Interview: Clarissa Rayward

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.


In Review: Making a Murderer

Unless you’ve been living under a rock the last 8 months or so, you’ve at least heard of the Netflix documentary series Making a Murderer. If you haven’t gotten on the bandwagon, or even if you have, this review has a look at the series, its message and whether it is a good thing for a legal mind to feed from.

A very long story short, Making a Murderer surrounds the life of Steven Avery of Manitowac County in the US. In 1985, Avery was convicted of the rape of a woman, which 18 years later DNA evidence proved he did not commit. It is seen that the County Police fixated on Avery as the suspect at the detriment of good police work, as Avery was an outcast of the community with some criminal history. Astonishingly, this horrible injustice isn’t even the focal point of the overall series.

After being released, Steven Avery returned to his family property on the outskirts of Manitowac, which primarily caters as a scrap metal salvage yard. Having the conduct of the police department 18 years ago found to be sound with regard to criminal law, Avery files a $36 Million civil suit against the Manitowac County Police Department. Wouldn’t you know it, as the civil case begins and a photographer for an Auto Trader magazine, Theresa Halbach, goes missing, the police turn up on Steven Avery’s door.

However I shouldn’t be so facetious, Halbach had visited Avery’s property to take photos of a car he wanted to sell, so he had in fact seen her the day of the murder. That’s the only connect though, now I know what all of you defence attorneys are thinking, but wait, it gets worse.

What follows in the 10 episode series are step after step poor police proceedings, incorrect judicial ruling and generally mind boggling injustice and illegality. Whether or not Steven Avery did murder Theresa Halbach is anyone’s guess, but the procedure of the criminal investigation and court case was so terrible it made me want to throw something at the TV.

Let’s take, as the best example I’d argue, Brendan Dassey. Who’s that? Oh, that’s Steven’s nephew who is 16 years old and clearly not the brightest crayon in the packet. Both before, and more remarkable after, getting legal representation, Brendan is interviewed numerous times without a parent or lawyer present. Yep, that’s illegal. Therefore any evidence he gave would be inadmissible in court right? Say a confession that the police have on tape where it’s clear that Brendan is being fed the correct answers. Oh wait, that was allowed in. A confession where Brendan not only implicates his uncle in the murder, but himself too! What’s made worse is his lawyer allowed him to be interviewed without a parent or legal representation. Was Brendan allowed to get a new lawyer? No, not initially. At least eventually that was rectified.

How about this one. The ‘crime scene’ of Avery’s residence is searched more than ten times. Though a glimmer of hope is that it was supposed to be dealt with by a police department other than Manitowac County due to the law suit, many times after the initial search, Manitowac officers decided to search themselves and simply walked onto the property without clearance and just looked around. Suspiciously enough, on the seventh visit, one of the Sheriff’s named in Avery’s civil suit happens to find a piece of crucial evidence in Avery’s bedroom, the key to Halbach’s car with his DNA on it. Right there in the open. Gosh! What are the odds? Why had no one seen this? Or, you know, fell over it, it was so prominently placed.

While Making a Murderer is a very interesting and thought provoking series, it is for all the negative reasons. All the stereotypes that the Australian legal profession has regarding the American system are completely founded according to this documentary, which I don’t believe is actually true. The viewer, particularly a legal minded one, sits watching with their mouth gapped open, yelling at the TV like a sports fan at some of the judicial rulings that could not possibly have been ruled with that interpretation, and yet they were.

The system works against Steven Avery almost seamlessly and SPOILER ALERT, both Steven Avery and Brendan Dassey lose their case. Despite appeals on both parts, both men are still in prison and there is no release date any time soon.

All in all, I honestly don’t know if I would recommend Making a Murderer or not. On one hand, yes, because it is compelling, well documented and the storyline very much fits the saying “reality is stranger than fiction”. If someone wrote a fictional crime novel of the same story people who scoff and say “how unrealistic”. But on the other hand, as a legal mind you will be so incredibly angry at the unfathomable legal entities in this, from enforcement to judicial, that you can barely put it into words. I say, if you’ve got a 10 hour gap in your life, give it a go for sure, at the very least you’ll finally know what everyone is talking about at the water cooler!

Both my parents were in prison while I was growing up.


“Both my parents were in prison while I was growing up. I’ve been in prison for 90% of my life, mainly for drugs. When I got out in 2014, there was this old lawyer in the Bronx who took an interest in me. His name was Ramon Jimenez. He’s kind of like a community activist. I don’t know why he cared so much, but he sat down with me and tried to map out my life. When I tried to start selling drugs again, Ramon came out and stood on the corner with me for three days straight. Here’s this 72 year old dude, shadowing me wherever I go, screaming at anyone who tried to walk up to me: ‘I’m calling the cops!’ I was so mad. But after three days I gave it up.”

Courtesy of: Humans of New York

Michael McGarvie

Image - Michael McGarvie

What are your passions outside of the law?
Gardening, plant propagation, landscape design, cycling and renewable energy. I have just had 16 storage batteries and solar panels fitted to my home so the day’s sun comes out of the batteries at night.

If you had your time again, would you choose to practice in law? If not, what else would you choose to do?
Yes, definitely. I was talked out of Archaeology as a career by a wise Professor of Archaeology at Melbourne University when I wanted to switch after 2nd year Law. He said, Archaeology would not support a married life and a mortgage in the same way Law would! I stuck it out and loved every minute of being a solicitor for 23 years, and then a public sector CEO in courts and legal regulation for the last 9 years. Law offers so much human contact and community influence, allowing you to advise and assist people by generally knowing how to get things done.

What was the single moment, case or event that you feel defined you as a lawyer?
Winning a hard fought, impossibly difficult, but truly deserving case against the Commonwealth for a client. It was called the Australia Post case. My client was shot by the deranged gunman, Frank Vitkovic, during what became known as the Queen Street massacre in 1987. John Dyrac survived being shot in the neck and shoulder at point blank range by an M1 Carbine when he opened the door for the gunman. The floor was bullet-proof because Australia Post held $250,000 of collectable (and steal-able) stamps, but had ceased using the security equipment properly. It was a hard case to win because the law was ill-defined about whether an employer was liable for the movements of a madman with a gun, even if the employer planned for gun invasion in their workplace. The Supreme Court jury upheld the negligence action against the employer after a two week, highly publicised trial. This defined me because it involved me and my firm taking a big risk in a controversial case for a client who could never have personally afforded to bring it to court, and involved success in a case many people thought would fail.

If you could only give one bit of advice to new lawyers, what would it be?
Accept that whatever your experience, clients will give a lawyer a free gift of trust when first appointing them. That gift is yours to lose by a number of simple means: lying, misleading, fudging, over-promising, under-performing and the super-human complex. The super-human complex is feeling your client expects you to know and do everything for them. You need to reduce or change your client’s expectations about what you can and can’t do for them at the outset of the relationship. Don’t do legal work for clients that is beyond your knowledge and understanding. Refer or get help. Your client will respect you for doing this because they will see you are acting to protect their interests.

What makes a lawyer a great lawyer?
Knowing the importance of servicing and communicating with your client. Great “bedside manner” is valuable. Remaining humble and conscious of the community role every lawyer plays as an officer appointed by the Court, with a primary duty to the Court, but then to represent the interests of their client to the best of their training and ability.

What would you say are the hazards of this profession?
Conflicts of interest between clients’ interests and fee budgets. Stress and anxiety in the working life of a lawyer causing performance, conduct and health issues.

What are your hopes for our profession?
That it continues to meet its own very high standards of ethical conduct, trustworthiness and fairness. Also, that it shifts to a fully national uniform regulatory scheme.

Michael was appointed as the Commissioner and Board CEO in December 2009. Prior to this Michael was the CEO of the Supreme Court of Victoria for three years. He practised as a solicitor at Holding Redlich for 23 years where he specialised in personal injuries, civil litigation and dispute resolution. Michael is a Graduate of the Australian Institute of Company Directors and is also a graduate in strategic management of regulatory and enforcement agencies from the John Kennedy School of Government, Harvard.

Congratulations – Julian McMahon named Victorian Australian of the Year

Julian Mcmahon speaks to journalists during a visit to Kerobokan prison earlier this year. Picture: Nashyo Hansel. Credit: Herald Sun

Julian Mcmahon speaks to journalists during a visit to Kerobokan prison earlier this year. Picture: Nashyo Hansel (Herald Sun)


Newlawyerlanguage sends a warm congratulations to barrister Julian McMahon. Julian was recently named Victorian Australian of the Year. Julian is a human rights activist who has spent over a decade working pro bono for Australians facing the death penalty overseas. He is the lawyer we all aspire to be. Put simply: he does our profession proud.

The final skill you need to acquire before starting to practise law: Simultaneous translation

by Robert Angyal SC


Dear New Lawyer,

                Re: The final skill you need to acquire before starting to practise law: Simultaneous translation

Congratulations on finally becoming a lawyer.  It was hard work, took a long time, and cost a lot, but at last you are ready to strut your stuff as a lawyer.

But, first, a cautionary word.  The word is “English”.  Most Australian lawyers think they speak English.  They are wrong.  As a result of reading lots of court cases, law textbooks and law journals and of spending most of your waking hours with other lawyers, gradually – without realising it – you have come to speak a dialect of English that is peculiar to lawyers.

There is nothing wrong with this.  Most professions have their own dialect, which is impenetrable to non-members (have you ever spoken to a surgeon, or a software engineer, about what they do?).  Dialects like this come into existence because they serve a useful purpose: They facilitate efficient communication among those who speak the dialect. Thus, when a lawyer says to a judge, “With the utmost respect, the proposition that has just fallen from your Honour …”, this is much quicker than saying, “What Your Honour has just said is such a howler that even someone starting Torts 101 would know that it is grotesquely wrong.”

There is, however, a problem with the dialect spoken by lawyers.  The problem stems from the fact that the dialect is largely made up of words that also form part of the English language.  This is not true of other professional dialects.  For example, the words “endarterectomy”, “fundoplication” and “intussusception” come trippingly off the tongue of a surgeon.   By contrast, while the lawyer’s dialect does contain a few words that are not part of the English language, such as “hereinbefore” and “thereinafter”, it largely is made up of English words.

Here lies the problem: Because lawyers communicate in words that form part of the English language, they assume that non-lawyers – their clients, for example – understand what they are saying.  This assumption is unfounded and usually is incorrect.  Empirical research and commonsense both indicate that lawyers usually are not understood by their clients, nor by the general public as a whole.

What does this mean for new lawyers?  What it means is that, before you can effectively practise law, there is one remaining skill that you must acquire.  This skill is just as important as knowing the Rule in Shelley’s case, or being able to distinguish a dictum from a ratio decidendi.  You must be capable of simultaneous translation, like an interpreter at the United Nations.  While speaking in your dialect to other lawyers, you must simultaneously be able to translate what has been said into English for the benefit of non-lawyers present, such as your clients.

If you lack this skill, one of two things will happen:

1          The non-lawyer will not understood what has been said by the lawyers; or

2          The non-lawyer will understand what has been said to mean something completely different (i.e., the non- lawyer will completely misunderstand what has been said by the lawyers).

You’re thinking, I know, that the potential for misunderstanding is small.  Having given the matter the consideration which appears to be appropriate, having due regard to all the relevant contemporaneous circumstances, it is my respectful submission that I must beg to differ. (I bet you didn’t notice that the previous sentence is not comprehensible to non-lawyers and thus requires translation into English.)

To demonstrate why you need to engage in simultaneous translation, here is a table of common phrases in lawyer dialect, together with the corresponding misunderstanding of each phrase by non-lawyers.


Phrase in lawyer dialect Meaning to a speaker of English
I beg to differ.” Please, can we have something different for dinner tonight?
Make an expedition application Apply to join the expedition [to the North Pole]”
Apprehension of bias They caught the crook.”
Reasonable prospects of success Good chance of finding [gold, silver, etc]” 
You cannot approbate and reprobate. Don’t ask me to approve of that no-hoper.” 
[In cross-examination] “Madam, I put this proposition to you …” I want to have sex with you.” 
I am submitting there is binding authority for this proposition … I want to have kinky sex with you.” 


Robert Angyal SC

James Farrell

James farrell

Can you describe the different types of roles that you have had?

I volunteered at community legal centres while I was studying, and was drawn to using the law to achieve social change. When I finished law school, I joined a large national commercial firm, where I had great opportunities to develop, working with great mentors and teachers. I was seconded to a large corporate client for over six months, which was a great insight into inhouse practice, which allows a lawyer to develop more commercial skills and really strong internal relationships with people with a range of experiences and strengths. I was the principal lawyer at a homeless persons’ legal clinic, where I worked with passionate and intelligent people – peers, clients and supporters. I also worked as an academic in a law school, and was really drawn to the way that research could influence public policy. So I’ve experienced a range of legal roles, but I keep coming back to community legal centres; they’re the places where the law is most real and raw, where laws and institutions have a powerful impact on powerless people, and where you can see real improvements in people’s lives, including your own.

When did you know that you wanted to be a lawyer?

I wanted to be a lawyer when I was at high school; like many high-achieving students who didn’t enjoy maths, it seemed like a good option. I also grew up in a family that was really involved in the community and talked about ideas like equality and justice, so it seemed like a good fit. I didn’t get the marks I wanted at high school, so took a circuitous route, working in hospitality for a few years before starting uni at age 22. I haven’t looked back!

A lawyer, a priest and a classicist walk into a bar. What does the lawyer say and why?

‘Get me a beer.’ Because sometimes, you just need a drink.

If you could only give one bit of advice to new lawyers, what would it be?

Get involved in pro bono or volunteer at a community legal centre, or in another cause. You’ve been blessed with skills and an education that can make a real difference to the community, so don’t waste it. As a new lawyer, you’ll have great opportunities and experiences when you work for free for people who really benefit from your help.

What makes a lawyer a great lawyer?

An ability to connect with people. I’ve seen a lot of people who understood the legal rules, remembered the cases, and could draft great legal documents. But the great lawyers can all connect with the people around them – colleagues, clients, court officers, baristas and barristers.

What would you say are the hazards of this profession?

The legal profession attracts people who are bright, committed and ambitious, and that’s part of what makes lawyers such interesting people to work with. Those same characteristics make it difficult for us to accept anything less than perfect, and to focus too much on our work, at the expense of some of the other important things in our lives. We shouldn’t ever lose sight of those important things – and people – in our lives.

How do you balance life and work?

It’s hard. I love my work, and probably work more than I should. My kids (Jack, aged 6, and Georgie, aged 5) keep me pretty grounded. When Georgie was about 3, she asked me if I was sleeping at my work during a particularly busy stage – that was a rude awakening!


James Farrell OAM is the director of QAILS (Queensland Association of Independent Legal Services), the peak organisation for community legal centres. 

To Die Laughing

by Arna Delle-Vergini

laugh cry

We have all done this. At some time or other, all of us have committed this error of judgement. And so, whilst I write of this one anecdote, I am reminded that I could choose many more, and, worse, could even have chosen some of my own from my early career. I write about this example only because it is the most recent. This could have happened at any time and to any one of us.

I was at court a few months ago when I overheard two lawyers in conversation. They were sharing examples of recent and dreadful cases that they had been working on. One lawyer would share a case and that would be followed by an exclamation from the other lawyer, something along the lines of “that’s nothing!” – and then that lawyer would share an even more impressively depressing case. I like to call this game: “That’s Nothing…!”.

On the face of it, this is a game that could be seen as just a competitive game between lawyers. But it has some sinister overtones, as you shall soon see. It is a game which, when played to its end, gets more and more disturbing; prompting each lawyer to search for the most extreme example they can recall. On this occasion, I kept silent until the last player dealt her finest hand – describing how the father in a recent case had beaten his child so badly that the boy had almost passed out. As is often the case in this game, the anecdote was then followed with peels of laughter from both lawyers.

I was having one of those days where I like to share some of my thoughts. I said: “you know there is nothing actually funny about that anecdote”. Firstly, I was annoyed that this game was being played out in my hearing. Secondly, there really was nothing funny about the anecdote and I was irritated by their laughter. Mostly it was the latter: they were laughing about a man who had beaten a child and I was in the mood to be quite cross about it.

To their credit, the lawyers did not get defensive. In fact, one of them tried to placate me: “no, no, no….”, she said, “you don’t understand. If we didn’t laugh, we’d cry!”.

I understand. Oh, I understand completely!

At that point I was called in to court so I never did get a chance to continue pontificating. But had I had the chance, I would have liked to at least say this:

I know that it’s hard. I know that you care a lot. You wouldn’t be here if didn’t care about people;  if you didn’t believe in what you were doing. And I know that, at first, it seems like the smartest thing in the world to avoid the tears that ought to come with each fresh story you hear. What better way to do this than to bury them with mirth and laughter? Mostly likely, you make this choice unthinkingly. It’s reactive. Just something you do because to feel hurt, defeated and dejected by the work that you do seems too much to bear.

And yet, I have two words for you: Temporary. Measure. As Hagga from Thurber’sThirteen clocks’ once wisely put it: “…there’s a thing that you must know, concerning the jewels of laughter. They always turn again to tears a fortnight after.”

Meaning – in this context…laughing at the tragic is a quick fix. And it is a time limited quick fix. It’s not sustainable. Because eventually, what happens is that you start to calcify within. Eventually, it’s almost impossible to feel horror at the stories you hear anymore. Eventually even the laughter disappears and there’s just a grey space where the colourful brushstrokes of your life used to be. In short, you wither and die on the inside.

Call me crazy but it seems far too great a price for any lawyer to have to pay. So what can be done about it? We can’t all drag ourselves about the court in tears.

It goes without saying, tears are neither an appropriate nor proportionate response for a lawyer in the face of almost all cases. It would take a very rare, particularly heart-wrenching case to bring most lawyers to tears and, even then, they are most likely to drink that particular cup of sorrow at home and alone.

But neither is laughter an appropriate response. The trick is to respond with emotional intelligence. The appropriate response to our clients and to the legal cases that we play a small part in is not sadness and it’s not mirth. The appropriate response has to be – give the matter the dignity it deserves. Treat it with respect.

Our entire court system is designed to engender a sense of gravitas in the people who operate within it. Whether this be lawyers, clerks, accused people, applicants, respondents, prosecutors, witnesses, jurors, magistrates, judges etc and so forth. Respect is what is asked from us as practitioners. Respect for the stories we handle. Respect for the people we touch and who touch us. Respect for the system that is set up – sometimes ineptly, but with good intentions – to handle these stories and to reach some kind of resolution/outcome/closure. Respect for each other. Respect for the process we engage in on a daily basis for the good of others because that is what we do as lawyers: that is our job.

I have a reputation for trying to keep things simple and, perhaps, this is another example of my desire for simplicity in a complex world but I do recommend you try it: next time you find yourself quick-fixing, replace giddy, dizzy mirth with complete presence and gravity and you will come out of it – perhaps not unscathed – but certainly a lot more grounded.