It's a sunny autumn afternoon in Canberra when I video chat with Emily Tighe from DDCS Lawyers, an award-winning law firm specialising in family law and wills and estates.
Emily moved to Canberra in 2009 to study at ANU, attracted by the university's reputation for teaching and research. Since then she has been propelled through the ranks of the local legal scene, beginning with summer clerkships at government departments and law firms in Sydney and Parkes, before gaining a junior solicitor role at a boutique family law firm. She is now a Senior Associate at DDCS Lawyers, and in 2019 she was recognised as one of Doyles Guide's 'Rising Stars' in family law.
Emily says her time at ANU taught her academic rigour, discipline and critical thinking. "These aren't skills that were particular to the program I studied, but were engendered in the ANU culture subconsciously," she says. "The fevour, interest and passion of the teaching staff was infectious - studying felt like far more than course outlines and mandatory reading. It was about discussion, debate and critical thinking. I've recently completed my accredited specialisation in family law with the NSW Law Society, and being able to draw on the skillset and discipline that I developed during my time at the ANU made the experience much easier."
Emily also credits the support and mentoring of female colleagues for her success in the family law field. "Looking back at the early years of my career, I can definitely say that it was the peers surrounding me and the mentors leading me through that made all the difference. There is absolutely a place for women helping women. Surround yourself with mentors, be fierce and fearless and always ask for help when you feel out of your depth."
Indeed, Emily's day-to-day job as a family law practitioner has a firm basis in the standing of women in the community and within relationships, as well as the welfare of children and families generally. Emily has volunteered with the Women's Legal Centre since she started practicing as a lawyer, and has donated her time to a divorce clinic for culturally and linguistically diverse women.
"I meet alot of inspiring women in my work," she says. "Strong women dealing with really difficult family situations and personal hardships. It sounds trite but the role women play in the community and particularly in families is a constant source of inspiration to me. So many women juggle family responsibilities with paid work and remain responsible for the lion's share of homemaking duties - there is a lot of unsung leadership by women in our community."
Now Emily is at the point in her career where she is beginning to mentor junior staff herself. So what is her best advice to up-and-coming women in the legal profession? "All I can say is that mistakes are inevitable - both professionally, and in almost all other aspects of your life!" She laughs. "The best you can do is learn how to recover from or develop after making a mistake. Perspective and resilience are all important."
And speaking of resilience, what are her best recommendations for surviving social isolation? Emily taps into any tv or movies by Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Greta Gerwig, and Aidy Bryant. "I feel like I've had a virtual girl gang of female friendship and comrades sharing the joys, tears and laughs of being a 20-something female in the 21st century." All in all, the perfect dose of feminist inspiration to get us through Coronavirus and beyond.