This lovely lady is one of my lifelong friends and so generous with her knowledge, having taught me many things along our journey. One of which, I know you will be very interested in and I will go into more details in a later post.
When I first met Carmal I was entertained by her anecdotes and use of the modern lingo ‘YOLO’ but ultimately I was engulfed by her determination and drive. Carmal was studying two degree’s in one and described herself as being very ‘book smart’ – which has turned out to be a critical in her line of work. Working hard has proven to be core element to succeeding and being able to read people extremely well is an added bonus. Carmal held a position for several years as a judges associate for the family court, a role she snapped up very quickly after graduating. The skills she learnt, the language and lingo of the courts and her hands on experience and insight to the makings of a good barrister gave her all she needed to step out onto the other side of the court room as solicitor.
Carmal Harris, Solicitor, Lee and Partners
Brief description of your role:
As a Solicitor, I spend my time meeting with clients and being involved in the day to day legal affairs of my clients. I specialise in the areas of Family Law, Wills and Estates. So, I generally meet with people who have an issue in one of these areas and help by giving advice. At Lee and Partners, we provide our clients with a ‘First Free Interview’ to allow the client to feel at ease that they can tell the Solicitor the situation and we can tell them how and if they need to proceed forward.
The law can be very daunting and complex, so I help people understand the process by explaining it in a simple way to ensure that they walk away understanding more about the process and their particular situation.
In a nutshell, I am here to provide advice for people in particular areas of law to ensure they receive adequate legal advice and achieve the best outcome possible.
So… what do you actually do?
7.00am – Get up, prepare to leave for work and COFFEE. 8.00am – Drive to Court to appear for a client in a Family Court Matter. 9.00am – Meet the client at Court, discuss the proceedings with them and provide advice as to the likely outcome of the court appearance. If the other side is present, try and negotiate before entering the Court room. 10.00am – Appear in Court before the Judge. Put the issues to the Judge in the particular matter. Receive the outcome. Explain the outcome to the client in simple language and what they need to do next. 10.30am – Back to office to write the letter to the client and ensure all notes are completed on the matter. Back in the office. Receive mail, reply to the mail, check emails, reply to emails, check telephone messages, reply to telephone messages. Check draft letters that my Secretary has typed from my diction. 11.30am ish – COFFEE TIME!!! 12.00pm – Client appointment – Estate matter. Take instructions, provide advice, dictate any necessary documents as required. 1.00pm – Work on client files. drafting letters, Court documents, etc. 1.30pm – Lunch. I always take half an hour break from my desk, get up talk to everyone in the office and have a bite to eat. It is important to get a break from your desk! 2.00pm – Client appointment – See a client in relation to preparing a Will, Enduring Power of Attorney and Enduring Power of Guardianship documents. Take instructions, give advice as to any complications and the documents in general. 3.00pm – Dictate the documents from the previous appointment in draft format for my secretary to type up (will check once done). 3.30pm – Client appointment – signing of Wills, Enduring Power of Attorney, Enduring Power of Guardianship. 4.00pm – Client appointment – Family Law. See the client, obtain instructions, give advice. Once seen the client, complete notes, dictate any documents that may be needed to be completed. 5.00pm – Check my in tray, read any documents and letters that need to go, sign them, put them in the out tray. 5.30pm – Home time!
Obviously, this is just an example of one day. The days are very varied. Some days, I can be booked up with back to back appointments. Other days, I will be in Court, with appointments in the afternoon. And in between appointments, I am always returning calls, checking emails, checking my in tray, reading and signing letters etc.
How did you get to your position of being?
Firstly, study. I completed a double degree in Laws and Legal Practice and Behavioural Science (Psychology). The course is about a six and a half year degree, so I decided to try and hurry things along with the Psychology side of things. As a result, I finished this degree first, and then obtained a job in the field of Psychology whilst completing my law degree. This job was a great tool in being able to interact and relate to people.
Although a great experience, it made me realise that the field of Psychology was not for me. So, I used annual leave to do work experience at the District Court of South Australia and sent my resume to nearly every law firm in Adelaide to secure some experience in the field.
I was fortunate enough to obtain a position within a law firm as a Law Clerk where I remained for two years. At the end of my degree, I was offered full time employment as a Solicitor. However, at the time, I was also offered a position as an Associate in the Family Court of Australia. It was too good of an opportunity to pass up so I accepted and I stayed in this role for a further two years. I then moved on to be a Solicitor at the firm I work with now.
Have you always wanted to be a lawyer?
Yes and No. At school English and Legal Studies were my strongest subjects. I also loved interacting with people. So, when it came to deciding what degree I should pursue after school, I thought I would like to be a Psychologist or a Lawyer. Hence, why I completed a double degree. Once I started my Psychology degree, I quickly learnt that it was a lot more science based than I had anticipated and that Law was the area for me! As I was doing the two degrees, I decided to complete them both, but knew that I would become a Lawyer at the end of my degree.
Law has various descriptions of roles. can you explain what the difference between a barrister and solicitor is –
Basically, a Solicitor is a person that directly deals with a client. They take the instructions from the client, give advice, prepare the paperwork and interact directly with them (all behind the scenes work). A Barrister is someone who deals directly with the Solicitor and generally represents the client in Court or provides expert advice in a particular area of law to the Solicitor. They do not interact directly with a client. The best way to understand is say, you have problem with your knee, you go to the GP first of all, who refers you to a specialist in that field. Very similar here, that initially a client goes to a Solicitor, then if needed, a Solicitor engages a Barrister for a specialist opinion.
When a person is admitted to the Supreme Court of South Australia to practise in the legal field, they are admitted as a Barrister and Solicitor, this means that they are able to be either a Barrister or Solicitor. However, to be a Barrister without any legal experience is virtually impossible as you need to be able to give expert advice in a particular field and know the law back to front.
What do you love about your role?
I love that I am able to interact with clients and help them resolve their legal issue. I love that I am able to combine the things I enjoy such as writing and interacting with people. It allows me to explain things to clients in a simple and straight forward way. I love helping and fighting for people. Sometimes, the process has been very tiring on people, so being able to provide assistance to them is the best feeling. At the end of the day, I love being able to help people in such a complex area. I received a beautiful card in the mail the other day, explaining how much I helped a client and made them feel at ease with the process, that is the best reward.
In your current role, what has been your biggest achievement?
That is a tough one! Every situation is so different. The greatest achievements are in all of my files. For example, reaching an agreement for a client in a property settlement, appearing in Court and receiving a favourable outcome for my client, making a Will for a client etc. I really like to achieve the best for all clients and feel a sense of achievement out of being able to help people. One thing recently that sticks in my mind is that I went to see a client to draw up a Will on a Friday afternoon. He had not done a Will before. He gave me instructions and he said that he had been very sick. I set the instructions up in the format of a Will and got him to sign with two witnesses. This is not the normal practice for an initial interview, but I did it to be thorough. The Will was ready to be signed on Monday, however, he sadly passed away on the Saturday. As I had got the client to sign the Will instructions, although not the best way to have a Will, it cost his family a lot less money in contrast of him not having a Will at all. I was proud that I had minimised some pain, time and cost for the remaining family members.
Over your career, what has been your ‘love this’ moment?
I actually think that working as an Associate in the Family Court gave me a great insight into the law and made me go, wow, I love this profession! I thoroughly enjoyed my time at the courts. It was the best experience and I was able to gain an insight into real family law matters of every variety. Along with this, I got to provide research and interact directly with Judges and very insightful people. It made me realise that I am very passionate about this area of law and that I love working in the field.
What would be the least favourite aspect of your role?
My least favourite part of the role is time costing for clients. It is unfortunately part and parcel of being a Solicitor and everyone does it. I always try and help the client as quickly and efficiently as possible. I always like to be realistic with costs and resolve the matter as quickly as possible to try and minimise costs for the client. I try and make sure that the client is completely aware of costs. No one likes charging, but at the end of the day, especially at the law firm I work at, we only charge for the work we do! Just like a Plumber or Electrician charges for the work they do.
Any advice for anyone aspiring to work in area of law?
So, many things to say!!! I will narrow it down to four (and one for the EVERYONE)…
1. Experience. Everyone wants you to have some, but minimal firms are willing to give it to you! As early as possible, get out there, volunteer and try and get a job in a legal field as quickly as possible. It is never too early in your degree to have a job in the legal field. You will quickly realise that it is not all glory, wearing wigs and arguing in Court (like Law and Order) and that is is super hard work!
2. Do not expect to be on a million dollars straight from law school and be prepared for hard work and long hours. The world of law is over glorified. You need to work very very very hard over a long period to be successful. Many law students graduate and think that they will be successful straight away! This is definitely not the case. You need to be prepared for long hours and hard work!
3. Personality. You may be really smart, but you will not succeed without having a personality. Don’t get me wrong, you need to be professional and understand the law, but you need to be able to relate that to your client! No point in knowing everything back to front if you do not have a personality and cannot convey that to others.
4. Secretary and support staff. The most powerful tool in any legal firm is your secretary! Most are very experienced and a wealth of knowledge. Do not think that just because you have graduated law school, you are suddenly the most prestigious person in town. Never ever be mean or rude to your secretary. They are the most important people in the law firm. They know everything that is happening and sometimes know the law better than some Solicitors. So, BE NICE! I know that I am extremely lucky to have a fantastic secretary and PA! I would never complain bringing them a coffee.
And, 5 (For everyone)
A Will, Enduring Power of Attorney and Enduring Power of Guardianship. Everyone needs these documents. Everyone. No matter how old you are, whether you have $1 or $1,000,000, a house, or only bank accounts. It is SO important to have these things in place. It not only allows you to dictate what happens, but is so much easier on loved ones! So, get onto them. All three are very important to have no matter what stage in life. So, do not hesitate! Give me a call and make sure you have all the documents in place!
Love this. What great advice and truly giving insight into life as a solicitor. Any questions for Carmal and the work she does? Please comment below.