Janis - Congratulations on being a finalist in the Sole Practitioner of the Year category for the Women in Law Awards. There are many sole practitioners in Australia, why do you think your firm was able to gain attention on a national scale?
Bonnie - The imposter lurking in me wants to say that perhaps not many were nominated. The optimist in me hopes it’s because the legal profession is starting to look beyond the traditional idea of what it means to be a successful lawyer and is starting to encourage legal practitioners to follow their own unique path and practice law according to their strengths.
I certainly flung myself off the beaten path to start Focus on Family, without any real certainty about where I would end up. There are still so many things I don’t know and I constantly call on more experienced practitioners, so it’s hard to truly accept being selected by the panel. However this year I was selected to be part of Darebin Council’s Women in Leadership Program and was the President of my daughter’s community Kinder Committee of Management, so perhaps the panel took a more holistic view of what it means to succeed as a lawyer in a community. It’s validating to think that lawyers who work with ordinary everyday people and give back to the community at a grassroots level can also be respected alongside those who service the 1% and are on boards of well-resourced companies.
Janis - Family Law is tough, what makes you want to keep doing Family Law?
Bonnie - Family law is very tough, and generally in law, it takes a relentless persistence for one to be effective. It’s a mental battle at times to accept that there is only so much you can control, and that you’re not responsible for the conduct of others. It’s a very different beast compared to the ivory tower of corporate law, where I started my career. I never felt like a real lawyer acting for corporations, or that I was making a difference to real people.
What keeps me going is the relief I see in a client when they feel their experience is being acknowledged and understood. Helping people side-step some really unfortunate potential outcomes is very rewarding, as is helping people understand that many of their problems won’t necessarily be resolved by a change in external conditions. I keep doing it not because I love it, necessarily, but because once people start coming to you for help, and you feel like you can help, it’s hard to make that choice to stop.
Janis - are you mostly online, or mostly seeing clients face to face?
Bonnie - Due to covid I am 100% online. I like to think I will go back to meeting clients in person, and dream of a fun and vibrant office space, however I also want to keep costs low for clients. Meeting by zoom makes things more accessible for parents with young kids. But some things, such as collaborative meetings do seem to work much better when everyone is in the same room.
Janis - You use FamilyProperty in your practice, what is it about FamilyProperty that makes it attractive to you as a sole practitioner?
Bonnie - I used to spend way too much time doing calculations for clients and using rudimentary excel spreadsheets to work out settlement proposals. I could never bring myself to charge for all of my time, plus I worried the output looked unprofessional. Now with Family Property I feel much more polished right from the start, and can effortlessly create visual proposals the clients find easy to understand.
It’s really transformed my practice. It’s a no brainer to use technology to make tasks quicker and easier as a sole practitioner, and the team behind Family Property are family lawyers which is quite clear in the way it’s designed. I look forward to more and more family law practitioners adopting it, as I can see it resolving disputes faster and more cost-effectively.
Janis - What are you looking forward to in the next year, what is going to be happening for you or for Focus on Family?
Bonnie - I’m hoping to find someone to join my practice. I love working for myself, but it would be great to grow and share the experience with someone. My practice has always grown organically and by word of mouth, so I’m hoping I find that perfect fit who is looking for practising the way I do without having to advertise. My youngest child starts primary school, so I’m looking forward to a bit more freedom during the week, and a new chapter in our family’s life.
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