Carolyn Devries is the founder of New Way Lawyers, Australia’s first non-profit law firm which practices exclusively in family law and estate law.
1) To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your career background and current role?
I am a country girl at heart – I grew up on a farm in central west NSW. When I was 17 I moved to the city to study law. After graduating, I accepted a role as a lawyer in private practice but I quickly became frustrated with the legal system. I felt challenged to find a way to help and change it.
During my 20’s I worked in various legal and non legal roles in the commercial and community sectors, while studying a Masters in the Management of non profit organisations. It was during this period that I began to envisage the concept of a ‘non-profit law firm’.
In 2009, at the age of 31, I established Australia’s first non-profit law firm, New Way Lawyers. New Way Lawyers practices exclusively in family law and estate law.
These are two highly emotional areas of law and the non profit law firm model reframes the provision of legal services in these areas from a commercial services approach to a community services approach that prioritises care and accessibility.
Since starting New Way Lawyers I have been a pioneer and an advocate for the non profit law firm, proving that it is a viable alternative model of legal service provision to the traditional ‘government funded service provision models’ and ‘commercial service provision models’.
In 2012 I was a finalist in the Queensland Telstra Business Women’s Awards, nominated for the Community and Government, Innovation and Young Business Women’s categories and winner of the Community and Government Award.
Twelve years on, I am still the CEO of New Way Lawyers and we now have 5 offices across Brisbane and the Gold Coast, with a further office soon to open in Melbourne. Since establishing New Way Lawyers I have also added on a new role of ‘mum’ to my two beautiful daughters, now aged 6 and 3.
2) What does a day in your life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent workday?
I subscribe to the approach of energy management rather than time management so my schedule can look very different day to day. Some days I am an ultra early bird waking up as early as 4:30am – this usually occurs if I have had a semi early night.
Other days I might roll out of bed at 6am if I have had a burst of night time stamina and inspiration and have worked through late into the night or the morning. I believe in working when my energy levels are high and not forcing it when my energy is depleted.
Although my energy management approach can lead to variety in my schedule there are a few value based activities that I try to incorporate into my schedule every day. They are spending time with my husband and two girls, having a quiet time of personal reflection and prayer time and taking time to organise and prioritize all my commitments.
Within my day time work hours my work is very diverse. I may be based at one of our branch offices or at Court providing technical support on complex legal situations.
Alternatively I may be based at our corporate office leading strategic initiatives such as our new Domestic Violence and Family Law Employee Assistance Program. In the evenings, I tend to catch up on the things that I had planned to get to during the day but didn’t quite get too.
One of the ways that I build and sustain my energy levels is by helping people. I love helping people and I always feel energised and motivated when I do this. I therefore often like to make sure I incorporate a helping activity into each day.
At the moment I do this by spending my lunchtimes with our free Facebook group, ‘Lunch with a Lawyer’ that offers family law information specific to an individual’s situation.
3) Does your current role allow for flexible or remote working? If so, how does that fit into your life and routine?
Yes, even prior to COVID -19 New Way Lawyers embraced the principles of flexible and remote work practices.
In fact, I previously lived in Namibia from 2012 to 2014 while completing my CEO role and our operating platforms and systems mean this was feasible (although slightly unconventional).
Although I work long hours I have flexibility with the way I structure my work hours which is a great blessing now that I have two young children. I am able to attend special events at my children’s school and daycare when they fall during the daytime and I simply finish off my work at night.
4) What does work-life balance mean to you and how do you work to achieve that goal?
I am not really a poster child for work-life balance. I have never considered my role at New Way Lawyers as work. I am so passionate about what I do at New Way Lawyers that it ultimately leaves me fulfilled rather than drained.
Work-life balance to me is making sure that everyday I hit my 3 value based activities of spending time with my husband and my girls, having my quiet time of reflection and prayer and time organizing and prioritising. On rare days when I do feel drained from what I have done at New Way Lawyers I will often unwind over an episode of Survivor or a home improvement show.
5) In the past 12 months, have you started or stopped any routines or habits to change your life?
I have two bad habits – drinking Pepsi Max and eating chocolate. Over the past 12 months I have been trying to cut down on both but with mixed results. This will likely role over to become a resolution for 2022!
6) Do you have any favourite books, podcasts or newsletters that you’d like to recommend?
My husband introduced me to the EntreLeadership Podcast and I am loving this. It is a great dose of inspiration mixed with practical tips
7) Are there any products, gadgets or apps that you can’t live without?
I love the Keep Notes app on my phone. It’s my go to for jotting down ideas, inspiration, thoughts and reminders that I want to remember when I am away from the office or busy doing something. I also love the simplicity of Outlook – if I have something urgent that I don’t want to forget I will send myself an email.
8) If you could read an interview about work-life balance by anyone, who would that be?
It would have to be Jesus. He seemed to fit a lot into his life and had a pretty big impact. He also seemed to be a pro at intermingling his work activities, like teaching, with normal day to day activities like sharing a meal and having a glass of wine.
9) Do you have any last thoughts on work, life or balance that you’d like to share with our readers?
I think sometimes we have an expectation that work life balance is about everything being neatly organised and perfectly structured and planned. It’s not tough, particularly if you work full time and have young kids.
Having this expectation can lead to frustration and feelings of failure. Work life balance can be fluid and messy, particularly when raising young children and it is important to recognise and embrace this truth. It is also important to recognise that there is no one size fits all approach to work life balance; it is different for everyone.
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