Congratulations. That sense of accomplishment and excitement you’re feeling right now? Hang onto it. You’ve earned it; and now your dream of becoming a lawyer is a reality. While graduation may feel like an ‘end’ – and it is, of the security and familiarity of campus life – it’s also a brand new beginning, of an exciting life and incredible career, and over time, your youthful ambition and confidence will evolve into a powerful, feminine resolve.
For now, let me give you some advice (from your future self).
Be a lifelong learner
Your love of learning, your tenacity and commitment, and your passion for embracing new opportunities and experiences, are the hallmarks of your character and will underpin all of your future successes. So embrace them. They will be highly regarded by employers and serve you well throughout your career and, one day, as Founder and Managing Director of your own firm.
For now, learn as much as you can. Seek out the best mentors, those whose work and intellect you admire, of course, but also – especially – those whose values are aligned with your own. These men and women will set the benchmark for the kind of mentor you yourself will become to the lawyers in your own firm.
It’s also this love for learning that will see you embark on an even bigger adventure and work towards achieving another of your burning ambitions – to gain your Masters In Law at Trinity College in Dublin – and you will jet half way around the world to make it happen. Soak up everything you can from this experience as it will fuel your lifelong love of travel and give you a broad international perspective on the legal industry.
Dare to be different
Beware! Law has always, and will always, be a tough profession. Attrition rates are high for a reason. You will need to not only love what you do – and you will, always – but how and where you do it, and who you do it with. It will take some years after your return to Australia for you to develop a clear vision of the way in which you want to practice law and represent your profession, the type of leader you could be, and to see clearly exactly what it is you want to create an alternative to.
So stay open to new ideas and ways of doing things. Right now, you’d never imagine that you would one day found your own firm. But your ambition and commitment to your profession won’t waver, and your sense of justice, respect, and integrity, will be essential to your future.
You will be fortunate enough to receive unparalleled, top-tier legal training in a couple of highly-regarded European firms and then, on return to Australia, you will join a national firm. However, you will never be driven solely by a desire to become a managing partner of a firm. Always satisfied simply by being the best lawyer you can be, it will be your affinity for making meaningful connections – with colleagues, staff, and clients – your self-awareness, and your ability to adapt, which will set the foundation for the type of leader you’ll become, and the fresh, new, ambitious style of legal and consulting services you’ll one day provide in your own firm.
Parenthood will change you (for the better)
Spoiler alert! You will one day be mum to three fantastic boys. Over time you will learn that your quality of life depends on a delicate balance between your dedication to your clients and your work, and your personal and family life. It’s a fine line, one which you will navigate with care and integrity.
Parenthood will be life changing! You’ll be confronted with your biggest challenges to date, but you’ll never doubt your capacity and willingness to give of yourself, managing an ever-greater number of duties and commitments. In the early years at least, you will really believe that you can ‘have it all’.
At a key professional point, you will make the difficult decision to leave a firm and a role you love to return to Australia from Ireland with your firstborn in tow. Trust your intuition to help guide your decision making during these challenging periods – it’s never wrong.
After returning ‘home’, re-establishing yourself in the Australian market will be surprisingly hard. At times, you’ll find yourself questioning whether or not you’re living up to the combined ideal of parenthood and ‘career woman’ you’d always envisioned.
As you grow older, and one son becomes two, then later, three, the ‘juggle’ becomes increasingly difficult – and your disillusionment with some of law’s most ingrained traditions and practices, becomes impossible to ignore.
You’ve always been told you can be whatever you want to be – that you can have it all. You can, but not all at the same time. Like many women, you will certainly struggle with your choices along the way, and the ‘juggle’, determined not to let your professional life falter but still committed to being a hands on mother. But with age comes wisdom, and in the end, you will actively recreate life on your own terms. You will learn how and when to say ‘no’, and the power of knowing your own worth.
Eventually, despite the outward appearance of success at work, you’ll feel stifled and trapped. While you’ll strive to continue building on the foundations of the legal career and professional reputation you will work so hard to pave through your 20s and early 30s, you’ll begin to question whether the strictures and cut-throat hierarchies of ‘Big Law’ are really where you see your future. You’ll love what you do, but not where, or how you do it. You’ll dream of finding a better way.
Eventually, after the birth of your third child, you’ll make the decision to walk away from the stability of corporate life altogether. The idea of founding your own firm will become a calling you cannot resist. You’ll question – but never doubt – your ability to build a business from scratch. To found a firm that does things differently. You’ll see an opportunity to challenge tradition, and redesign the way law is practiced – focusing on clients’ needs first, nurturing authentic, long-term relationships with each and every one, and creating pathways and providing opportunities for young staff that you felt you missed out on. It will be an unparalleled opportunity to reinvent yourself, your profession, and your life. And you will relish it!
Be guided by your values. Be bold! It’s precisely this daring which will empower you to disrupt and advocate for change. In founding your own firm, you will lead a movement towards embracing the humanity in the client-adviser dynamic, and supporting the professional and personal ambitions and well being of lawyers, setting a new benchmark in the Australian legal industry.
There’s a long road ahead of you. You’re going to be incredibly happy, empowered by everything you accomplish and the positive impact you have on the well being of others. It won’t be easy (the greatest achievements never are). But it’s the struggles – along with your insight & determination – that will continue to shape and strengthen your character. In those moments that you feel the path you’re on is unclear, remember your values, as they will guide you: Respect, Integrity, Excellence, Confidence, Strength, Daring, Dynamism, and Empathy.
It’s your life! You only have one so dare to be different, dare to dream, and have the courage to live life on your own terms.