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An Interview with our Senior Solicitor: Vicki Andrews B.Ec LLB

Vicki is our Senior Solicitor based at our Port Macquarie office. Vicki has been practising law since 1986 and has a very down-to-earth, precise, honest, and realistic approach. Vicki has extensive experience in all areas of law but she is particularly passionate about family law, wills, and estate law.

In her interview, Vicki tells us why she is so passionate about law and explains some of the changes she has seen in the industry. Vicki also explains what it’s like being a female lawyer and what influence the gender of a family lawyer makes on a divorce case.

Tell us about how you started off in Law?

Vicki: I was in high school and I was doing my HSC and I wanted to be a doctor. I was doing physics, chemistry, maths and I realised I didn’t particularly like chemistry. I couldn’t work it out at all. I was also studying Commerce in high school and I was doing rather well at that. When I finished my HSC I thought well what can I do? I won’t get the marks to do medicine so what should I be doing? I wanted to do law. I didn’t get good enough marks to enter law right away. I ended up studying the combined economics law degree and 38 years later here I am.

How has law changed since you started your law career?

Vicki: I’ll give you one example. When I first started work in the legal profession we didn’t even have a fax machine. There were no emails. I think there was one computer at work but certainly solicitors and support staff didn’t have computers. The support staff would type on an electronic typewriter. There was one non electric typewriter but most of the staff had electronic typewriters. And I remember being at work when the fax machine was purchased and installed.

When I first started as a solicitor client’s expectations were very different to how they are now. You could speak to someone on the telephone and if you said I’m going to write you a letter they would  expect to receive it three, four, five days later and it was never a drama. Now correspondance is so direct and quick via email. If you don’t respond within a reasonable period of time they’ll send you another email. That’s a long way from my start at work where you  would  send out a piece of correspondence and the recipient did not expect to receive it inside of three or four days. Then the fax machine came so there was this sense of more immediacy. I remember when we had to get hold of a client urgently and we would send telegrams. We would send a junior down to the post office with a telegram.

There’s more women working in law now, thank goodness. I’m not being sexist, however for a long time there was not equal female graduates to male graduates in the legal profession. Now the females have crept further along. And I think the female law graduates now outnumber the males. However, it’s still not being shown in the actual working profession.

In a family law case, do women tend to seek out a female solicitor over a male solicitor and visa versa for men?

Vicki: There may be the belief that women tend to engage female solicitors and men tend to engage male solicitors. That’s not the case, certainly not from my experience. I would say that we take on an equal number of male and female clients and, in fact, over the years, I’ve had gentleman clients say to me that they’re very glad I’m a female, because my brain might work similar to their wife’s brain. So, they think I can understand the attitude of their wife better. Maybe I can, I’m not sure. I don’t think the gender of your practitioner makes any difference. Their experience does, their knowledge does, their empathy does and their commitment to performing well in your matter does.

The younger generations expect women and men to operate more equally now.  There are probably more female practitioners now and that’s a good sign. Although, at the bar, in terms of barristers, females are not well represented. The female barristers proportionality  is very low. The bar Association in New South Wales is actually developing a programme for positive discrimination. Where we are meant to be thinking very, very closely about briefing female barristers instead of males. The same is true with judges. Although, I think women are reasonably represented in the family law courts in terms of judges and registrars. But not in other courts.

What made you want to practice family law and why do you enjoy it?

Vicki: I think I probably, to be honest, fell into it. Most women of my age, who are family law practitioners, when they started law, they were probably given that jurisdiction because it wasn’t always the most recognised jurisdiction. This has certainly has changed over the last 30-odd years. It’s a significant area of practise for lawyers . There  are as many female as there are male practitioners in the family law jurisdiction. I developed my interest family law, and it’s an area of law I’ve exclusively practised in for in excess of 20 years

You do make a difference. To see clients from the beginning of a matter to the end of a matter. Genuinely to some degree they’re very upset. Some people don’t show it as much as others. However, their whole life has changed. Sometimes because they wanted that change but often that change has been imposed upon them. You see people at the beginning of the matter who have no idea of what to expect. Or it might be a second relationship for them that’s deteriorated, so they have some recall of a bad experience before. To see those people learn about their own matter, about the law, about themselves,  and to have a reasonable result at the end of it for reasonable fees – I find that rewarding.

I also find rewarding the fact that if you can meet your clients expectations and exceed them they’re generally very appreciative. That positive feedback gives me something too. And also it’s a bit like going to see a doctor where you might have a health problem that’s a bit personal. Clients when they come here have to tell you everything. In fact some of them tell you way too much. You don’t want to know as much as they tell you. It’s very, very personal. And actually I’m surprised people part company with that type of information as easily as they do. Maybe that’s a reflection of feeling comfortable and a level of trust.

Do you have to desensitise yourself to some of the things you hear from clients?

Vicki: I need to do that to some extent. If I’m honest with myself I think I have become somewhat desensitised. I think that’s only fair to me and my clients. Any emotion I may feel towards my client’s situation is not relevant. Because what I think, what I personally think – how could that be important to them? It’s not going to change their case is it? If I’m warm and friendly and engaging with them and trustworthy and honest and if I say I’m going to do something I do it, that’s good. Going hand in hand with the client’s emotions is not being a good lawyer

Why are you and all solicitors at East Coast Law so passionate about helping clients through a divorce or separation?

Vicki: Our firm is passionate about assisting people because I really believe we can. I have quite extensive experience across the whole range of family law issues, the other solicitors here, likewise. We have a very good support team, we’re able to address the issues of the client promptly. I have a very cost-effective attitude. I’m open minded as to whether parties want to negotiate, have round-table conferences, attend mediation or commence court proceedings. Our firm is able to offer them a number of options as to how they address their issues, promptly and professionally.

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