THE 'Happy Family Lawyer' Clarissa Rayward is determined to change the way Australian families experience separation and divorce.
"Every 30 minutes an Australian child experiences the breakdown of their family," says Rayward, the founder of the Brisbane Family Law Centre.
"Research consistently shows us that these children are at significant risk of harm. You see it is not divorce that causes harm, it is the conflict that can go on and on for many years afterward that ensures that these children will never reach their true potential in life.
"It is this that makes me determined to change the way Australian families experience separation and divorce."
After helping more than 2000 Australians through their divorce over the past 15 years, Rayward was awarded with the Thought Leader of the Year gong at the annual Lawyer's Weekly Women in Law Awards.
The awards identify leading dealmakers and influential thought leaders, giving industry-wide recognition to female legal professionals who highlight a passion for the law and dedication for personal advancement.
Rayward is also a leading blogger and published author. Her book Splitsville - how to separate, stay out of court and stay friends offers separating couples options to make decisions for them and their family.
"I believe that through my knowledge and skill, I can change the experience of divorce for Australian families," she says.
Q&A with Clarissa Rayward
Where did your passion for family law stem from?
I can't say I pursued a desire to be a family lawyer from a young age, I just fell into it and the human aspect is what I particularly came to love. Over time I have grown to love what I do, the element of family law that I particularly love is people and relationships, and I think being able to work one on one with people at what is a really difficult time for them is very rewarding.
'The Happy Family Lawyer' - what is behind the name?
I wish there was a really good story but it was late one Saturday night, almost two years ago, and I wasn't all that happy. I was going through a stage in my career where I was losing a bit of enthusiasm for the work I was doing and I was finding it a bit tough. So I decided to start a blog and I didn't put a lot of thought into the name I just started googling random names that were available and I chose The Happy Family Lawyer.
In retrospect I'm lucky that I did choose it because it makes people start asking questions - what does that mean and what is it about? Certainly for me the name connects because it's a reminder to me every day that happiness is so important for people going through divorces that is what they're seeking.
At the end of the day if they want to be back in a place where they can say they're happy, that is an achievement. So the name and the word 'happy' itself has now become the heart of my ethos when I'm working, because I'm constantly trying to work out what is 'happiness' for my clients.
Along with that ethos, do you have a leadership mantra?
What I personally focus on doing is being grateful. Focus on the positive things in your life and try and focus on what is good around you that is happening. I think that as human beings it's very easy to get caught up in the negatives or the complaints or the things that aren't going well.
My personal philosophy is very much just to try and take things a moment or a day at a time. If something is not going to plan, just slow down and be grateful for the things you have. It's something I've really embraced over the last two years.
What has been your biggest career highlight?
I think opening my firm will still be a highlight for many years to come. I think at the time I didn't really realise what a significant step that was, and now I look back years later and think, "wow, I was pretty brave".
What are you hoping to achieve in the year ahead?
The firm is going really well, and what I'm working on at the moment is productising and starting to expand the product offering outside of pure legal services into more of an education space. Certainly The Happy Family Lawyer brand is really helping me to do that.
Why do you believe it is so important to educate the community?
For me I think that the more education people have about divorce and separation the better for society, and for children. I come from a space of understanding that children really do suffer during divorce because there is a lot of conflict. And so what I'm trying to do, particularly with the work under The Happy Family Lawyer brand, is giveaway as much information that I can so it does make it easier for people to work through divorce in a positive way.
I'm really lucky, I have all of this knowledge and I'm at a point in my career where it is easy to give back and give that information out.
How did it feel to win the Thought Leader of the Year title?
That was pretty amazing, definitely up there with those career highlight moments. For me it was acknowledgement of the little things I'm doing in my office in Brisbane and showing that I am actually having an impact. I think that when you're doing stuff yourself you don't really realise that, you just get on with the work and you don't often realise the impact you are having.
What sort of feedback have you received on your book?
The feedback has been really good and at the end of last year I actually signed a distribution contract, so this year Splitsville will be in bookstores around the country.
The main feedback I've had is that it's empowering people, which is exactly what I wanted to do. I wanted to educate and empower people so even if they do need to work with lawyers in the process, they can go to those meetings and have a clear understanding of the process, what the lawyer is doing and why the lawyer needs that information. Hopefully they can be far more in control of their own divorce and choose the path they want to walk down.
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