Five years ago, if someone had told Georgina Love and Carmen Swaffield they would one day be partners at a rural law firm, they would have been taken by surprise. But at the ages of 28 and 37, respectively, they are the new – and first female – owners of Davis Faulkner Lawyers in Yass.
Taking over a business as a mother to a six-month-old baby wasn’t an easy decision for Carmen, but it was an opportunity she couldn’t refuse, while Georgina was eager to stay on at the law firm that had supported her since she was studying.
It was also a natural progression for former partners Alex Nicholls and Hugh McDonald to hand over the reins to two of their existing solicitors who are well known within the local community. The women went to school in Yass and are a good news story for the town.
Even so, neither Georgina or Carmen had big aspirations to become lawyers, let alone partners during their law and arts degrees at the Australian National University in Canberra and Deakin University in Geelong, respectively. It has only been while working at Davis Faulkner Lawyers for the past few years that the pair saw their futures there.
“This firm has always been really supportive and we cover a broad range of matters, which means no two days are the same,” says Georgina. “Working at a smaller firm also means I can deal with big commercial matters, but also still deal with clients one-on-one.”
Carmen also enjoys working at a smaller law firm.
“I enjoy working in a smaller sized firm because you’re a lot more accessible to the community,” she says. “It’s a really good feeling knowing you’re helping people like ourselves with things such as buying their first home.”
The law firm title has been the same since 1984 – established by local lawyers Anthony Davis and Peter Faulkner – and it will remain that way under Georgina and Carmen’s direction.
“There’s a lot of history in that name and we want to work under the name the community knows so well,” says Carmen.
The pair will also continue to work with the staff hired by Alex and Hugh, and will offer the same services.
“Most of the day-to-day services we offer cover wills, estates and conveyancing,” says Georgina. “Carmen specialises in criminal law and I specialise in commercial law.”
The law firm has traditionally never offered family law to avoid conflict in the small country town, and Georgina and Carmen believe it’s best left that way.
“It’s one of the challenges of knowing a community so well and we think it’s better left to lawyers in Canberra who don’t know the clients,” says Carmen.
“We have a strong network of lawyers who do practice family law and who we can refer our clients to.”
Georgina agrees. “We’re potentially creating conflict for clients who have been coming here for years,” she says. “If there’s a separation, you’d hate to pick sides.”
While there is a relatively even proportion of male and female solicitors in Australia, few women make it as partners. Georgina and Carmen hope to show other females that they can have it all.
“I like to think of the saying ‘you can’t be what you can’t see’,” says Georgina. “I think no matter what your role is, if it isn’t traditionally a female role then you being in that role makes it more commonplace and shows people it’s an option.”
For Carmen, she made the choice to take over the law firm while her husband stayed at home with their youngest child.
“It’s important to me that I set a good example for my children and that my two girls know they can have a career in their own right; that they don’t necessarily have to support the breadwinner of the family,” she says.
“I think [gender progression] is slower in rural areas, but we’re making a difference as the first female partners in the law firm’s history of an all-female staff.”