Ann Meehan did not start out as a family lawyer. Indeed, she explored several areas of law before settling on family law and estate planning, fields in which both her father and stepmother had long specialised. Inspired by their decade-spanning passion for the field, Ann ventured in and has never looked back. Insights spoke to Ann about how she came to specialise in family law and estate planning, what she enjoys most about these areas of law, and what advice she might have for lawyers looking to specialise.
Family law is a family affair
As a new lawyer, Ann was happy to put in the long hours and late nights common to the job. She delved into conveyancing, banking and finance, and debt recovery before trying her hand at family law.
“My father had worked in family law for over forty years,” said Ann. “He is an accredited specialist in advocacy and children’s law. His work is what inspired me to follow him into family law, particularly as it involved providing care and protection. What better way to learn and grow than learn from the best - and from your own family!”
Her stepmother is also a specialist in estate planning, which has become another area of focus for Ann.
“She has been a great mentor in estate planning,” enthused Ann. “I’m so fascinated by the field. It’s very different from family law. It’s nice to have a chat about the lives of my clients so we can discuss getting their affairs in order.”
Making a difference for clients
Every day is different in Ann’s line of work. Her matters span estate planning and family law, which includes care and protection, and at times, criminal law.
“I am often in court, or running between the office and court to attend client meetings,” said Ann. Like many lawyers, COVID-19 has pushed most of her appointments to video conferencing or phone calls.
“Some days are spent drafting or reviewing court documents, writing submissions, responding to emails, or simply being a punching bag for clients who need to vent!”
The personal aspect of her work is what makes the role so rewarding.
“I get to help make a difference in people’s lives,” said Ann. “Helping people with their problems, or to work out their affairs, can be rewarding because you are providing assistance when people need it most. I especially enjoy working with children as they are highly vulnerable, and I’m able to advocate for their wellbeing and their future.”
Many of the parents Ann encounters are struggling with domestic violence or substance abuse.
“While it can be challenging to work with parents on these issues, it’s rewarding to help someone turn their life around and change a cycle of reckless behaviour.”
Mastering the art of courtroom persuasion
For lawyers interested in specialising in family law or estate planning, Ann’s advice is twofold: find a good mentor, and build your resilience.
“While these areas of law are highly rewarding, they can, at times, be extremely challenging,” said Ann. “If you can find a great teacher or mentor, you can bounce ideas or ask silly questions you might otherwise be uncomfortable raising.”
Doing well in court, for Ann, comes down to preparation.
“Court work is the art of persuasion,” said Ann. “Being highly prepared helps you. As a paralegal, I was told that you can’t control other people’s actions, but you can control your own. If you are going to specialise in these fields, you need a thick skin, be highly prepared, and know that clients won’t always be happy. Be a good listener. It’s one of the best ways you can help.”
As the legal profession weathers the Coronavirus recession, Ann counsels persistence.
“Look for opportunities that might give you an edge over other applicants,” said Ann. “This might include volunteering during your studies, or starting a position which will provide important experience and assist you after you have completed your studies.”