“We’re a depressed lot, lawyers.”
I am a partner in a general legal practice on the Mornington Peninsula. I’m also a registered yoga teacher and a writer.
In my law practice, I primarily work in the areas of family law, commercial law, wills and estates. The work is varied and addresses the community needs. Working in a smaller practice, offers greater lifestyle benefits than that of our city colleagues.
I discovered yoga accidentally in the literal sense and I will now also say that I accidentally became a lawyer. I now know there are no accidents. Everything that happens to you happens for a reason. So if at times things don’t look all peaches and cream, you just have to step back, take a deeper look and ask yourself what you can learn from the situation you’re facing. My life and the various careers that have chosen me to date, are testament to the notion that every experience has its purpose.
I was a straight-A student throughout my education. That is, until personal issues got the better of me. I fell into mild depression during year 12 and totally dropped the ball on my studies.
I barely passed my year 12 exams.
I was in utter disbelief. How could this happen to me? A shiny future in medicine, or anything else for that matter hit the floor with a loud thud.
I moved to the city briefly and tried studying applied science, but I still wasn’t in a good place emotionally and wanted to be closer to familiar surroundings. I decided to apply for work back on the Peninsula and landed a job as a laboratory assistant in the local council’s soil testing laboratory. It sounded to me like a respectable career move.
I recall the lab manager thought it was rather amusing, having a young girl just turned eighteen, with her nails all long and painted, coming to work in an all-male civil engineering environment. People raised concerns as to whether that was a suitable environment for me. Equal opportunity was an infant then.
I’d go out on the roads with the manager, collecting soil samples to bring back to the lab.
We tested whether the roads were soundly constructed before getting sealed, things like that. This was way before girls with long painted nails did jobs like these. My nails remained long and painted despite all well-meaning concerns.
Eventually the laboratory was privatized, and as the business expanded I ended up doing more office based work.
Next thing I knew, out of nowhere, I was fired.
There was no valid reason given for this nasty surprise, but my intuition told me that this was personal. Whilst it was clear to me that I was being dismissed unfairly, I again found myself in disbelief, wondering how this could happen.
I was 24 years old by then, having spent 6 years working in this laboratory all up. It was suggested that I get some legal advice, so I went to see a local lawyer, who sent me to meet with a city barrister. This was the early nineties, and things worked quite differently back then.
Basically, I was told that I could run an unfair dismissal case, but it would be a costly litigation. And, if I was to get a job in the meantime, it would be seen that I’d ‘suffered no real loss’, so I wouldn’t have a case.
At the same time, the law firm that I went to offered me a job within their Frankston office.
This was reassuring and boosted my self-esteem. I figured I couldn’t have been such a bad employee if a law firm was offering me work. Being employed again right away, I decided to put the dismissal claim aside and move on with my life.
I worked for that firm as a salesperson in their mortgage broking facility. I did that for around three years, before moving on to do advertising sales for a newspaper. Sales wasn’t something that really ticked all the boxes for me as a career, but it was great experience, so I continued for a while.
I finished up in 1997, when I fell pregnant with my son.
Just before I gave birth, a friend of mine told me there was a reception position available at a law firm in Mornington, if I wanted it. This sounded like a job for me, whilst I familiarized myself with motherhood. They were kind enough to put the position on hold until I had my baby.
Four months after I gave birth, I was sitting at home thinking my brain was turning to mush, so back to work I went. As luck would have it (though I always say nothing’s accidental in this life) a new child care centre was built right next door to the practice. I enrolled my baby there, went back to work, and I could breastfeed him in my lunchbreaks. A perfect arrangement all round!
The opportunity arose for me to train to become a secretary to one of the partners.
But then the firm was sold to a city lawyer who came to Mornington chasing a sea change. He was not instantly familiar with the significant differences between the running of a large city firm to those of a small provincial practice.
Because I stood up to the plate and really helped him out, he offered to put me through law school.
Now, I already had a pretty full life: full time work, toddler, husband. But I figured, why not?
It wasn’t something that I’d planned on, but I saw it for the great opportunity that it was and I decided to take the offer.
I did law school by correspondence, and it took 6 years.
Sometimes I thought I was going to lose my mind. I would start at 7 am every day, writing essays and assignments in the empty office before work. More writing and assignments at home, usually until 7-8pm. It was, to say the least, stressful.
Fortunately, there was the day care centre for my son, and then a nearby primary school. I would bring him back to the office after work, and he’d play there while I studied.
I sat my exams in the city, but did most of the work in the office and at home. It was really tough. It was tough on my marriage, my whole life. But having committed, I knew I just had to do it. I saw no other option.
I really enjoyed the study itself, and did well.
I was invited to do an honours year, but I chose not to strain my family life further. I completed my Articles with my employers, which was really no different than doing my usual job. Finally, in 2006, I got admitted to practice law.
I continued to work at the practice. To be honest, there wasn’t a huge change in my role as I had already been doing the work for over 7 years. I could do more now though, and had a bit more personal responsibility. I could give advice, but largely, my day-to-day life didn’t change that much, it was a natural progression.
After a few years, due to a partnership reshuffle within the firm, I was asked if I wanted to buy in as a partner.
It was an easy decision for me, I loved the work and appreciated the opportunity to further expand my experience. I agreed, and shortly after, Stidston Warren Lawyers came to be.
I my spare time, I liked going to a Zumba class for exercise.
One day, I was walking down main street, tripped and fell over, seriously hurting my knees. That moment ended up being the turning point in my life.
I went to the chiropractor, who told me that Zumba was not to be my sport of choice for a while. He suggested I try yoga as an alternative. Hmmm, Zumba versus yoga … I remember rolling my eyes. That was so not me! I perceived it as something very boring.
However, I was in a bit of pain, and with no other alternatives, I decided to give it a shot. I found a local studio and went in one day. There were a few students there, it was a nice environment.
That was the day I fell in love with yoga.
Eventually I decided to take on a teacher training course. A fellow student told me she completed hers in Byron Bay, and that she thoroughly enjoyed the course. I thought, given my other commitments, indulging myself in a trip to Byron was not on the horizon.
I had a look online and found some distance education, which was a skillset I had firmly entrenched at this point.
I completed a 500 hour diploma course, which took me deep into various topics including: philosophy, diet, history of yoga. It really took me to another place. I logged my yoga practical hours with my local teachers and submitted the written coursework via email.
That course sparked my interest in other metaphysical things and an entirely new world opened up to me.
I wasn’t planning on becoming a yoga teacher, I was studying to expand my knowledge of yoga. But once I had all that information, I felt I had to use it somehow. I felt I had to give back. By then, I was in a comfortable enough place work-wise to be able to take one day off work a fortnight.
Because my life growing up wasn’t a treasure trove of all sparkles and unicorns, I thought I it would be valuable to help troubled teenagers through their hard times with yoga. I felt that if I had found yoga as a teenager, it would’ve helped me. I went on a mission to find troubled teenagers.
I found a service run by chiropractors.
I approached them and they said they had some teens would be suitable for me to teach. I volunteered my time. As it turned out, there weren’t enough teenagers to warrant running classes. But there were other people. People with a variety of issues that really could benefit from the yoga that I could bring them.
So now once a fortnight, I offer either a general yoga class or a chair class, for those people that can’t manoeuvre their way to the floor. I get so much out of teaching, because I see the peace that settles in people when they engage with yoga.
At the same time, my own interests were pushing me to look further into spirituality.
I went to see a friend of mine, who is psychic, and she told me I had to start writing. I just laughed at her.
The first thing I failed in my life, was a year 12 English essay I wrote. The teacher wrote next to my dismal score: “self-conscious and contrived”. I was just 16 years old, and wondered what those words even meant.
I was devastated, I had never failed anything prior to that.
I had always been a top-mark student. Now I couldn’t even understand the teacher’s comments. That was the beginning of the downhill trajectory at that time of my life.
It was only recently that I understood the real meaning of those words, and the teacher was right. But as an impressionable teenager, it left a scar.
So I stared at my friend in disbelief, “Write? I have it on good authority that I’m self-conscious and contrived. I can’t write!”
But then I thought, hang on, I write for a day job. I write letters, arguments, documents. I write well, when I have something of substance to write about.
Encouragingly, my friend gave me a journal to write in.
Okay, I thought. I’ll try a writer’s workshop to take my legal writing skills to a new level. You can probably guess by now that it was an online course.
As I participated, I started getting ideas. My day job and personal pursuits started merging. Law and yoga became friends. It dawned on me that I could use yoga to help people in the legal industry.
We’re a depressed lot, lawyers.
There’s a lot of mental health and addiction issues caused by the stress of this work.
I started looking at wellness resources for lawyers to discover there’s wasn’t an overwhelming amount out there. It’s not a popular subject. Lawyers don’t want to hear about it. Vulnerability is not a buzzword. The perception is that lawyers do not show “weakness”.
I thought what better way to test out my newly rediscovered writing skills than to write a book about wellness for lawyers. And that’s the path I’m on now, it’s the combination of my life’s work. I can see that everything that has happened to me so far, has been for a reason. For instance, if I’d never experienced depression, how could I understand it let alone write about it.
Everything is meant to be. Everything has its purpose.
At the same time, I started keeping a blog called The Zen Lawyer. There, I write mainly for myself, though it’s available to anyone who wants to read it. It’s spiritual, and comes from my heart and is written with my sense of humour.
The first draft of my book wasn’t sounding at all like me. I was trying to write the way I thought others might like to read it. That was my “a-ha” moment on the meaning of self-conscious and contrived. I metaphorically ripped up the pages I’d written, and re-wrote them again, from the heart, with a hint of spirituality and with humour, like my blog.
For some constructive feedback, I gave the first chapter to a colleague, who wanted to read more.
Yes! I thought, I’m on-track.
The words are coming from me and they have impact. I aim to have it completed before the year’s out and I’ll find a way to publish it.
I feel very passionate about this new direction. Through my social media presence, I’ve been connecting with like-minded people all over the world. There is a global movement happening and pleasingly, it’s starting to gather momentum.
There’s this perception that lawyers won’t be interested in the topic of spirituality.
In truth, I am just trying to show that there is more to this world than the external. Connecting with your truest self is one of the most rewarding journeys you will ever undertake. There will be those that are open to hearing what I have to say, and that, in itself is sufficient motivation for me.
With the knowledge I have gathered, my day job is so very rewarding. Making a shift to a person’s perspective on their problem is the foundation of securing amicable resolutions.
I do not align with the image of being a lawyer who has no emotion, though I know it’s sometimes expected in this industry. I probably was a bit more aggressive before yoga found me. Indeed, before I found me. Now I work in a way that satisfies my soul.
I emotionally empower my clients with the skill of becoming an observer to their problems.
It separates them from the issue at hand so they can look objectively at the problem and the effect is having on all parties. They can then make decisions from the heart and with everyone connected to the situation in mind.
As my life experience has so rightly shown me, I share with people that there is more to their problems than first meets the eye. There’s a reason they are enduring the hardships they’re facing. If there is something they can learn from it, then they have achieved some personal success and growth. Where possible I endeavour to remove the conflict component and use negotiation as the way to resolution. There are no winners in a court battle.
I feel privileged that I can help people feel better and give them meaning when all seems hopeless.
Lawyers have to be able to truly connect with and feel the humanness before them. We are trained to deal with each case from the viewpoint that our client is always right. But remember, there’s two sides to every story. Your client is right… and the other party’s client is right as well. It’s a matter of perspective. We need to see it that way. From both sides. ‘Win at all costs’ is a hefty price for all to pay.
If yoga had found me earlier, and as a result if I had found my truest self earlier, would I have been better off?
I’ve pondered that question often, and the answer is no. Life could not be any different to what it was and to what it is right now. I wouldn’t be here now, doing what I do, if I didn’t have to live through each step of my journey first.
With my writing, I hope it will flow into things like seminars, workshops. Spark some heart in my colleagues. Make a difference. Later, I don’t know where my life will take me, I never worry about that. I’ve certainly had interesting experiences to date. But as always, the present moment, what is happening right now, is the most exciting place to be.