17 March 2022

MEDIA RELEASE: Starting your own practice – tips from practitioners who’ve done it.

For graduates of Dispute Resolution, the question of what to do next hangs in the air. Making the decision to work for an employer or start your own business is often a vexed one. Resolution Institute recently spoke with two graduates from the Graduate Diploma of Family Dispute Resolution who have taken the plunge and started their own co-mediation Family Dispute Resolution consultancy. 

In April 2021, Arabella Joseph and Catherine Lucas joined forces and launched The Resolution Practice. Here they talk about what worked, what didn’t and how compatibility between business partners is the key to success.

Why did you decide to start your own consultancy?

Arabella – we are both lawyers by trade and have a diverse legal and business experience between us.  I left the Macquarie Group in 2003 to help run the family businesses and raise our triplets but they are young adults now, so I decided it was time for me to pursue my long-held interest in family mediation.  When I enrolled in the Graduate Diploma of Family Dispute Resolution, it was my intention to work for an organisation, but I ultimately teamed up with Catherine who did the course at the same time.  We found we were very compatible and worked so well together, we decided to make the leap and start our own business. 

Catherine – I worked in litigation for many years but over time I became disillusioned with the lose-lose nature of lengthy court proceedings. I began to look for practical solutions and also needed flexibility because of my young family. I enjoy analysing family dynamics, relationships and looking at what kids need.  Once I’d done the course it all came together for me, and I was keen to explore a non-judgemental approach with an empathetic lens.  Once we found we had access to great mentors, and that peer supervision was available to support our growth in our practice, Arabella and I felt confident to launch our business together.

What is the biggest mistake people can make when building a practice?

Arabella – You need to be really brave when starting a new business.  For us having a partner has made all the difference.  At College, Catherine and I co-mediated together and found we were really compatible with each other.  There’s a real skill in co–mediating and we discovered we have a lot of synergies.  It has been crucial for us to have a partner to be able to really reflect on our mediations, and discuss ethical decisions and processes in our practice as they arise.  Everything takes a long time when you first start out, but over time you finesse and streamline your process.  It will take you longer to do things at first, but it is all learning and experience.

Catherine – for me the key has been having a business partner that I trust.  It’s crucial that your style and approach to problem solving complement each other. We both really care about good outcomes, the importance of being neutral and providing a safe space for people who are turning to you. Learning together and sharing the experience of running a business means that you need to be like–minded but can also challenge each other to grow as practitioners.

Why did you choose Family Dispute Resolution as your discipline of choice?

Arabella – I’ve always been interested in family mediation and when COVID-19 hit I decided to go back to study because I finally had the time. I had already done quite a bit of complaints resolution when I was handling retail stock-broking complaints and I felt I had a talent for it. It was really satisfying to facilitate a successful outcome.  That type of satisfaction is tenfold when you can do it for families. It’s important for me that I’m doing something meaningful and I think focusing parents on the best interests of their children can really make a difference. I have seen the trauma that some of my kids’ friends have experienced from parental conflict, and I wanted to be able to facilitate a better outcome for co-parents and their children. Children need to feel loved, safe and supported, especially during times of change.

Catherine – I’ve always been passionate about dispute resolution and can talk about family matters and children’s needs until I’m blue in the face.  I wanted to work in an area I feel passionate about and to be of service. When a family unit breaks down it can be the hardest of times and have really long-lasting effects. I really felt I had found what I was meant to do during my studies as mediation combines my personal strengths with my legal experience.

What advice do you have for newcomers on how to market themselves?

Arabella – we are learning through trial and error like any new business, and we have found it is very time consuming! Covid has helped us network and connect because we have conducted a lot of meetings online.  In a pre-covid world we may not have had that opportunity! We have used LinkedIn to connect with family lawyers, sent our brochure to child-care centres and psychologists, but most of our work to date has been referral based. We joined a professional women’s networking group and not one of the other members had even heard of family dispute resolution.  Since we have informed them about our practice, they have been a very supportive source of information and referrals.  As a new business we have found it is also important to be flexible, and available outside normal working hours.

Catherine – we have volunteered our services to community providers for people who would not normally be able to afford a private service.  We have also priced our services very reasonably as newcomers to the market.  We want to prove ourselves with our ethics, skills and empathy in order to encourage repeat work and referrals. 

Why should people looking for FDR give you a call?

Catherine – Our motto is “facilitating a way forward for people in conflict” and our niche is co–mediation.  Together we can help clients prepare for serious decision making, armed with the right information that suits the best interests of their children and family. We have really diverse experience with our respective legal and business backgrounds, as well as each raising our families, that really adds a lot to our practice for both parenting and property matters.  We are both calm and pragmatic professionals who are deeply passionate about using mediation to help people move forward and be future focused.

How long do you give yourselves?

Arabella – well, we are new to this and have a lot of marketing ideas yet to implement, but at this stage we’ve given ourselves two years to build our reputation and profile. Our hope is that one day we can pay it forward and be able to provide advice to future newcomers wanting to build their own practice, just like so many other established mediators have done for us.