We recently caught up with Jennifer Hetherington from Hetherington Family Law, who kindly gave us an exclusive interview:
Tell us about your company
I run a specialist Family Law and Mediation firm in Brisbane. We have an office in Fortitude Valley and one in the CBD. I have a great team – all of whom have worked with me at previous firms.
How did you get interested in family law?
I really enjoyed family law at University. Another student and I competed in a ‘moot competition’ where we ran a mock court case against other students. We made it to the National Finals which we won, appearing in the High Court before a panel of judges. We then went on to win the Trans-Tasman finals.
After Uni, I started my career working in a general practice in East Brisbane – so doing anything and everything.
After I had been working for about 3 years, I woke up one morning with a burning desire to get to work. Given that the transition from University life where I didn’t have to be out of bed until 10 am and been a harsh one, I took a moment of self-reflection. I realised that rather than the usual leases, conveyancing, personal injuries and commercial litigation, I had a big family law file I had been working on solidly for a few weeks. I realised that, quite literally, it was family law that gets me out of bed in the morning.
Despite having a wonderful relationship with my boss and mentor, I knew I had to start looking for a specialist family law position. I obtained one and haven’t looked back.
What services do you provide?
If it has to do with a relationship – whether the beginning or the end, we do it. Everything from Pre-Nups to property settlements. I have a strong belief that court is an option of last resort, and we are very focused on out of court solutions. I am a nationally accredited mediator and an experienced Collaborative Law practitioner. I really enjoy the work that I do with Collaborative Law where we all sign a contract to say we will not be going to court.
What’s the biggest mistake you see?
People thinking that the experience another person had is transferable to their own and taking advice from what I call the 4 F’s: Friends, Family, Fools and Facebook. There are dozens of family lawyers in Brisbane who volunteer their time at community legal centres where you can get free advice relevant to your specific situation. I follow a single parent page on Facebook and every single day people ask advice of others – even questioning the advice their lawyer has given them. 9 times out of 10 the advice is just plain wrong. It is quite scary!
Can you describe a typical day?
It really depends on the day and whether I am seeing clients, heading to a mediation or court, doing the school run or working on written work.
All my team work from home unless we are seeing clients. When you have to get written work done, it is so much more productive for all of us. So, I will probably have checked my emails quickly before getting out of bed to see if there is anything immediately urgent. Then it is up, get the computer running and make breakfast and a cup of tea. Then check in with the team via our online comms channel, get any banking etc. out of the way and work on my task list.
If it is a day I have a mediation or court, it is, hustle small human out the door, head to the mediation or court and try to have a cuppa with my client, before the mediation starts. People can find the morning of mediation or court really stressful – it is a normal physiological reaction. I find the act of sitting and having a drink together rather than heading straight in, can help them relax. Regardless, no matter what my morning has been like, I ensure that I am calm and not flustered before we begin. That means on those days I might make other arrangements before school so that I don’t have time pressure.
What’s been the highlight of your career so far?
That’s a tough one! In 2005 I was successful in becoming an Accredited Family Law Specialist, with the highest result. In 2014 I left the security of partnership in a law firm and opened my own firm. Both of those things are career changing.
I would have to say though, that the year 2017 has been my career highlight as so much has happened this year. I was awarded Sole Practitioner of the Year in the Australian Law Awards and the Women in Law Awards. I went from being a sole practitioner trying to do it all myself, to having three former team members come and work with me.
We introduced an online platform enabling prospective clients to get immediate information relevant to their situation, even before they see a lawyer. I became a Registered Family Dispute Resolution Practitioner (so I can conduct parenting mediations). I received a Graduate Diploma in Family Dispute Resolution Practice. I was appointed as an adjunct lecturer at the College of Law, and I was invited to join the board of the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals.
What do you love most about what you do?
Seeing people who come to me at one of the worst times in their lives, come out the other side. I remember a case we resolved using Collaborative Law. At the beginning of the matter my client, the Wife (let’s call her Mary), was terrified about her future. I got her working with a financial planner during the matter. We successfully reached an agreement using Collaborative Law. From time to time the financial planner updates me on how Mary is going. She has gone from a terrified woman who felt she had lost her identity when her marriage broke down, to a confident woman loving life with a new post-divorce identity for herself.
Who or what inspires you?
No one person or thing. I am surrounded by people who inspire me for lots of different reasons. I don’t need inspiration to get out of bed and do what I do – I am already doing what I love and by moving more and more towards staying out of court, that makes it even better.
Do you have any plans for the next 12 months?
Lots! After a much-needed break in January, I plan to continue the growth of my team, allowing me more time personally to focus on the mediation and collaborative law aspects my practice.
About Hetherington Family Law
Jennifer Hetherington is an award-winning family lawyer and founder of Hetherington Family Law, a specialist family law firm focussing on out of court solutions and strategic advice. Their motto (and belief) is that Conflict is not inevitable.