Elisa Turco is a family lawyer and accredited family law mediator with Blackwood Family Lawyers. She is a member of the LIV Young Lawyers and the YL Professional Development Committee.
1. Why did you decide to pursue a legal career?
In secondary school, I was passionate about pursuing a career in law - in part, because of the TV series ‘LA Law’, but primarily because I had a strong sense of social justice. I also love to win an argument. I started a law degree straight out of school and persisted for three years, but felt disillusioned and left to work in newspapers and advertising.
Twenty years later, I found myself with four small children and coming out of a seven-year parenting battle in the Family Court. The process was slow, torturous and distressing but the positive outcome enabled the children and me to rebuild our lives. From the poor junior solicitor who took my distressed calls every week, through numerous counsel, to the first instance judge and the full court, the decisions and assistance of these professionals affected the future of both myself and my children profoundly. My experience reminded me why I was initially drawn to the legal profession and that I could give back to my community by assisting others.
2. How did you get your first job in the law?
I trained as a family dispute resolution practitioner (FDRP) at the same time I returned to study my law degree. As an FDRP, I worked and networked with family lawyers. Working within the parameters of the family law system gave me valuable experience and knowledge. Through this connection with a family law firm, I took on a part time role as a FDRP and paralegal while still studying. I then established my own mediation practice.
3. How and when did you move into your current position?
I had heard that a number of firms were looking for a junior. I approached the firms directly and leveraged off connections I had already made in the industry. Blackwood Family Lawyers was the right fit for me. I was admitted in July 2016 and moved into a lawyer role with Blackwood Family Lawyers in September.
4. What is the most rewarding aspect of your job?
Separation is difficult and an ensuing legal battle can be traumatic, especially when it goes to the heart of your role as a parent or your future financial stability. My role gives me the most satisfaction when I’m able to assist my clients reach a resolution, while also having a positive impact on their mental health.
5. What are the biggest challenges you face?
The biggest challenge for me, as it is for most working mothers, is juggling the sometimes mutually exclusive role of mother and lawyer. Sometimes being a good lawyer and employee means being a less than ideal mother. I’ve needed to learn which parenting tasks I can jettison totally or delegate to others. I try not to compare myself with other mothers but instead speak openly with my children about what is most important to them and where they would like to see the compromises that inevitably will have to be made.
6. What advice would you give to people wanting to practice in your area?
You will usually be dealing with clients at their most vulnerable. Expect tears, anger and irrationality. Expect to see people at their worst. Understand that separation makes most people a little crazy – at least temporarily. Your job is to be your client’s rational mind.
7. What has been the best career advice you have received to date?
To seek complementary work in the family law arena prior to entering as a legal practitioner.
8. Did you have mentors?
I have had an LIV mentor since 2014. My mentor has been amazingly helpful in assisting me to transition from FDRP to solicitor, as well as building my confidence and understanding how to navigate full-time employment.
9. If you had your time again, would you do anything different?
Most people expect me to say that I wish I had finished my law degree the first time around. In fact, I wouldn’t do anything differently. I am a better practitioner, with a wealth of knowledge and experience, due to the road I have travelled to get here.
10. What do you like to do outside the law?
Read books, walk in our inner-city parks, eat out, visit galleries and go to the movies, theatre or symphony.
11. What is your favourite legal TV show or movie and why?
To Kill a Mockingbird – both the book and the movie - because being an excellent lawyer requires you to also be a decent human being.
If you have ever wondered about what a career in family law is like, then please consider our dedicated family law “ideas for careers” panel event on Thursday, 18 May 2017. Registrations are now open, with tickets only $25.00 for YL members. You can book your place here.