Before you start to roll your eyes or shut this down immediately, because you think I must be some narcissistic barrister, who thinks everyone should read about “their story’! I assure you that isn’t the case. Give me 5-6 minutes of your time and then you can decide for yourself……
Why am I being open and transparent, which does not come easily, essentially putting myself out there, where possibly others may criticise, deride or discount me, because of my story?
I believe is important, as I want to give you the opportunity to get to know me as a human being, behind the title of ” Louise Mathias – Barrister | Mediator | Family Law Arbitrator” when I communicate with you via my blog. So here’s my ‘condensed version’ ….even though longer than I had planned…I’m not a 20 something! :-) :-)
I was born in Newcastle, NSW, and I have a twin sister, Lynne. When we were 12 years old, our parents relocated us to Parkes, NSW where we started Term 2 at Parkes High School. My father was a fitter and turner by trade and my mother a sandwich hand. At the time, I wasn’t impressed with living in Parkes, but I now look back upon the experience with fondness.
In hindsight, I learned some very valuable lessons from growing up in Newcastle and Parkes, for example: “don’t get too full of yourself’ otherwise people will bring you back down to reality or “what you see is what you get” being true to yourself, even against peer pressure, is of utmost importance, or even “tell it like it is’ be a straight shooter and then everyone knows where they stand. BTW, that doesn’t mean a person has a license to be tactless, or rude if they are a straight shooter. Last but not least…have a sense of humour, it will serve you well and make life more enjoyable!
I completed my School Certificate in Year 10 and left Parkes High School at 16 years of age.
I worked in Woolworth’s Parkes, as the Office Manager (payroll, accounts etc) for 5 years, prior to travelling to the USA (New Mexico) for a year, with my sister, Lynne. We had a wonderful, carefree 12 month holiday! After a short time in Parkes on our return, we then relocated to Sydney. I continued to work as an Office Manager at Woolworths in Sydney for a few years. Then I was employed at Westpac for four years, then a whole bunch of other jobs, in different areas, following that.
In 1996, I commenced my employment in Medicine, working for specialist medical doctors in private practice. I applied for 50+ jobs prior to landing my first medical secretarial role. I had studied medical terminology, body systems, diseases, treatments, tests etc but I had no prior medical secretarial experience and I needed somebody to give me a chance. I kept persistently applying for jobs and going for interviews, until somebody gave me a ‘chance’ or a valuable ‘opportunity’. That somebody was a lady by the name of Pam who worked for (and still does) Dr Delaney (Ophthalmologist – I still keep in contact with Pam and Dr Michael Delaney!) I took that opportunity that was given me, with ‘ gratitude’ and a commitment to do a great job, be the best medical secretary I could be. I learned all I could in the role. It was also exciting as I went to theatre with Dr Delaney and watched him skilfully operate on eyes (cataracts, Laser surgery) and I also learned Practice Management skills from Pam.
I then set up/organised/put systems in place for a new urologist’s practice, Dr Kooner, at St Vincents Clinic as his Practice Manager. After that I moved to work for two neurosurgeons (Dr Cook and Dr Biggs) at North Shore Medical Centre and remained employed with them for two years, where I learned a great deal about neurosurgery. I was able to attend theatre and observe.
In 2000, I was employed with an exceptionally talented and caring female plastic and reconstruction surgeon by the name of Dr Megan Hassall (whom I still remain friends with) at North Shore Medical Centre. I went to theatre with her as an observer and saw the level of care, attention and skill she provided to her patients. Due to circumstances beyond my control, I had to leave Megan (sadly) following which I had five Practice Management roles in one year (plastic, urology, neurology and I can’t remember the other specialities…….they are a blur…) :-) ! It was a roller coaster ride!
In 2002, I was employed by a very highly regarded Obstetrician/Gynaecologist, Dr Chris Bradbury at St Vincents Clinic, where I remained employed for eight years as his Practice Manager, prior to entering law. After a couple of years working with him, he said to me, “you are too smart to be doing this job, have you thought about doing some study as I’ll be retiring in X years and if you need some time off around exams I will assist you with that”. I thought about it for a while as I had finished school almost 25 years earlier and I had not started or completed any tertiary education in that time apart from some TAFE secretarial/Microsoft courses and private institution medical courses……lets be honest…. I didn’t even finish high school!!
Self doubt ran through my head ” Could I do it, did I have the brains or would I fail miserably?” I decided to commence studying law (while working full time) and gave it my best, as I believed all I could do was my best and whatever the outcome, success or failure, I could do no more than my best! I still live by that!
When I decided to study law, I had to firstly sit exams to determine if I had the mental ‘aptitude” to enrol in law. I achieved the required marks and I enrolled in the Legal Practitioners Admission Board (LPAB – USYD) course. I enrolled in only one subject to begin with, still doubting myself. Ironically, I achieved fourth place out of 500+ students in my first subject, so that gave me confidence to continue, albeit slowly! I once again took on one subject, then enrolled in 2 subjects at a time and worked full-time. In the last 18 months of the LPAB course, I was studying 4 subjects and worked full-time (I placed 1st in Family Law and Trade Practices, 4th Wills/Estates & 5th in Employment Law)…. The process of study did become easier!!! When studying I didn’t compare myself to others, as I believed we all had our own strengths and weaknesses, I could only compete with myself, to do my best, and that philosophy continues.
The LPAB course, although not considered prestigious in law, is regarded as a rigorous course to complete, and those that complete have the ability to manage whatever is placed in front of them. Why? You had to be a self starter, disciplined and self sufficient to ‘survive‘, learn law and complete the course, with very little assistance!
After 14+ years in medicine, my first legal job was as a Judges Associate in the FCC. Then I worked as a solicitor for about 15 months prior to sitting the Bar Exams. I was naive prior to enrolling to sit the Bar Exams, I didn’t know any barristers to chat to. I thought solicitors sat the Bar Exams and passed, (i.e. no one failed), and onwards and upwards they went, with their tutors in the first year, who ‘assisted them” and then they had a successful practice, not realising what is involved, AT ALL :-) . I sat the 3 Bar Exams and passed all three in my first attempt. I moved into my first chambers (I didn’t know one chambers from another), nor the reputation of one solicitors office from another (Don’t be fooled, I’m no longer naive)! :) :-)
In June 2014, two years after coming to the Bar, I was diagnosed with breast cancer . It was a shock, as no one ever thinks that something ‘bad’ is going to happen to them, it happens to others, not me! I had to take time off work to have multiple surgeries and extensive treatment. I underwent a mastectomy, then 18 weeks of chemotherapy, 5 weeks of radiation and then 11 hour bilateral breast reconstruction surgery (by Dr Megan Hassall).
I was out of Elizabeth Street Chambers for 11 months. It was a tough time, physically! I was told by some people in law, don’t tell anyone in law you have breast cancer, as it will affect your practice negatively. I thought, law has to be more human and accepting of human frailties, so I continue to be honest and open! :-)
I returned to chambers in May 2015 with the prospect of having to ‘start again”……. get my ‘small business’ – called being a Barrister – on its way, again!
This year – 2016, is my first full year back at Elizabeth Street chambers, post cancer treatments and surgeries. I have to credit the Directors of Elizabeth Street chambers (and members) with having exemplary humanity, they were very supportive of me during my time away from chambers and on my return, and for that I will always be very grateful!
We all have varying ‘challenges’ in life, whether they be (list by no means complete):
- the death of a loved one
- serious or chronic illness
- divorce (and the associated hurt)
- separation (and the associated hurt)
- financial hardship or ruin
- mental illness
- lack of confidence
- anxiety or risk adverse behaviour
- being bullied
- lack of career progression
- humble beginnings
Remember….its not the ‘situation’ that makes us unhappy, rather its HOW we think about THAT particular situation (whatever that situation is). We all have daily choices in life and I see the two key choices being:
- sit in a corner feeling sorry for yourself (which is OK for a short while) and as a result become paralysed with fear/anxiety/mistrust/inactivity due to the situation -result? Can’t make decisions, move (paralysed) or essentially LIVE life to the full… OR
- find ways to view the situation as ‘reality’ for now …. or forever (i.e. not always wishing it was different but accept it for however long it lasts ) and make the most of THAT situation/reality or if possible find a way to put oneself into a better, healthier situation (i.e. take action). It does take effort, strength of mind and spirit to find the positives in a less than desirable situation, but there are always positives. Its our thoughts that make us happy or unhappy…not our situations! Don’t allow fear to paralyse your ‘one and only life’ (not a dress rehearsal)! Im a firm supporter of: make the most of each day, treat each other with kindness and dignity, support others to succeed – don’t try to tear others down, live life with EQ, if you don’t like what you do for work each day – change it (i.e. there is life outside of law – law is not the only profession available)…. take risks in life— whats the worst that can happen?….. and importantly…..keep things in perspective , most things in life…… are not life threatening (even final hearings)!
I hope after reading ‘my story’ you may think more about the need for greater diversity in law, providing opportunities for those less advantaged or accepting those in law, who have a history that is different from the usual or stereotypical. Law does requires all kinds/types of people, with a wide variety of backgrounds and experiences to effectively represent people in our community, who are also diverse.
My story is not one of privilege or grandeur, rather of hard work, determination and life lessons that have been learned through a wide variety of life experiences, that I bring to the practice of law.
Some may read ‘My Story’, and discount, criticise or deride me as a result. Why? Humble background, age, gender, time in law, no industry awards :-) (apart from my 1st places at LPAB) :-) :-) , and a whole raft of other reasons.
I allow people to think and believe what they want, which has been gained through their life experiences, values, beliefs etc. However, what experiences will people have if they only expose themselves to ‘the same’ people with the same views and backgrounds, with no point of difference (i.e. same school, same background, same socio-economics, same friends, same views, same ……same) ? Difference adds (not detracts) interest in life and in the profession, at least in my view!
I have been provided with opportunities in life; e.g. when I landed my first medical role and secondly when a suggestion was made…..why not study? Why not think about how we can provide real opportunities to those ‘outside of the usual stereotype‘ (for many reasons), maybe someone in your office already or someone applying for a job…….the list is endless? You may be surprised at how much you get back in return, personally and professionally; including varied knowledge and experience gained from others who have different backgrounds and life experiences, it will bring added dimensions!
Thank you very much for your support during 2016, its been very much appreciated!
I wish all of you a happy holiday with your friends and family!
Lets set up an obligation free coffee meeting in 2017, to discuss your practice needs and how I may assist you and your clients, please contact me on (02) 9336 5399 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you would like me to come to your firm in the New Year to present a lunch and learn on one of the topics listed at http://www.sydneybarrister.net.au/speaker2 (or others) contact me on (02) 9336 5399 or email@example.com. – limited spaces.