Australian barrister Heather Breeze has crafted a successful career in the legal sector. Here, the mother of five reflects on what it means to be a woman in the law space.
Heather Breeze has two distinct practices. She’s a family barrister in 8 Garfield Barwick Chambers — a Sydney-based concern where as a woman, she’s in the minority. Along with two other women, she also recently started a mediation practice called Mediate3, which helps people through family and property, commercial, rural, succession and estate disputes, elder law, and intergenerational disputes.
“The fact that we are three mature women — one grandmother and all of us mothers and legal practitioners — means that there really isn’t any room for anything other than genuine, transparent collaboration,” Breeze says of her mediation practice. “There is no issue that would come up in my partnership that would be the cause of any sort of difficulty between the three of us. It’s just not a possibility. That’s one benefit of being like-minded women in law.”
Heather Breeze: Unparalleled Experience
The three partners are all deeply experienced barristers and mediators with a shared understanding of the world, Breeze shares.
“We’re a partnership that operates independently. The benefit and the insight and the wisdom and the experience and the practice that we three bring, both independently and together to mediation, is unparalleled,” Heather Breeze says. “We know our subject matter. We know what we’re talking about. And we are all, good at it.”
According to Breeze, a decisive advantage women have in practising law — especially mediation — is that women tend to think less linearly than men.
“I don’t know if that’s a dreadful thing to say, but in my experience there’s a real subtlety and delicacy to what we do,” says Heather Breeze of mediation. “And women — especially women of my age — are very good at doing it.”
More than courtroom litigation, mediation requires the ability to treat disputes with delicacy so that opposing parties can find a way to meet in the middle of a disagreement. By its very definition, the process of mediation requires out-of-the-box thinking. There are fewer procedural rules than in a courtroom and the focus is on reaching a mutually beneficial outcome rather than declaring a winner and a loser.
A Merit-Based Mindset
In the Australian legal profession, 53% of solicitors are women and their number has increased 67% since 2011. Yet in the specialised world of barristers — a type of lawyer in common-law jurisdictions like Australia and the United Kingdom who specialise in courtroom advocacy — women make up just 25.65% of the Australian bar.
In such an environment, Breeze sees her rise as a product of an equitable upbringing and sheer hard work.
“I’m a very merit-based human,” says Breeze. “In my extensive history of work in Australia and the U.K., I’ve never once felt disadvantaged by reason of my gender in practice. Never once. I’ve made my way and been recognized completely irrespective of gender.”
In her practice areas in particular, Breeze feels women have significant roles.
In her family law practice, Breeze is regularly called on to help families decide how to divide assets or care for children.
“As caregivers, I think the maternal and paternal roles cannot be conflagrated. They are both equally valuable but very different.” she says, adding that it helps her understand the nuances of the disputes she is required to help solve.
Heather Breeze’s Secret to Success
Of her upbringing, Breeze says her mother and father “never once murmured or said anything to me that I was in any way less capable or less able to make my way in the world” than her three brothers.
“My life’s goal — and what I say to my kids and what I was taught — is that happiness comes from contentment. And contentment comes from hard work,” Heather Breeze states. “We all want to be happy, but the trick is understanding what happiness is.”
In both her professional and personal circles, Breeze apprehends that she is is widely regarded as being super clever, successful, and extremely vivacious.
“But I’m not,” Heather Breeze admits. “I’m just a regular person who works hard. I like work. There’s no magic to it.”
With her husband, fellow barrister and former professional soccer referee Matthew Breeze, Heather Breeze has worked hard to instil those same values in her children.
And while she has every right to feel incredibly proud of her professional accomplishments and what she has achieved through her hard work, she’s more proud of what she’s achieved in another aspect of her life.
“My greatest success is the five extraordinary children that I have,” she says. “They are all just absolutely phenomenal. They work hard and are decent people. And that’s really all you need to do. Work hard and be a decent person.”