Tanya Straguszi, principal lawyer of Maurice Blackburn’s Cairns office, is proud to call herself a regional lawyer. She leads a team of 25, of which 95% are female. Her contributions to the law, and the Cairns community she serves recently saw her named the Women Lawyers Association of Queensland’s Regional Women Lawyer of 2019. Insights spoke to Tanya about her daily life as a regional lawyer, what attracted her to the law, and what advice she might have for lawyers considering a career outside the cities.
Embracing flexible work
“It is an incredible honour to have won this award amongst a very impressive line-up of other high achieving female lawyers,” said Tanya. She credits her team’s work and its contributions to the community, which is in part made possible through her firm’s flexible work policy.
“Most of our female lawyers are working mothers. Flexible work is essential to balance work and family life commitments,” said Tanya. “Whilst females are far outnumbering males at law schools, we are not seeing this replicated in upper management or at the senior partner level. I have used my leadership position to support and encourage my team to assume leadership roles within our firm and within the community on various boards or committees. This has seen our office go from strength to strength.”
Tanya knew she wanted to be a lawyer since high school. After spending her early career in commercial law, she realised it wasn’t for her.
“I enjoy the human interaction involved in personal injury law,” said Tanya. “You assist people regardless of their background, where they live or whether they can afford justice. When a position came up within the firm in the personal injuries team, I jumped at it and have never looked back.”
Passion is crucial
“Private practice can be tough,” said Tanya. Finding what you’re passionate about is important, particularly your preferred area of practice. For Tanya, choosing personal injury was as much due to the substance of the law as it was about the people involved.
“It is an absolute honour and privilege to be able to represent people who are going through such a tough time in their lives,” said Tanya. “In terms of leadership, I relish the opportunity to manage and mentor my team. Seeing others within my team succeed is deeply rewarding.”
In addition, Tanya sits on a government-owned corporation board as a director, a leadership role which allows her to support females in other professions.
Don’t leave regional Australia
“New lawyers should not feel like they have to leave regional Australia and move to big capital cities in order to have a meaningful career in the law,” said Tanya.
Indeed, this is a major misconception about what regional lawyers do in their daily practice.
“I have had some of the most incredible opportunities presented to me very early on in my career because I have worked regionally,” Tanya said. “I have worked on tough, challenging, exciting and interesting cases which may not have come past my desk as a junior lawyer had I been working in a large capital city.”
She encouraged new lawyers to persist in finding their first job in a regional centre. However challenging, working as a regional lawyer presents untold rewards.
“Once you secure employment, provided you work hard and say ‘yes’ to opportunities, you will find that your career will progress a lot quicker.”
This may mean taking on new cases or assuming leadership roles which may not have been offered to a junior lawyer in the city.
“I would then encourage those regional lawyers who find themselves in leadership positions to support other junior lawyers, especially female lawyers. We need to give them the same opportunities we had so as to retain talent in regional Australia.”
Divide and conquer
In Tanya’s experience, the best way to succeed is together, as a team.
“Sometimes you cannot do it all!” said Tanya. “So, divide and conquer! Surround yourself with other incredible female lawyers to mentor and support your success - and vice versa.”
Juggling work, family and other leadership roles in the community can be a challenge for any lawyer. For Tanya, being a working mother with a young child of school age can make the balancing act very tough.
“At times, it’s a struggle. But I have been very lucky to have worked with and supported some very talented and inspiring female lawyers throughout my career. Never forget who has assisted you throughout your career. It’s important to be competitive with yourself but not your female colleagues.”