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Lessons from the bench

Lessons from the bench

By Kate Wild

Barristers Courts Family Court Judgment Justice 


There is perhaps nobody better qualified to comment on the challenges of life in the law than a judge of the family law courts. Federal Circuit Court Judge Evelyn Bender spoke to the YLJ. Judge Evelyn Bender has a remarkable career history. Having risen through the ranks from junior lawyer to partner, senior family law advocate at Victoria Legal Aid to Magellan registrar in the Family Court, she was appointed to the bench in 2008. How important is it for lawyers to be resilient? Without resilience, you won’t last in the legal profession. You will appear before an impatient judge, you will lose matters you believe you should have won, you will have clients who won’t listen to you, you will have bosses who are difficult, you will have career setbacks, you will encounter sexism, misogyny and racism and you’ll have colleagues that let you down. Family law in particular is challenging, rewarding and exhausting, both legally and emotionally. There are times it can be overwhelming. In those times you must reach out to your mentors/colleagues/supports both personal and professional or you will burn out. What are the biggest challenges that you have faced in your career? Like many lawyers, securing my first job and maintaining the right balance between the demands of work and life. How important do you think it is to maintain a healthy work/life balance? This is the most important issue and challenge that lawyers face. To be an effective lawyer I believe it is critical to prioritise this balance. Resilience is not possible without a work/life balance. As young lawyers commencing your careers it is imperative to develop good habits that will see you have a healthy and productive career. Of course, there will be occasions where you have to work seven days straight because you’ve got the biggest case of your life coming up and you need to put in the hard yards, but that must be the exception. You must have outside interests and passion and always make time for you, your family and friends and always take your holidays. What have you done to maintain a degree of separation between your life as a judge and your personal life? Over the years I have become very disciplined in ensuring I have this degree of separation. It is easy to fall into the trap of working seven days a week. You can’t afford to do that, or you will suffer physical and emotional burn-out. I always reserve at least one day of the weekend for myself, my family and friends. I have many interests outside my work and I ensure that there is always something fun and enjoyable planned that I can look forward to. How else have you managed to stay resilient to the challenges of life as a judge? Having a very supportive family and surrounding myself with good friends. I also had and have really good support staff.

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