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On the job in family law
Lotte Calahan studies Arts/Law at University of Technology Sydney and is now an associate at Taylor & Scott Lawyers.
What's your name and job title? What did you study? When did you graduate?
I’m Lotte Callanan, an associate at Taylor & Scott Lawyers, and the Chair of the NSW Young Lawyers Family Law Committee. I graduated with an Arts/Law degree from UTS in 2012.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Sydney. However, I did live in a small town in New Zealand for six months when I was in Year 8. I was desperate to study law and in order to maximise my grades, I studied Year 12 over two years so I could focus more on each subject. Although I didn’t take a gap year, I travelled as much as I could during uni breaks.
What was your first job? Did you learn anything from it that still helps you today?
I started working when I was 14 years old as a shop assistant, which was a really great way to develop my communication skills. You learn very quickly how to communicate with a wide range of people including those you may not be exposed to you in your day-to-day life.
How did you get to your current job and for how long have you had it?
Family law is a relatively small profession and you find out about a lot of jobs through word of mouth or personal referrals. I had recently completed my Masters in Applied Laws (Family Law) when one of my old tutors approached me to ask if I would be interested in a job. I accepted and have been in my current role since September 2015.
As to how I ended up in family law more generally..., when I was at uni all the talk about clerkships and top-tier firms bored me to tears. I wanted to work in an area of law where I felt I could actually help real people.
What's your employer doing and what are your areas of responsibility?
My workplace is a small-medium sized firm with a mixed practice. However, my role is strictly in family law and associated matters.
What do you do on a day-to-day basis?
Like most lawyers, I spend most of my day swamped by emails. If I’m not corresponding with clients or other solicitors, I will be in conferences, preparing court documents or attending court. There is not a day that goes by where I am not dealing with a client and trying to resolve an issue for them, big or small. The actual court process is very delayed, so you can expect to deal with the same clients for months if not years and you do get to know them quite well.
What should people know about family law before entering it?
It’s important to remember that relationships come in many different shapes and sizes and relationship breakdowns are often messy. Family violence is, unfortunately, quite widespread and you may not always be acting for or advising the victim. In your role you will help a person through one of the most stressful periods of their lives which is very rewarding. However, you may also have clients who are very difficult to deal with both personally and professionally.
Suppose someone wants to do the same job as you do, would that be also possible with a different background?
Absolutely. The family law profession is a motley crew of people. I know family lawyers who started their professional lives as commercial lawyers or even in a completely different field, such as journalism or medicine.
Which characteristics or other skills are required for success in your role?
Practicality, patience and an eye for detail.
What do you love the most about your job?
The most enjoyable aspect is helping people get a good resolution – whether that means spending time with their kids or acquiring a decent property settlement with some financial security and independence. When I finish a client’s file, I often say to them “I hope I never see you again” and it’s true. You help people through a difficult time and by the end you hope they don’t have to go through it again.
What’s the downside of your job?
Working in family law can be emotionally draining. You are dealing with distressed, angry, and frustrated people every day and you can’t always tell them what they want to hear. For that reason, I do not take work home or work on weekends. It’s important for me to be able to switch off. Unfortunately, the biggest limitations in my job at the moment are the insufficient resources and significant delays in the court system. It is hard to see clients give up because they cannot financially or emotionally afford to continue even when you think they have good prospects of success.
Which three pieces of advice would you give to your university-level self?
- Not everyone needs to aspire to work in a top-tier law firm (and that’s okay).
- Not everyone with a law degree needs to practice as a lawyer (and that’s also okay).
- Don’t underestimate the power of networking – both to find jobs and clients.