Kristal Naividi had the odds against her becoming a lawyer. Born to a teenage mother, she grew up in public housing. No one in her family had finished high school, much less law school. Yet the principal and founder of Coastal Lawyers never gave up, and put herself through the LPAB program while working for a sole practitioner initially and then the DPP. Insights spoke to Kristal about her unlikely path to the law, her setbacks and successes, and what advice she might have for those who aspire to the law, but may not come from 'traditional’ lawyer backgrounds.
Whatever your background, you always have free will
"Despite the bad rap that lawyers can get, the core of why many of us become lawyers is to help people,” observed Kristal.
Growing up as she did, Kristal saw first-hand how much people needed help to escape cycles of poverty and violence.
"My parents and step-parents did the best they could, but amid a complex concoction of family violence, alcoholism and mental illness, they failed often. I witnessed things I shouldn't. I grew up much earlier than a child should,” admitted Kristal.
"No one in my family finished high school. University was something "other" people did. Statistically, I was more likely to see a lawyer for help than be a lawyer,” she said, noting a sibling who had been in and out of jail.
She shares her story to inspire others growing up in similar circumstances.
"I want to show people that regardless of your upbringing, socioeconomic status or life challenges, you always have your free will. You really can achieve anything you set your mind too. It doesn't mean that it will be easy, but you can do it. You can break that cycle of generational trauma and poverty."
Learning grit, determination and laser focus
Her route to become a lawyer was far from a straight line. From the age of sixteen, she largely fended for herself.
"My mum helped where she could, but her emotional and financial resources were limited," I had supportive grandparents but they didn’t live nearby and could only help so much” explained Kristal. "I worked throughout high school and supported myself, so it wasn't too much of a jump. At a young age, I had learned that if you want something, you work hard and get it yourself."
After graduating high school, Kristal worked full time with a sole practitioner, who told her about the LPAB course.
"I had never even heard of it, but it was perfect. I worked in the day and attended weekend or night lectures. I then did my Practical Legal Training (PLT) through the College of Law, which offered me the flexibility I needed."
Staying focused was crucial to her success.
"Necessity is the mother of invention, and frankly, I didn't have a choice,” said Kristal. "One of the benefits of a difficult upbringing is that it teaches you grit and determination. I was laser-focused on my goal. It certainly wasn't easy. There were days when I wondered if I was out of my depth. It probably took me little longer, but I was young and determined, so I just took it one step at a time."
While her immediate family may have been unable to support her, she sought new support networks.
"I created my village. I have the most beautiful friendship circle and the support of my husband, who has always been there to lift and encourage me,” she reflected. "Before I knew it, I was admitted to the Supreme Court of NSW as a lawyer. It was an incredibly surreal and proud day. I always knew I could do it, but I still couldn't quite believe it!"
Taking the plunge to found her own firm
Twelve years with the NSW Director Public Prosecutions and three children later, Kristal was ready to take the plunge and start her own firm. Fear had long held her back, but after her husband was diagnosed with testicular cancer, she found the push she needed.
"Life is all the cliches. It is short. It is uncertain, and it isn't a dress rehearsal. We owe it to ourselves to make the most of it,” observed Kristal. "I am the incredibly proud owner and principal solicitor of Coastal Lawyers on the sunny Central Coast. Not surprisingly, given my background, I focus on criminal law and family law. While many practitioners avoid these highly emotive areas of law, it is where I am most comfortable. I provide the legal advice that clients expect, but I also offer the emotional support and resources which many may not have ever received. I can empathise with their situations in a meaningful way, and it makes me a powerful advocate of their stories."
Your life experiences are your advantage
"Statistically, the odds were against me,” admitted Kristal. "Many people have said I am so brave to be candid with my story and upbringing, but it isn't bravery. It is authenticity, and sometimes today we want to present our best social media self rather than our true selves."
She shares her unvarnished upbringing to spur others dreaming big dreams to forge forward, even if the odds seem against them.
"It won't be easy. It won't be without tears, failures and self-doubt. But take that first step,” urged Kristal. "Fall, rest and pause when you need too but don't give up. Because one day you will look back at what you have achieved and be proud you kept going."
"Don't underestimate how your life experiences can give you an advantage," observed Kristal. "The resilience, determination and empathy you gain are incredible skills that can't is taught. They are your badge of honour after a challenging experience. Wear them with pride. Don't worry about anyone else – just do you! Believe in yourself. You are just as worthy as the next person. The legal profession should be a diverse landscape reflective of the community we serve."
Accepting failure as a chance to learn
For Kristal, accepting her setbacks have helped shaped her successes.
"The law naturally attracts A-type personalities, which is not unexpected given the nature of our work. However, that can also mean that we can sometimes see mistakes as failings instead of learnings."
When she failed her second subject in law school, she thought it was the end of the world.
"The subject had a 50% failure rate, but it didn't matter. It brought up all sorts of insecurities of not being worthy enough, and maybe law was something which "other people did" "smart people". But I pushed through. I sucked up my pride and my embarrassment and kept going,” said Kristal.
It was a lesson that has served her well throughout her professional life.
"I have been overlooked for promotions or missed out on roles I really wanted,” admitted Kristal. "I have been underestimated because I am a woman or because I was young but again, I stuck with it, I focused on my goals and it all led me to where I am today."
"Too often if the path isn't a smooth linear path you don't want to walk it, but often it will all lead to where you are supposed to be. Without the setbacks and disappointments, I wouldn't be running my own legal practice and more importantly I wouldn't have met many amazing colleagues and people. Life is in the people."