Zoë Durand is a lawyer of influence. A family lawyer for over 12 years, Zoë is a published author and Founder and Principal of Mediation Answers, committed to transforming long-held perceptions within family law. Her new book, Inside Family Law: Conversations from the Coalface, is a collection of candid interviews with over 40 leading family law experts in Australia and has been featured on the front page of The Australian, ABC, 10 Daily and more.
Insights spoke to Zoë about Inside Family Law, her experience as a College of Law alumna, and her advice for young, up-and-coming lawyers looking to carve their own niche in the profession.
Inside Family Law: Conversations from the Coalface
"Inside Family Law grew organically from my years of work as a family lawyer,” said Zoë, who began working exclusively as a family lawyer in 2011. “Early on I was struck by the gulf between how the family law system worked and what the client’s preconceived ideas were. I thought there was a real need to demystify family law and empower those navigating the system with practical tips and more subtly a sense of the family law jargon, thinking and paradigms.”
Zoë felt there was need to bring the kind of discussions common within family law to a broader audience. While Inside Family Law is also of great relevance to family lawyers and those studying family law, its conversational style makes it accessible to everyday people separating.
“As a lawyer you often find yourself privy to interesting discussions at family law functions, or informally at lunch with other lawyers, barristers, Judges and experts. There is a kind of alchemy to compelling discussion, a transformative magic where the sum of ideas generated is greater than what the lone individuals could generate. This book is the bottled version of that lunchtime chat.”
“In addition to the practical tips that each interviewee offers, there is also a slightly disruptive side to the book. I did put the hard questions to those interviewed. Basically I put to the interviewees all the questions my clients had asked me over the years.
“The aim for the book is to tell the inside, behind-the-scenes story about family law through dialogue with those at its coalface”.
The value of a practice-based education
Inside Family Law was recently launched at The College of Law’s Sydney campus, which felt like a natural choice. Zoë credits the College as a key factor in her success as a lawyer and mediator.
“I really wanted to enrich my understanding of family law after 4 years in commercial law. I was looking for a course that was practical and focused on the kind of work I would do in reality as a family law solicitor. I also thought the College offered the possibility for networking with other professionals in the field and I liked that the lecturers seemed to be still working in the area on a daily basis. The focus on law in practise was very helpful. Assignments were based on things I was really doing as a lawyer and this certainly helped me become a better lawyer”.
The relationships Zoë formed through the College of Law brought her into contact with former Family Court Judge, The Hon Justice Peter Rose OM QC, a mentor and one of her greatest supporters.
“The Hon Justice Rose was one of the guest lecturers at College of Law. I met him through the advocacy course, and he became a mentor for me. He was actually also the first person I interviewed for the book!”
“I've known Zoë for several years,” said Justice Rose. “She was a student of mine in the Masters program at the College of Law, which, notwithstanding my lectures, she successfully completed.”
It was an experience that defined the College of Law’s Masters for Zoë. Following her positive experience during her Masters, Zoë went on to undertake her Graduate Diploma of Family Dispute Resolution and her National Mediation Assessment at the College of Law.
“Seek out mentors who you admire and don’t be afraid to ask for help,” encouraged Zoë. “There actually are many senior lawyers who genuinely want to help younger lawyers”.
On education, flexibility, and work/life balance
For new or young family lawyers looking to follow in her footsteps, seeking out additional avenues for learning is imperative to get ahead.
“Firstly and most importantly do a good job. Seek out further education or learning opportunities and actively strive to produce quality work. In addition to the quality of your work, you do need to also build your personal brand. Look objectively at your experiences and CV, see what is missing and try to obtain those experiences”.
She also says that having a flexible career plan keeps you open to new possibilities.
“Have a career plan, but also be open to new, unexpected ideas and opportunities that deviate from the plan too. You need some plans, but also some flexibility”.
As for work-life balance, Zoë takes a practical approach.
“I personally have questioned whether work/life balance, at least in the traditional sense, is consistently possible. I work very intensely on projects, but after that I will take a long break to recharge. I think, frankly, big projects like Inside Family Law do require some kind of sacrifice to get done. But then you must take a significant amount of time off or time doing less. Over the course of the year I achieve a kind of ‘balance’, but I am not sure if you can on a day-to-day basis achieve a perfect balance, and personally I think that’s ok”.
For more on Zoë Durand and Inside Family Law see mediationanswers.com.au
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