Suzanne’s brush with the law

To say Cairns family lawyer Suzanne Hadley is a colourful character is really an understatement.

The well-known sole practitioner, who was recently recognised by the Queensland Law Society for 25 years as an Accredited Specialist, is also a successful artist, runs art workshops, blogs and is a national advocate for Multiple Sclerosis (MS).

Suzanne receiving her 25-year QLS certificate.

Suzanne moved to Cairns with her young family in 1972 after growing up in Brisbane: “The tropics gets into your blood and it’s hard to leave such a beautiful place.” 

She became quickly involved in the Cairns legal community, serving as North Queensland Law Association Secretary for many years. Suzanne also served for several years on an advisory body, reporting to the Multiple Sclerosis Society Queensland, on the needs and responses of people with MS.

Her commitment to continuing legal education has led her to speaking at local high schools and delivering papers to family law practitioners in British Columbia and Alberta, Canada.

After more than 30 busy years, Suzanne decided to retire from Hadley Family Law in June. She is still trying! Suzanne kindly found time to speak with Proctor after the QLS presentation this month.


What first attracted you to family law? 

“I think family law found me. I had not the slightest intention of practising in family law.  I started practise in the same way as all practitioners did in those days (way back last century) when all practitioners were general practitioners. A little of this, a little of that, until we found our way to areas we preferred – or where the clients were.  I was finding my way as a personal injuries lawyer which brought me into contact with a client who had a little criminal issue which I enjoyed far better than debt collecting. He brought his partner’s family law matter to me which I also enjoyed.  Apparently I was quite good at it as my practice grew from there to become both a criminal and family law practitioner.  My family law practice was far more enjoyable than personal injuries or criminal law.  My clients could, I hoped with all the fervour a less seasoned practitioner has, or would go on to meet Mr or Mrs Right for them and walk off into the sunset together more wisely ever after.  Many, if not most of them did.  Only one came back for a third go!” 

Suzanne made Cairns her home in 1972.

What made you decide to set up your own practice? 

“I had been a partner in a fairly large firm in Cairns for about 15 years. I wanted to practise family law a little differently, and bring a fresher approach and a more personal and holistic experience for my clients, without the responsibilities of management to such a degree.  I took that opportunity a little over 10 years ago and really wished I’d done it years before.  A more nimble practice that could deliver personalised service to my clients, let me spend a little more time with them and not be concerned about the constant juggle of management of many people that a partnership of necessity entails.  I enjoyed my time in partnership working with good people but sorry guys, I loved being in my own practice.  I could have the pretty things and use fancy paper clips!”

Murmur of a Summer’s Day by Suzanne.

You’re taking a break at the moment. What are your plans for your “side hustle”? Have you set a time limit on returning to the law?  

“I think it’s more like running from that jealous mistress that is the law rather than taking a break.  I’m kind of retired and plan on travelling to Canada for about six months. I will be focusing on my art and already have a commission lined up to complete while I am there. I will probably be taking a few art classes, because like law, one never stops learning and concentrating on improving my art practice. 

“My side hustle is small but growing and the intention is to continue to develop that to a full-time role, running art retreats.  I have had a couple of fun, intimate-scale retreats, my favourite, and have been thrilled with the results my students turned out in just one art-filled day.  What’s not to love about gorgeous, colourful waterlilies? 


“Have I set a time limit on a return to law?  She is such a jealous mistress but the time comes I think, when the baton is passed to others and a different path is taken.  I tried retiring in June but here I am still, working on a few favourites with a colleague.  Definitely not coming back. No, I am not, and you can’t make me. My website and my socials will get some loving and I have so many gorgeous pieces I want to share with the world.” 

Suzanne travels as an advocate.

You also are a national advocate for MS – what does that involve?

“I will continue to advocate for the unmet needs of the community with a particular focus on the invisible needs of those living with MS.  As a national advocate, every politician or policymaker, from Federal Government down to local government is fair game for me to raise awareness of the needs of the disabled in the community.  Along with other advocates, I lobby politicians, make submissions on relevant topics, such as pharmaceutical, physical access – (I’m) a big fan of accessible public spaces and retail spaces.  With other advocates, we descend on Parliament House in Canberra and make our voices heard.  Federal Parliament has been welcoming and we always make sure to spend time with the Parliamentary friends of MS on each visit as well as our local pollies while they are in Canberra.”  

In one of your blogs, you say you are now comfortable being called an artist. Does the creative work help balance out the stresses of legal practice? 

“Artists are sensitive souls, constantly in fear of being not good enough at this or that.  Learning to love our babies (artwork) and knowing that we are all born artists – just give a child a crayon to prove that is true – but along the way, we push that aside as not being ‘real’ that it is somehow a façade, that is has no meaning.  As Monet said or words to that effect, ‘it is not necessary to understand my art.  It is only necessary to love it’ . It takes a while to be comfortable being called an artist.  I am an artist. There are some who would say that all lawyers are creative and some of our submissions may be just that but most of the lawyers I know are truly creative outside the law.  There is something in the act of creating whether it is food, a garden, writing, photography or visual art, that frees the soul and brings a release from the intensity of the law.” 

Beach Life inspired by the tropics.

You recently marked 25 years as an Accredited Family Law Specialist. What did that milestone mean to you? 


“What a ride it has been.  The milestone of 25 years which seemed to pass in a blink, and being awarded that certificate at the QLS event with my plus-one being one of my adult daughters, was a pretty special event.  Although it also marks the end of a very satisfying career.  I am astonished that I got this far without noticing it.

“It was also a delight to share that evening with other Accredited Specialists and recognise their achievements in raising the standards of the profession to such a high degree.  I am doubly proud too, of the number of specialists in Cairns per capita of lawyers. We punch above our weight in the North for sure!”

Suzanne was admitted as solicitor on 1 February 1993, became an associate at Farrellys in 1995 and a partner in 1998. In 2013 she opened her own practice, Hadley Family Law, a boutique firm specialising in all aspects of family law.

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