Chrissy Leontios is Owner and Principal Lawyer of CLEON Legal whose practice specialises in family law and domestic violence law, servicing clients across Queensland. Chrissy discovered the treasures of North Queensland on holiday and decided to relocate her life from her native Sydney and start her own business to embrace a more flexible and balanced lifestyle. She also wanted to take a holistic approach to family law and domestic violence law, using methods to help keep families out of litigation.
Chrissy embraces the ‘newlaw’ movement which is client centred, and has recently introduced online and virtual service delivery options to reach clients across Australia, ensuring access to services for those living in rural and remote areas.
Since taking this leap of faith, Chrissy’s practice has grown and CLEON Legal had 9 Finalist Nominations over 2016 and 2017 in Lawyers Weekly and Women in Law Awards.
What led you to specialize your legal practice in family law and domestic violence law and move from Sydney to Magnetic Island in North Queensland?
I am a true believer in conscious creation (i.e. using my mind and then my actions to create and live the life I want) and designing the life I want to live. After spending lots of time holidaying in North Queensland, I fell in love with the tropics. It was a move both my partner Simon and I thought would be beautiful for the next chapter in our lives. I was doing lots of visualisation work around living in the tropics. I felt in my heart that I could live a beautiful lifestyle whilst building my professional career.
We dared greatly by making such a big move, without any professional or personal connections in North Queensland, but it has paid off tenfold. We get to live a tropical lifestyle on a tropical island, and run a thriving business in Townsville.
What I have learnt from this move is that there are many opportunities in regional areas of Australia. My career has definitely not been affected by living and running my business in North Queensland. The opportunities are in fact greater in Townsville for the work we specialise in, because sadly Townsville has one of the highest rates of domestic violence in Queensland. Further, in a smaller regional town like Townsville, I have found it is has been much easier to build and foster wonderful relationships with the community and colleagues due to the size of the profession.
Your practice has grown from an idea and lifestyle choice to a growing and successful business. What are some of the changes that have been brought about by the disruptive ‘new law’ movement and how is it changing the industry?
The ‘newlaw’ movement is wonderful. We are seeing so many amazing law firm do things differently and in essence, the ‘newlaw’ movement is client centred and focused, and this can manifest in multiple ways. Our business motto is ‘we do legal business differently’.
In one way this means we specialise in domestic violence matters. Historically this is not a practice area that private firms specialised in per se, as its own area. To specialise in a legal area is not new for law firms. However, CLEON Legal specialise in domestic violence matters by not only using a legal lens, but by also taking a holistic approach, and by using a feminist and gendered lens, and a domestic violence lens. This takes into account social science, gendered theory, and trauma informed practice. Another disruptive ‘newlaw’ trend is to practice in family law using a collaborative method. We are collaboratively trained in the family law space by the incredible Clarissa Rayward. This is a practice method that tries to help keep families out of litigation and the adversarial system, and is a game changer for families.
Other changes that have been brought about by the ‘newlaw’ movement, and which we are proud to offer and be part of, is the rise in female lead law firms, virtual law services, and flexible appointment times for clients, such as after hours and weekend appointments. We also offer beautiful and non conventional and non-corporate spaces, and humanitarian rates for clients who cannot afford full private fees, or by assisting clients to self-represent. This makes all the difference for clients. The ‘newlaw’ movement creates options for clients, and we treat our clients as the experts of their lives.
Explain the empowerment coaching you do with clients?
The empowerment coaching we do with our clients is to help our clients recognise their worth, unpack their experiences, deal with their self-blame and victim blaming, and to overcome any gas lighting they have experienced. We also use affirmations to develop more positive self-talk.
Creating a new life and starting again after living in a domestic violent relationship is very challenging. It can also be quite dangerous. We know that separation is one of the most dangerous times for women. So at CLEON Legal we see our role as helping our clients develop their confidence and offering support that transcends merely the provision of legal advice. Throughout this process, the more we can help build up our clients up and support them, the process becomes somewhat ‘easier’ for them because they feel so supported and because they feel someone is in their corner.
We can all make a difference in the lives of our clients, it’s taking the time to care. As part of this we reframe our legal advice to ensure it is easily understood and processed. We are empathetic, we validate client experiences, and unpack the dynamics of domestic and family violence to help the client debunk the victim blaming stereotypes they have either told themselves, or have been told.
In some cases I have worked with clients over a number of months to help build up their self- esteem, and to work through the acts of domestic violence with them, before they feel confident and comfortable enough to bring domestic violence and/or family law proceedings.
This approach of ‘lawyering’ to me is much more fulfilling. I feel that I am making a much more profound impact in the lives of my clients.
Tell us about how the research around domestic violence and family law has informed how you’ve set your practice up and your methodology
Our firm practices domestic violence and family law matters using evidenced based screening tools and risk assessment tools. This means we are able to screen for domestic violence on a much deeper level, due to our understanding of the dynamics of domestic violence and by using evidenced based tools. In practice, this means we are able to obtain client instructions that are thorough and take into account their full experiences of domestic violence.
Additionally, I am trained in safety planning for clients, and this impacts on the way we practice. On a very practical level, it means not to serve documents on another party (in case there is an escalation of violence) over the weekend when services or organisations are closed. Also, having an awareness that separation is one of the most dangerous times for women, and therefore to assist the client in safety planning or seeking temporary emergency housing whilst a Domestic Violence Order is being served.
We also know that there are many stereotypes that women ‘make up’ stories of domestic violence or child abuse allegations to get an advantage in the family law jurisdiction. The evidence does not support this. This means that we listen to our client’s story, and build up their legal case, and advocate for our clients.
Lastly, we know clients going through domestic violence and family law proceedings are usually experiencing varying degrees of trauma. I am trained in dealing with trauma clients and I use a trauma informed lens to help clients express their stories in a safe and informed way.
What has been your greatest challenge?
Dealing with mansplaining and naysayers! What I have learnt is I need to be true to myself, and value my unique gifts, my skills, and my knowledge, and to stay true to my cause and mission. I once heard a wonderful quote, and if I have been mansplained, or someone tells me I cannot do something, I remember this quote and it helps me through “a person that puts you down, is already beneath you.”
What are you most proud of?
I am most proud of bringing my business idea to life– “from little things big things grow”.
I am proud that my idea for our business is not only transforming my life, but also current and future staff, and our clients.
Hard work, passion, and discipline has transformed my idea into a business that is sustainable and provides a beautiful and abundant lifestyle for my partner and I, full of wonderful opportunities and life experiences. Even more importantly, I am proud that the business has created something bigger than me. Our business has a growing team. This means that CLEON Legal and Mediation Services is responsible for creating employment opportunities for regional lawyers.
I am proud of seeing our mission for justice, fairness, and equality be a transformational reality for our clients who are victims of domestic and family violence, and those experiencing a separation or divorce. And of creating safe outcomes for clients that helps them live a new life of freedom.
Our business is a vessel to create opportunities for myself, our staff, and our clients. This makes me feel so proud, fulfilled, and content.
What’s one piece of advice for future female leaders?
My advice for future female leaders is to trust yourself, your knowledge, wisdom, and skills. Women in professional roles and in business often experience ‘imposter syndrome’. This is the feeling that you will get caught out and people will find out that you are not as good as who you say you are, or as good as your marketing says. This is not true and is merely a feeling, and is self doubt. I remind myself I am not my self-doubt, it is just a feeling and it is not who I am.
As women we are conditioned to not feel good enough, and we often feel that we need to do more, and be more. You are enough right this very second – celebrate who you are. Believe in yourself. Trust that your knowledge, wisdom, and skills are enough.
The world needs you and your uniqueness. We all offer something to the world and we can all shine brightly. There is room for all of our success! Be proud of all that we have achieved, and are yet to achieve.
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