots of coffee, followed by green tea, chocolate and the occasional glass of red wine helped too! You just get it done.”
Leave your work at work
Tony Phillips, owner and managing director of Phillips Family Law, comes from a generation of lawyers who rarely took downtime. He worked six-day weeks, with Sundays devoted to catching up on work or preparing for the week ahead.
“It was unhealthy,” he admitted. Now he encourages lawyers to leave their work at work – an approach that has led his award-winning firm to become renowned not only for its family law expertise but also for its happy lawyers.
“I’m incredibly passionate about the work that I do, but I don’t take it home. Put it behind you. It’s important to stay grounded and appreciate the small things in your life. It’s never a smooth journey, but everybody has problems. All things pass. You’ll wake up tomorrow and be a bit better.”
His advice to lawyers: “In that time between leaving the office and arriving home, leave the work behind. Leave the day behind. Tomorrow’s another day. The challenge that seemed overwhelming today will seem less overwhelming tomorrow.”
Be physically ‘fit for practice’
Adding exercise on top of study, work and family life might seem impossible, but the benefits are significant.
“Keeping up my passion for running gave me the energy to face the day!” said Bree.
To manage the unpredictable nature of her work, in-house counsel Emma German does her workout prior to work, first thing in the morning.
“Exercising before work has the added benefit of clearing my head and boosting my mood for the day ahead,” said Emma. “Invest in a skipping rope – just fifteen minutes of skipping a few times a week is perfect when you’re time poor.”
Above all, set a realistic exercise schedule – two to three sessions a week.
“The key to staying motivated mentally and physically is to find a form of exercise you actually enjoy – whether it’s running, tennis, dancing, yoga, gold, boxing, walking along the beach – the list is endless! If you’re doing an exercise that feels like torture, you’ll fall off the wagon in no time.”
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