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Sole practitioner Anita Cains embraces the opportunity to connect with the community in the area where she lives and works.

Anita Cains has a law practice in Broulee in the Far South Coast region of NSW, serving a population of just under 4000 people. She was reluctant to speak to LSJ at first. “It’s out of my comfort zone,” says this modest, caring woman whose focus is always on the needs of vulnerable people.

Cains admits to a lack of confidence: “I was a latecomer to law. I never had any ambition to become a lawyer. I worked as a medical receptionist when I left school in Grade 10. In 1997 I moved to Wagga and worked as a legal secretary to a senior partner of a local law firm. He said to me, ‘I think you should study law.’

“And I laughed and said, ‘pull the other leg’ … Then I commenced studying law through the LPAB whilst I was working. My employers were great mentors. I was admitted just before I turned 40.”

From 2010, Cains worked in practices on NSW’s Far South Coast. “I never had an ambition to have my own legal firm,” she says, “but the law-firm environment didn’t really suit me. I wanted to be more flexible in providing a legal service.”

I know my boundaries

Her solution, Cains said, was to “start my own practice in 2014, working in areas I feel comfortable in. I don’t accept work if I believe I don’t have the expertise a matter requires. I like to think I know my boundaries, because I think my clients deserve that.

“I’m the only lawyer here in Broulee and we’ve got a substantial older community, a large retirement village. I love going to my oldies, in their homes, at the nursing home, or wherever they need.”

Cains’ legal assistant is from a firm where she previously worked. “We are more a team than an employer and employee,” she says. “Because of [her assistant’s] expertise and extensive knowledge, we almost job share.”

Animals feature large in Cains’ office. “We had an office cat for a while, a stray that I adopted, but she is now living her best life at home. Our office is dog friendly. Being able to bring their dogs to appointments makes clients feel at ease and realise we are normal people.

A lot of people feel intimidated and afraid of asking unintelligent questions when seeing a lawyer, and that’s the last thing that we want.”

‘A lot of people feel intimidated and afraid of asking unintelligent questions when seeing a lawyer, and that’s the last thing that we want. ‘

Cains adds, “In the office we sell items I’ve knitted and the proceeds are donated to the RSPCA. We love having Oscar, the therapy dog from next door, to visit.”

On a personal basis

“I have some really nice chats with my clients at times and I enjoy getting to know them on a personal basis,” Cains says. “It’s not time productive, but it’s this flexibility of having my own practice that I enjoy.” It’s clear that Cains goes above and beyond with her clients. “I find it difficult to put a wall up and go, ‘you’re not my problem’.”

She keeps an eye on one of her older clients, visiting her at home and assisting her with day-to-day affairs, such as registering and insuring her car. “I wouldn’t charge for doing things like that, it’s just that she has no one else to help her and I enjoy that aspect of my practice.”

Cains is very pleased to be in a regional area both at work and at home. “I live on the outskirts of Moruya, on a bit of land. I’m pretty much a homebody, I’m very much into my garden. I like to hang out with my chooks and miniature ponies.

“It takes me about 20 minutes to get to work, a very nice drive beside the river. It’s a good way to prepare for work, and to de-stress on the way home. At work, I can walk along the beach – only 600m away from my office – when I’m disciplined enough to take the time out.”

It’s not surprising to hear that Cains’ life outside work is dominated by engaging with and caring for others. “I started a knitting group to make things for the people who are doing it tough here, because like most [regional] areas we’ve got a homelessness crisis. I meet with a group of ladies at the local club to knit items, and have a bit of a chin wag.”

Sole practice can be isolating, she says, but she has realised  “I’m not alone – others have the same issues about self-confidence and the fear of getting things wrong.”

‘I’m not alone – others have the same issues about self-confidence and the fear of getting things wrong.’

It was during a Staying Well in the Law event, run by the Law Society of NSW, that Cains gained a sense of support.

She also finds the Law Society’s Ethics helpline “very useful”, she says, for another perspective on issues relating to her work.

“And the Solicitor Outreach Service is so valuable,” she adds. “I’ve previously been under the care of a psychologist and it was really good to speak to somebody who understood lawyers.”

– Law Society members can contact the Solicitor Outreach Service, also known as SOS, 24/7 on 1800 592 296.