Five minutes with…Helen Suke, Mills Oakley

Family law partner at Mills Oakley, Helen Suke, tells Australasian Lawyer about the challenge of retaining women in our profession and not making it home for dinner

Family law partner at Mills Oakley, Helen Suke, tells Australasian Lawyer about the challenge of retaining women in our profession and not making it home for dinner.

What made you decide to become a lawyer?
It was not a bolt from the blue – but a matter of circumstances. I achieved secondary school results sufficient to be accepted into Law at the University of Melbourne, but chose another path initially. A few years later, my husband suffered significant health issues and those kinds of situations do cause you to stop and re-evaluate what’s important in your own life. I needed a fresh start and something which would keep me intellectually stimulated, so I decided to head back to university and study law.

How long have you worked at Mills Oakley for and what brought you to that position?
I arrived at MO almost two years ago. I was not looking for a change as I was heading up a Family Law department in another firm and had a tremendous rapport with everyone there. One day, however, I received a phone message about a “personal matter.” I thought it was a new client and left a discreet return message. It turned out to be an offer to join MO and our exceptional CEO John Nerurker explained what MO had to offer and wove his magic, so to speak! And the rest, as they say, is history.

If you could invite three people for dinner, dead or alive and excluding family and friends, who would they be and why?
Todd Sampson (from the Gruen Transfer) for pure entertainment and delight, Roger Federer for his composure, “total classiness” and his wonderful charity work and Dame Quentin Bryce for her sharp intelligence, prodigious work ethic, and being a leading light to all women who aspire to make a difference.

You’re based in Melbourne – where’s the best place to go for a drink and/or dinner after work?
Anywhere in our beautiful city! I enjoy trying new options - we are spoiled for choice with our thriving laneways and “pop up” places sprinkled about the city.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given (work or personal)?
My grandmother gave me sage advice when I complained about the number weeds in my garden – she said “….that’s because you did not take them seriously when they were little…” Good food for thought….

Do you have any hobbies/interests outside of work?
Watching my beloved Hawks… in any form… but limited edition printmaking in particular. I have held exhibitions in the past, before the law took over. My retirement plan is to return to this love…

Complete this sentence: If I wasn’t a lawyer, I would be…
…..home for dinner…

What do you think will be single biggest issue facing the legal space in Australia in 2014?
The challenge of retaining women in our profession. For more than a decade women have made up over 60% of our law graduates, but the attrition rate (at about 5th year) is significant. We need to do better. I am heartened by the increasing number of male partner “champions” supporting this quest, as gender balance is a hallmark of the most successful organisations worldwide.

If you had Tony Abbott’s job for one day, what would you do?
Immediately restore the funding for science to halt the “brain drain” and refine/clarify the funding for schools, as I am Chair of my alma mater Council.

What do you love about your job?
The people…my personal assistant Cathrine whom I could not breathe without, our fabulous (rapidly growing) family law team and our vibrant MO partnership, and, most importantly, working with my clients to find practical, timely and satisfying solutions to the issues they face.

What would you change about your job right now if you could?
More hours in the day!

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