Making a difference in clients' lives

Making a difference in clients' lives

Wednesday, 1 May 2019

Having practised in family law for more than 25 years, panel practitioner and family lawyer Kay Martin of Martin Irwin & Richards Lawyers has spent much of her life immersed in family law.

‘I started my legal career as an articled clerk at what was then Blake and Riggall and subsequently moved to Mildura with my young family for a lifestyle change in the early eighties.

‘I worked for John Grigg Bruce Garde and then in partnership with Diana Duck and Cynthia Toose. Cynthia and I practiced together for ten years and then separated our practice. I subsequently merged my practice with Irwin and Richards to become Martin Irwin and Richards in 2001, and in 2009 I retired as a partner and have continued with the firm as a consultant.

‘I practise in the areas of family law and commercial law,’ said Kay.

As for what attracted her to legally aided work, Kay is pragmatic.

‘I like legal aid work, and particularly independent children’s lawyer (ICL) work, because if done well, you can seriously impact a client’s future quality of life for the better.

‘Family law is also a natural choice for female practitioners in country towns.

‘I started my career as a commercial lawyer and really enjoy commercial work, but family law gives you the opportunity to make a real difference in clients’ lives.

‘Alternatively, you only make a difference in the lives of commercial clients if you make a mistake!’

As with most lawyers, Kay’s days are predictably busy.

Image of Kay Martin
Family lawyer Kay Martin

‘As a country lawyer, my work revolves around Federal Circuit Court dates, and I service all areas of family law including ICL work, property and children’s cases.

‘We have three circuits a year in Mildura with property mediations in between, so there are always deadlines to meet, and most of them fall together.

‘Part of my role also involves mentoring young practitioners, which I find very rewarding.

‘I received the LIV President’s Mentor Award in 2010 and was honoured and humbled to be acknowledged.

‘I especially appreciated all the nice things my proteges said about me, which I’m sure they would not have said on days when the pressure was on!’

Asked about what personal and professional attributes make a good family lawyer, and what advice she would give aspiring family lawyers, Kay doesn’t hesitate.

‘Tolerance, attention to detail, an ability to be objective, respect for the legal process and a desire to pursue your client’s interests while respecting your opponent are all vital qualities required to effectively represent your client.

‘I would also advise all aspiring lawyers to understand the people you act for and learn tolerance. Also, give sound legal advice and don’t tell people what they want to hear, rather, tell them what they need to know.’

As for the challenges of the role, Kay says time is always her biggest opponent.

‘The biggest challenge every day is finding the time to handle client demands, spending time listening to clients who may be distressed or intimidated by the legal process, responding to dozens of emails and then knuckling down and doing the actual legal work.

‘I also think that many parents today come from broken families themselves and lack basic parenting skills. Accordingly, family lawyers today are part lawyer, part counsellor and part Parenting 101 instructor.’

Pressed on why she does family law, Kay cites a number of every day examples.

‘It’s the 60-year-old housewife facing life as a single person with no income, parents with relocation issues where a lack of funds means a move by one parent will result in the other not seeing the children and children in ICL matters where there are problems with both parents.

‘Someone needs to represent these people’s interests on crucial life matters, and very often I’m it.’

Despite the hectic nature of her role, Kay knows she is doing important work that is making a difference in the community.

‘I have been a family lawyer for so long that some of my clients remind me I was their mother or father’s lawyer and tell me how their parents were grateful for my help, and the impact it had on their lives.

‘I always find this feedback humbling as it reinforces that we are dealing with matters that change client’s lives.

‘Ultimately, it can be hard to tell a client they will not get what they want, but helping them to achieve the best outcome they can, and guiding them through the process without exacerbating difficult family situations, can be the most rewarding aspect of the job,’ said Kay.

More information

Read more about the role of an Independent Children’s Lawyer.

Learn about applications for Independent Children’s Lawyer Panel.

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