“There’s nothing like a working mom to get work done,” says Sally Callander, a lawyer running an all-female firm in Mudgee.
Last week, Ms Callander joined Jerome Doriasamy on The Boutique Lawyer Show, where she reflected on the challenges and rewards of being a female lawyer in regional Australia.
When she began practising in Mudgee at age 28, both her youth and her gender brought difficulties when facing clients.
She encountered comments like: “How much do you know?”, “How long have you been a solicitor?”, “How much experience have you had?” or “I’d like to see the male solicitor.”
Ms Callander noted that in Mudgee, a lot of the solicitors are older men who often inherited the firm from their parents.
“In the country, we’re still a bit behind in terms of where women stand, or where people consider that their role is,” said Ms Callander.
“It’s changing, but it can have quite an old-fashioned male-dominated approach to it.
“When I’d come out to see clients, they’d almost think I was taking them through to the older male lawyer that they were going to see and not me.”
Her education in gender studies and feminism helped her navigate these difficulties, and instilled confidence in her about the value women can bring to legal work. There’s a “holistic approach that women can bring to the law”, she noted.
After having three children and working for nine years in a firm specialising in wills and estates, she decided to open her own practice.
“My firm is completely female, not that I wouldn’t hire any males,” she said.
“I’m very pro-women and pro-mothers in the workplace. I think there’s nothing like a working mom to get work done.
“I know that coming back after I first had a child, I was working part-time and I just couldn’t believe people were standing around talking.
“I was running as fast as I could between the printer and the computer because I knew that I had to leave, and I knew that I had to get that work done,” she said.
Ms Callander has noticed a cultural shift in how regional firms and communities have come to regard women in the legal industry since her first years in Mudgee. She was at first nervous about opening her firm, but she was pleased by the reaction from her community.
“I’d see older clients in the street when I started up this firm and they would say, ‘Oh my gosh, Sally, so happy, so excited for you. This is so amazing, you’re a woman and a mom and you’re starting your own law firm.’”
“It was quite revolutionary,” Ms Callander said, then winced at the thought she was blowing her own horn. “It wouldn’t be that crazy in the city, but for Mudgee, someone going out on their own as a young woman and starting a law firm — that was completely different to everyone else.
“I really put myself out there, but I got really good feedback.”