By Deanna Ruseska
Juggling a private law firm, a family of six and sweaty gym goers, Urania Zafiris is highly motivated woman, who is far from your stereotypical mother.
Sometimes her life is so busy that clients get arrested in the process…
Tucked away above a real estate agency near Ramsgate Beach in the south of Sydney there is a hidden office, accessed through a small door leading up a dark staircase. As you walk in, you are met with an instant bright light that bounces off the glossy white table holding mountains of case files, from murderers and drug dealers, to the quiet divorced couple down the road, fighting over who gets the house.
“I love that we are hidden, as long as the police know where I am, that’s the main thing.”
Loving her privacy and isolated workspace considering the dangerous nature of her job, Urania is a humorous figure who has always been well respected in the community from her humble beginnings as a junior that was paid $10 an hour.
An ambitious woman who grew up in Lakemba to lower socio-economic migrant Greek parents, Urania always knew that she wanted to own her own practice.
However, life was made much harder when she was married at 22, and then divorced at 30, with two children, an unpaid mortgage and a stagnant dream.
This dream became a reality when Urania’s male barrister bosses offered to pay her mortgage to help her open up her own legal firm.
And that’s exactly what she did, all on her own. Urania found herself constantly reminding clients: “I practice law. I don’t run a business.”
This distinction is important to the lawyer who has never run an advertisement in the 20 years she has been fighting legal battles, predominantly dealing with family and criminal law matters. Her tireless work ethic, and the dedication she puts into every case, is what led none of her clients last year to end up in prison.
Except for one time.
“I had a client arrested because I forgot a court date. What bigger embarrassment is there when you have to call a client of some fifteen years and say: ‘I have come to court today but it was yesterday, there’s a warrant out for your arrest and you have to come with me to the police station so they can arrest you.’”
“My client got strip-searched, sat in a cell for something like five hours and when they brought him up to court I looked at him and he looked at me and I could’ve died.”
Some women who think with their hearts rather than their brain are the most vulnerable targets who play the ‘victim’ in family law cases, often misjudging Urania’s understanding character.
“It comes from both sides. But I am not going to side with a woman because I am a woman”, she said. “Yes, he went off and had a child with (true story) your son’s lesbian football manager. But this is where we go from here and you have to move on from that.”
This is not to say she hasn’t had run-ins with husbands in the past.
John Pappas is the only junior counterpart at the firm, and has observed over the years how his boss deals with these adversities.
“It is the tone people use. Some males don’t like being told by a female that they are wrong or they can’t do anything,” he said.
“She deals with that quite well because she doesn’t back down and she doesn’t let someone stand over her.”
Things never came easy to Urania growing up in the west with European ideals, who had to overcome public scrutiny at university. Even more so when she got married for the second time to a man ten years younger than her.
“It’s like I wasn’t allowed to do it. I already did it the first time, I had met all my expectations. She can’t do it again, let alone have twins at 40.”
Maternity leave was never an option, with Urania often breastfeeding whilst taking business calls when she gave birth to her twin boys.
“When they got diagnosed with autism, that was the scariest part. Now it is hard, because it is challenging, and these children need time more than anything in the world and that is something I am always lacking. That upsets me.”
Urania’s family unit has had to trade in traditional family holidays and social outings to accommodate these needs into their heavily scheduled lifestyle.
Between the courtroom, office and school playground, the determined mother of four will always have time to squeeze in a quick workout. An unlikely hobby for a person who was never sporty or athletic.
“Me becoming a group fitness instructor started because a Zumba instructor didn’t turn up one night.. and for whatever reason, I was received by the members.”
Jinane Taoube is a client who has known her personal trainer turned close friend for four years and has watched Urania effectively transfer communicative behaviours from the office into the weights room, describing her as a “kind, gentle and beautiful soul.”
“I don’t know if people see that side of her. You look at her and think she is hard working, she is strong, she is independent, but there is this other side where she is soft and emotional at the same time.”
The successes Urania has experienced in her life can be attributed to the cultural stereotypes she has challenged throughout life, always striving to help others to overcome their mental and physical obstacles, never backing down to a professional or personal challenge.