This month I’m celebrating 4 years of Annabel Varvel & Associates. 20 years since finishing my law degree will come at the end of this year! It’s amazing how small businesses (& life) take twists and turns and don’t always turn out exactly as you think they are going to, so I thought given anniversaries of all kinds are an opportunity to reflect, celebrate and learn, that I’d write a blog about this career journey of mine so far.
For those who don’t know me personally, here is a summary of my career path prior to this private mediation journey!
I went to uni, I studied law as I got in and didn’t know what else I wanted to do apart from help people (wanted to do social work but my wise parents, knowing me better than I knew myself, steered me to law). Whilst at uni I worked part time for a law firm (Coleman & Greig) in Sydney doing everything from answering the phones, filing, secretarial work, legal research, photocopying, discovery and learning about what being a lawyer was really about. I graduated (1996) and stayed at the same firm working in personal injury law (plaintiff work) under the guidance of a fabulous passionate and experienced lawyer (Anthony Scarcella).
I discovered that I actually liked practicing law far more than studying it and I enjoyed the satisfaction of helping real people with real life problems. I had always had an interest in people oriented law (as opposed to commercial law – my sister is a brilliant lawyer who has worked in commercial law and now is the head of the in-house legal deprtment as a partner in a large global firm) and so was drawn to family law. I was able to dabble in a little family law in my first job and in my second (at Heazlewoods Solicitors) which was a combined personal injury/family law position. I initially learnt some family law from Matthew Shepherd and I liked his calm and considered approach to family law.
In 2001 I moved to Brisbane and had a ‘baptism of fire’ year working for Emerson Black Family Law – it was my first & last full time family law position. That year was such an amazing opportunity to be immersed in the world of family law, to spend a lot of time in the Family Court, to do some advocacy, to represent a large range of types of family law clients and to get to know, in a short period of time many Brisbane family lawyers. It was in that year that I also realised that long term family law practice was not for me. I took a radical step and left law to set up a life coaching business where my goal was to help people to move forward in their personal lives in areas that they needed some support, a plan and some ‘coaching’. This continued in a variety of ways until I had my second child. I’ve never regretted leaving legal practice in the 15 years since. There are a few aspects I miss but the day to day conflict and stress I don’t!
After 3 kids I started to think about what I was going to do ‘next’ and mediation kept popping up in my mind as a way to be back in the realm of family law without working as a solicitor and as a way of combining my legal experience and knowledge with my coaching and people skills. I qualified as a Nationally Accredited Mediator and Family Dispute Resolution Practitioner and then a year later began working for Relationships Australia part time learning how to mediate. What a fantastic way to develop and hone my mediation skills as I was in the company of experienced mediators and mentors (great thanks in particular to John Cleary). After a couple of years at RA, 3 smallish children and a major house extension I was ready for another step in my career, branching out in private practice.
When I set up Annabel Varvel & Associates I had grand plans. I was going to open offices and be in business with some of my ‘associates’ once it got off the ground. People were going to flock to us because we were reasonably priced, able to see clients quickly, cared about people and provided excellent mediation services. It was going to be ‘easy’ because there were so many people who didn’t want to wait for the free FRC services but couldn’t afford the $5k/day barrister fees. I should have known, business is never ‘easy’!
Whilst my business looks different and far more ‘low key’ than how I first envisaged it, my core values haven’t changed and neither has my core service to my clients. I love having the flexibilty of my own business and being able to do a variety of things professionally. Here are a few key things I’ve learnt over the last 4 years:
- It’s not about me. My business is about my clients and about MY family. Obviously the work I do for my clients is about them and for them but the way I run my business is about MY family – keeping as much as I can my face to face client time to within school time so I’m there for the boys when they are home, being able to support my husband in HIS business and run my ‘other’ small business, a cooking blog.
- I like variety – I do my mediation work, I look after my family and I also write a food blog and have written a cookbook and love inspiring wellness in a holistic way. I like having my fingers in a number of different ‘pies’. It keeps me stimulated, fresh and interested in a range of people and issues.
- I’m grateful for referrals from family lawyers I knew back when I practiced and from those I’ve met since starting out. Lawyer referrals have formed a significant base for me and I know then too that my clients are getting good legal advice. Referrals are always the best way to build a business so I’m also thankful for referrals from friends, colleagues and past clients.
- There is still a great need for mediation to resolve family law disputes. We need to keep families out of court as it is such a destructive process, so I’m proud to be part of a system where that is a priority.
- Let it go. Does it REALLY matter? The ends DON’T always justify the means.
So thank you to those colleagues, clients, family and friends who have played a part in my career twists and turns, I love having a variety in what I do and in providing caring, professional service to my clients.