Clarissa Rayward is a family lawyer, wife and mum who is passionate about relationships, people and family. Clarissa is the Director of Brisbane Family Law Centre, a boutique Family Law practice.
Clarissa uses her industry knowledge and skill to change the way Australian families experience divorce and separation. She is known as ‘The Happy Family Lawyer’ as she believes that your divorce can be a part of your marriage you can look back on with pride. She is the author of the successful ‘Happy Family Lawyer’ blog, providing weekly commentary and tips on issues relating to divorce and the book ‘Splitsville- How to separate stay out of Court and stay friends’.
During 2016 Clarissa has published her second book- ‘Happy Lawyer Happy Life- How to be happy in law and in life’ for lawyers looking for better ways to practice law after launching a successful podcast by the same name. Clarissa has now turned her attention to addressing the high rates of depression and anxiety amongst lawyers by opening a positive dialogue on how lawyers can find happiness in their careers.
When did you know that you wanted to be a lawyer?
I was a year or so into an interior design degree and was not enjoying it- I wanted to study something that was far removed from the ‘creative’ world as I felt a career in the creative arts was going to be hard work and I wanted to just enjoy my passion for creativity in my own time and not make it a job or a chore. I took some time out from University and started doing a lot of reading- that led me to a few books about lawyers and I became more and more interested in the role of a lawyer so headed back to University the following year to do my law degree.
What attracts you most to the profession of law?
The capacity to help others through what is often one of the most difficult moments in their lives- I am a divorce lawyer and feel very privileged to have the chance to work with people at such challenging and personal moments.
What are your passions outside of the law?
Hanging out with my family, dancing, coffee and chocolate! I love anything creative so I tend to do a lot of writing now but still find myself with a paint brush in hand every once in a while.
If you had your time again, would you choose to practice in law? If not, what else would you choose to do?
I ask myself this question a lot and the answer does depend on the type of day I am having! Honestly I am not sure knowing what I know now that I would practice law in the traditional sense if I had my time again, but I do think a law degree is such a helpful ‘in’ to so many great career pathways. I do love business and running a law firm so I sense I would still find myself running a business of some sort whether I had completed my law degree or not.
If you could only give one bit of advice to new lawyers, what would it be?
You are a person first and a lawyer second- never forget that. A career in the law can at times become all consuming and the ‘higher’ you go in the law ladder the more your career will pull you away from the things that perhaps truly matter in life- family, friends and relationships. Remembering that being a lawyer is just one part of you and being clear about what really matters will make those hard decisions easier. And my second tip (because 1 is never enough) would be that this career is a marathon not a sprint and to remember to slow down and enjoy the ride as you just never really know what great opportunities tomorrow will bring.
What makes a lawyer a great lawyer?
A great lawyer in my mind is intelligent and has a solid grasp on legal concepts but more importantly has empathy and understanding. I think a great lawyer is also naturally curious and not judgmental.
How do you balance life and work?
I don’t think of ‘balance’ anymore but have adopted the phrase ‘integration’ that a lawyer friend of mind coined. Working for myself offers advantages and disadvantages. I have found it better to just let work and life flow into each other without being too worried about having a clear structure. However I am very careful to be focused on home when I am with my family and friends or work if that is what I am doing- I find it most difficult when I am trying to do both at the same time.
What is your best tip for maintaining sanity in the law?
Be honest and real with yourself. We need to look for the positives, not the challenges and there are so many wonderful positives of being part of such a privileged profession. Any career will have its challenges. If you look after your health, find a positive workplace and enjoy your life and passions outside of your work I think you really can be a mostly happy lawyer.
What are your hopes for our profession?
That we can find better ways to work together and support each other to ensure longevity of our profession. Here in Australia the statistics around mental health challenges for lawyers are very high (1 in 3 lawyers likely to experience depression or anxiety in their careers) and so I think we as a group of colleagues can do more for each other to minimise the drivers of ill health and unhappiness.