Last night I found myself in Sydney, accepting an award from the Minds Count Foundation for Individual Leadership in Legal Mental Wellbeing. This is an award that I am deeply proud to win and last night I delivered this speech to acknowledge just why this one means a lot to me. I describe myself these days as a ‘Accidental Wellness Advocate’ in Law Land. It is not something I set out to become, but a role I now take with great pride. Each week I hear from lawyers at all stages of their careers who are sharing with me their struggles often with mental ill-health. At times I feel a great sense of responsibility to these colleagues- as I am no medical professional and am limited in the support I can provide. But at the end of it is all, we are all people, all facing life’s joys and challenges in our own way and often all we need is the space to know that it is ok to say ‘I am not ok’ but it is essential to know that you can be ok again with support, treatment and understanding.
The rates of mental illhealth in law continue to be far higher than in the broader population and it is through the work of foundations such as Minds Count that we are seeing tangible change. I was thrilled to hear last night of the work of Herbert Smith Freehills in embedding a culture of support, understanding and openness through their firm wide mental health initiative. If firms the size of HSF can embed mental wellness as a priority in their culture, we all can.
And so, I am sharing today my words from last night- in part because I could barely speak them thanks to a few tears but also in memory of my dear (but at times deeply frustrating) little brother who inspires me each day to live my life to the very fullest always.
Five years ago, Justice Virginia Bell AC delivered the then Tristan Jepson Memorial Foundation address. In doing so, she referred to the words of her former colleague Justice Mason who said,
“When describing our role as lawyers, you will experience considerable pressure to conform to cultures of the firm, the set of chambers, the government department, and the faculty. This collective embrace is appropriate in so far as it educates, encourages and helps maintain proper professional standards. But never forget that as individuals you have the opportunity to project your values and your ideas into your chosen calling. Conversely, your personal wellbeing and the integrity of your life and belief system are vital to your ability to function as a legal practitioner. You are a person first and a lawyer second.”
Justice Bell’s speech and this statement have stuck with me since I first heard those words in 2014. That was about one year after I had begun my active pursuit of happiness. To hear such successful members of our profession speak of the need to be a person first gave me the courage to be just that. Fast forward five years and I am still a lawyer and I would say a happier one at that as now through my side hustle as I like to call it, happy lawyer, happy life, I get to work with lawyers all around the country who are equally interested in reshaping our profession. My work in the space of wellbeing and happiness began as almost a selfish pursuit. A desire to find a way for me to be the person I am in the place that I like to call law land.
But three years ago my family lost my youngest brother to suicide. Our lives changed forever that day and all my talk of happiness seemed trite. But Gareth’s death brought a new purpose to my work, a reminder of the fragility of life and why we need to live it to our fullest. I now know that my talk of happiness has created a space in an industry not usually associated with anything happy for a focus on the person, not the lawyer. The law land I work in is changing and I think for the better, but there is still a way to go. But I’m excited to see what the law land of the future can be if we allow our collective humanity to lead the way.
I am deeply honoured to receive this award this evening, and I thank all at Minds Count for the work you are doing each day to improve our profession. But I particularly want to acknowledge the incredible efforts of Marie and George Jepson. You and your wonderful son have left a legacy for all of us that will never be forgotten.
Hi, my name is Clarissa Rayward and I am probably best known as a Divorce Lawyer and the Owner of Brisbane Family Law Centre. I specialise in assisting my clients to experience a dignified divorce- staying away from the Court process and finding sustainable agreements for the future.
More recently I have begun to tackle the challenging issue of unhappiness in the legal profession through my weekly Podcast ‘Happy Lawyer Happy Life‘ where once a week I interview lawyers who have found a way to maintain a successful career in the law while not giving up their life outside of their career.
In January 2017 I published my second book, ‘Happy Lawyer Happy Life- How to the be Happy in Law and Life’ and launched the first ‘Happy Lawyer Happy Life’ online course, helping lawyers nationwide to better understand how they can drive happiness in their careers. I now spend my days juggling my new baby ‘Daisy’ while trying to run my business and coach and assist lawyers all around the Country as what I like to call an ‘Accidental Wellness Advocate’!
If you would like to learn more about how I could help you through any legal matters associated with divorce and separation or perhaps you are a lawyer looking to learn more about the work I do in that space, then please feel free to organise a time we can speak here.Book your complimentary chat with me here