Chats with Clarissa


-By Jean Morton

Clarissa Rayward certainly has an impressive resume - running her own family law firm as well as a weekly podcast - and publishing two books in her spare time! I sat down with Clarissa to talk about an issue that is gaining significant attention - the mental health of law students.

From my chat with Clarissa, who herself has had experience in being unhappy in the law - and consciously works to create her own happiness - I think the following are the most important nuggets of wisdom! 

1.  You do not have to do everything now

One observation that Clarissa has made in working with and mentoring law students and grads is the propensity for us to want to do everything, that we seem to have this fear of missing out if we do not do everything NOW. We should stop feeling the need to be part of everything - we need to take the pressure off ourselves!

2. Competition

The competitive nature of the practice and the study of law, and how this affects the wellbeing of law students and legal professionals is a theme that has continued since Clarissa herself was at UQ.  When you put lots of high-achieving, intelligent students together in a competitive environment - this can lead to lots of self doubt and anxiety. We should build each other up - and be supportive - rather than seeing someone's success as meaning that we will miss out. Comparing ourselves to others will only make us miserable - be your own person!  As Clarissa said: 'everyone can succeed, there is space for everyone'!

3. There is not one single 'correct' career path!

Clarissa said that when she was studying at UQ there was a mentality - which I think continues today - that there is ONE prize job. A graduate position as a top tier firm. Anything less than that is a failure. Clarissa is concerned with this mentality - that a job at a top tier firm is the best and everything else is lesser. Working in a top tier firm is not for everyone. The reality is that there are so many different career paths, it doesn't mean that you are less of a lawyer, or that you won't have a successful career.

4. Who cares about GPAs?

This was one thing that gave me some relief. Clarissa says that in hiring grads she is not so interested in GPAs. She is much more interested in life experience of candidates - have they had a part time job while at uni, lived out of home? And another relieving revelation from Clarissa was that even part time work in good old hospo and retail are worthwhile to have on your resume. It is all about how you sell it! The human skill of a waitress who has to deal with someone whose eggs were not cooked the right way - that is something that can be pitched in an interview. Think about what you learned from those experiences.

5.  Relationships

Clarissa revealed that one thing that has struck her in doing her podcast, with so many different kinds of legal professionals, is that there are so many ways to be a lawyer - you are more than your career. Everyone is struggling with their own story, we should try and be compassionate and treat people with empathy. And should not compare ourselves to others or care what others think.

6. Live in the moment!

'Your 20s should be a time of joy and learning!' Do not worry too much about the future - you cannot predict or control it. We should still have our eyes open to opportunity - and can still be purposeful - go to industry events and consider different pathways. I think one of my favourite pieces of advice/lessons from Clarissa was that she pointed that we are lucky to be going to law school, and we will never be without jobs!

7. Just do it!

One of Clarissa's favourite phrases (and one which aim to try and adopt myself) is 'what is the worst that can happen?' We need to actively move away from our own pessimism - it is up to us as individuals ourselves to focus on the positives.






There are many amazing podcasts to listen to from Clarissa, but I have listed the most relevant below:

* Michael Kirby: (need I say more?) ‘The Rockstar of Law’

* This podcast with Nick James (and maybe this shows how long I have been at UQ, but I remember having him as a professor) explores the pressures on law students and how universities are trying to change the system:

* Ann-Maree David - Director of The College of Law and President of the Australian Women Lawyer’s Association- on Resilience and diversity in the legal industry - including why so many law students leave the profession - and the change that is needed in universities:


* Mindfulness in Law with Fiona Caulley, including about mindfulness and strategies that Fiona uses: