South Australian family lawyer Selina Nikoloudakis did not have the most auspicious start to her legal career.
Admitted to law in the midst of the global financial crisis, Selina faced a protracted job search compounded by little practical experience. In less than ten years she was honoured as a Leading Family Lawyer in the Australian Doyle’s Guide (2018)the winner of the coveted Sandra Paul Memorial Prize as dux of her College of Law LLM (Applied Law) majoring in Family Law and attained specialist accreditation. She now lectures with the College, in addition to the being the South Australian Family Law Team Leader at the College.
Insights spoke to Selina about how she got her start in family law, what she loves most about her work, and what advice she might have for lawyers looking to enter and excel in this challenging, but rewarding area of practice.
Tenacity turned a part-time job into a full-time career
“Being admitted to practice in 2009 was less than ideal,” said Selina. Faced with more experienced lawyers competing for fewer positions, she emailed her CV to several family law firms on her shortlist.
“Following an interview, a boutique family law firm gave me a chance and offered me a part-time position,” said Selina. She seized the opportunity to prove her worth, working tirelessly to learn all she could alongside the firm’s experienced lawyers.
“Within a year, I transitioned to full-time employment,” said Selina. She credits her success to a work ethic cultivated during law school, whilst also working as a medical receptionist.
Despite the hardships posed by the GFC, Selina has never looked back.
“Don’t let economic circumstances dampen your aspirations,” urged Selina. “As challenging as perseverance can be, I persisted in my pursuit of a career in the law and never lost hope.”
Juggling life as a family law specialist
Selina, a Senior Associate at Mellor Olsson Lawyers, is an Accredited Family Law Specialist. She practises solely in family law.
“My regular working day typically starts before I even get to the office, with a review of my calendar and a check of emails received overnight,” explained Selina. “This allows me to get ahead with planning my day. Once I arrive at the office, it’s all about prioritising. I usually begin by responding to urgent emails. Beyond this my day typically involves preparing for client meetings, communicating with clients, drafting Court documents, negotiating with opposing lawyers, planning for mediations and preparing for and attending Court. I am fortunate to have a dedicated PA who takes calls and manages my diary, which is a great assistance, as juggling tasks is a challenge, particularly during busy periods.”
Despite how busy her days can be, Selina is passionate about family law.
“I enjoy working closely with clients to formulate a plan to progress their matter,” said Selina. “It is most rewarding to ultimately see matters resolve, allowing clients to begin a new chapter after what is a most challenging and emotionally taxing time. Family law is almost always emotionally charged and a separation can have a devastating and long-lasting impact on clients and their children. I feel that through my work as a family lawyer, I am able to genuinely help people when they need it most.”
Mastering a complex, constantly evolving field
Family law is complex and constantly evolving.
“A thorough understanding of the law is vital to effectively deliver the legal advice your clients need,” said Selina. Being a mere dilettante is ill-advised.
“It is difficult to take on an occasional family law matter and have the requisite confidence and expertise to accurately advise a client through the complex family law process,” said Selina.
Rather than assuming family law work piecemeal, Selina recommends a complete commitment to the field.
“If you do decide to pursue family law, I strongly recommend making it a true specialty in which you constantly practice, if not your sole area of focus,” said Selina. “As a starting point, purchase a copy of the Family Law Act and the relevant Rules. Consider enrolling in postgraduate studies such as the College’s LLM (Applied Law) majoring in Family Law. As a graduate of this degree, it comes with my highest recommendation.”
Equally important is possessing the right temperament for family law.
“If you are considering family law, you should ideally reflect certain personality traits,” said Selina. “These include compassion, empathy and patience, among others.”
She also recommends reaching out to practising lawyers for coffee catch-ups.
“Learn from their experience, and seek their advice about optimising your value as a potential recruit,” advised Selina. “This might be outside your comfort zone, but put yourselves out there and make connections with lawyers early on, even before you graduate – you never know what this could lead to in the future!”