Resilience key to finding a place in the profession away from toxic mindsets 

Resilience key to finding a place in the profession away from toxic mindsets 

09 August 2021 By Naomi Neilson
Emma Fitzgerald

For one new barrister, chasing the idea of success led to significant financial stress, unsupportive work environments and a poor mental health diagnosis. In an honest conversation with Protégé, she shares with new lawyers the terrible experiences that she had while building her career and the resilience that saw her through it.

While chasing money and success through the demanding, “ridiculous hours” that come with the legal profession, new barrister Emma Fitzgerald said she had reached a point where her personal and professional life was compounding on top of each other and eventually everything came crashing down around her. 

In an open conversation on The Protégé Podcast, Ms Fitzgerald shared that she found herself sitting at her desk and “couldn’t do anything”. The pressures of coming into the profession with a drive to be successful and a mindset that “we’re happy to sacrifice everything” – including health and wellbeing – had caught up with her. 

“I was chasing money and success and [I had] this really small baby and everything was compounding on top of each other. My marriage broke down and I just crumbled. I just crumbled into this heap. I lost my job. I was really struggling to concentrate. I was trying to raise a child, work full time in a demanding environment and everything came crashing down,” Ms Fitzgerald shared on the episode. 

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Ms Fitzgerald said one of the things that she took from this experience and any other experience she had along the way – including selling her house to fund a career at the bar and switching workplaces with a newborn at home – is her resilience. This, she said, prepared her to become a really strong person and set her up for the difficulties involved in studying, taking exams and finally making it to the bar.

“One of the things that I took from that experience and I take to everyday life is the resilience that I have. For some people, this might be the biggest and worst thing they’ve ever experienced, so I feel really grateful in a sense that I’ve been through some terrible experiences because now I can provide support to other people who are navigating some really hard things,” Ms Fitzgerald commented. 

Outside of clients, Ms Fitzgerald also uses her experiences to help other lawyers, including new and young lawyers just coming into the profession. She recently met with someone who was working somewhere that was “putting her under really unrealistic expectations and demands” and was struggling to keep on top of it. 

“I talked her through some of the strange things I did to work out what really matters to me. I think that’s one of the most important things you can do, and it’s so much easier to say than to do,” Ms Fitzgerald said, adding that it also comes with time away from the workplace and, sometimes, professional help to find a new start. 

“But really [it’s about] looking at the reason I wanted to do law. What is my purpose going to be and what am I going to use it for? What am I trying to achieve? What matters to me? What’s going to make me feel that I am achieving what I set out to? And I think I had set goals that were financial in appearance, but once I took that away from my own equation, I was able to go into some extraordinary things.” 

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Once it came down to moving into the bar, Ms Fitzgerald said another major help was finding a support network that is not only a kind and helpful presence but is able to reflect “those amazing things that you do and achieve back to you”. For Ms Fitzgerald, a friend she met during the process made all the difference. 

“In a sense, all of the things that I share about my experience and my story, it has that reflective and validating effect on me, where I can go look at the things I have achieved and other people are saying to me, ‘you’re so inspiring’. People lift you up. If you’re able to and you have the courage to be vulnerable in what you’re feeling, people will reflect your strengths and your achievements,” Ms Fitzgerald said. 

For more advice on resilience and for tips on making it into the bar (plus the truth on what that really means), have a listen to the episode here

If you have any questions about the episode or if there are any topics that you might want us to look into, please reach out – we would love to hear from you! 

We’re also always open to new guests so if you have an exciting story to tell, if you’re standing out as a student or graduate, or if you can offer some tips for our young lawyers, get in touch.

Resilience key to finding a place in the profession away from toxic mindsets 
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