Written on the 13 May 2016 by Paris Faint


AS THE domestic violence epidemic continues to rake in the lion's share of family law matters, one practitioner has opened a new firm specialising in the field.

Veteran family lawyer Kara Cook launched Cook Legal, Australia's first dedicated domestic violence private practice out of both a passion for the work and client demand.

It's only been a few short months since Cook established her practice in December, and already she has enlisted the services of two new staff to help meet the burgeoning demand for advice.

Cook also recently commenced a term as the vice-president of the Queensland Law Society where she plans to commit her passion for raising awareness about women's and mental health issues within the law.

While it might be bittersweet to know that her business is booming, Brisbane Legal sat down with Cook discuss the future of the firm and to find out what it means to keep a thick skin while working in traumatic areas of the law.

How has Cook Legal grown since establishment?

The demand has been quite overwhelming since we started in December. Obviously the current climate and attention that the public has had on domestic violence has meant a lot more people are coming forward and seeking assistance for domestic violence matters.

Last year brought a really stark focus on domestic violence. We've also got a lot more services now to provide assistance to people. Especially with the launch of the specialist domestic violence court in Southport, we can give people those additional services that they have really begun to seek out.

I think that, in a lot of ways, starting a firm like mine was something probably in the right place at the right time.

Aside from public demand, what sparked your decision to launch a domestic violence firm?

It's something I'm passionate about. I have always been interested in particularly women's issues and domestic violence. When I was at university I did a placement with the Gold Coast Domestic Violence Prevention Centre and I think that was the start of my interest in this space.

It was something I was always interested in, having previously volunteered with the Women's Legal Service in Brisbane, and I think it was a natural progression for me to move into the space.

Domestic violence is obviously a very harrowing area. How do you manage to keep a thick skin?

I think it's important to have some level of personal awareness about your own limitations and to be conscious of when you feel like the types of matters you are being exposed to are starting to have an effect. When I was at the Women's Legal Service I started professional debriefing which is something that has been really helpful for me in terms of being able to unpack the issues that come with working in such a difficult area of the law.

There has been really great work done in this space through the Tristan Jepson Memorial Foundation to give firms and practitioners an idea of what they can do to make sure they continue to enjoy practicing law, and that it's not something which becomes overwhelming and has lasting impacts in terms of mental health.

On the flip side, I think the rewards that come from working in an area like this make you feel extremely grateful for your own circumstances. Also having a very happy and healthy home life assists with dealing with some of those issues.

As the law and government continue to crack down on domestic violence, what trends will we see?

I hope that we see an increase in funding for frontline services. That to me is one of the most critical issues. On a state level, I'm looking forward to seeing the rollout of specialist domestic violence courts all throughout Queensland. It's a very important development, as we've seen great success with the trial at Southport.

The demand on that court in particular has been so excessive that they needed to put on an additional magistrate. If that's any indication of the type of demand on that court, once we see a rollout state wide it will really bring a greater level of focus onto those issues to help keep people safe.

Your practice has its roots in charity. Why is it so important for lawyers to be involved this way?

I think in the legal profession it's important to give back to the community, both financially and non-financially, in any way that we can. We have an obligation and a duty to do so. Pro-bono work is incredibly important and I think there is so much great effort that lawyers put in that is often not publicly spoken about.

What will you be bringing to the table in your new role as vice-president of the QLS?

I have been involved with the QLS for the past two years as a member of Council and this year commenced the role of vice-president. My particular areas of interest are women and the law and mental health issues, as well as ensuring that we promote the way in which the profession gives back to the community.

What is the near future looking like for Cook Legal?

I've just put on my first two staff, one of which is working remotely from Canada, so I hope to be able to expand the practice and provide assistance where needed. I think as long as there's a need for my services and as long as there is such a strong focus on these issues, we will continue to meet that. If it means that we need to continue expanding state wide and potentially inter-state, then that is something I'm definitely open to.

Author: Paris Faint





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