Max Paterson

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What do you do?

I’m a first year lawyer in the Family & Relationship Law group at Lander & Rogers – Melbourne’s biggest Family Law practice. I’ve always been into theatre, and started directing plays and Law Revues at university. When I started full time work, I knew that I could only be happy if I pursued my legal career whilst remaining engaged in theatre and the arts. I knew there would be other people out there like me, so I decided to start up The Law Revue at the Comedy Festival. I saw it as a test, or a proof of concept – I wanted to see whether it is possible to combine a rewarding legal career with a demanding, but emancipating, creative commitment.

I asked my friend and fellow lawyer/theatre person Sarah Zeleznikov to produce the show, and together we worked hard to raise funds, budget, plan, and put out a call for auditions. We had over thirty people audition and I put together a talented cast of nine lawyers. I essentially lived a double life – I’d bumble my way through the day as an inexperienced law grad, and then at night I’d swing into gear; directing, delegating, demanding, critiquing and pep-talking a cast into a quality performance. The show was a roaring success – we sold out opening night and put more than 1650 bums on seats during our run. The Herald Sun gave us a four and a half star review – which outranked a number of household-name comedy acts. More importantly, I felt that I’d had the fortune to meet and work closely with some of the funniest, most talented, creative, dedicated and clever people going around.

Lander & Rogers was very supportive of the show and became one of our major sponsors. The show proved that the depth of talent in the legal industry is matched by the eagerness of crowds to come and see our shows. We incorporated a company, BottledSnail Productions Inc, with the goal of providing creative opportunities to the legal profession and promoting wellbeing amongst lawyers. In recent months, in my capacity as Artistic Director, I’ve put together our inaugural season, which includes a production of 12 Angry Men (with a cast of barristers – we’ve sold out our run in the Supreme Court), a full sized Symphony Orchestra, a Battle of the Bands, Cabaret night, Social Club, and of course, the 2014 Law Revue.

Can you be passionate about legal practice?

When doing the clerkship dance, all clerks have a little choreographed courtship routine they perform with any lawyer willing to dance. “What area are you in?… Oh great, is it busy at the moment? Do you like litigation?” I did three clerkships, two at mega-firms. I had a special question; after asking what someone does, I’d adopt a big smile and ask enthusiastically “Do you love it?

Most people were clearly not used to answering this question and were not comfortable with it. The only positive responses I recall getting, came from people with whom I now work, and I think that was a big factor in my decision making.

I think it’s crucially important to be passionate about what you do. A lot of law graduates succumb to the gravitational pull towards corporate law.

It’s like a job at an international mega-firm is a shiny gold trophy that all healthy law graduates should want. I don’t think that’s the way it should be. Young lawyers should shop around different areas of the law, and choose one that will make them happy in the long run.

I’m fortunate to practice in an area of law that I’m genuinely passionate about. Working with people at the most difficult time of their lives, and helping them to achieve the most important outcomes of their lives is tough but rewarding. As a theatre maker, I love working in such a compelling, human-focused area of law, and I think the two sides of my life are complimentary.

What is work/life balance?

I think most people assume that the ‘life’ bit of ‘work/life balance’ is synonymous with sitting around, taking spa baths, gazing at loved ones, and curling up with a good book and a pot of tea. I like all of the above, but I think there’s more to the concept of ‘life’ than a contradistinction to ‘work.’ I probably work almost as hard at BottledSnail as I do at Landers, but it’s something I love doing.

I’m constantly amazed at the capability of the people I work with. Bruce Hardy, my Producer for 12 Angry Men leads a big production team: strategising, planning, budgeting, and executing a major production. He’s handled complex rights issues, managed relationships with stakeholders, and negotiated the use of the Supreme Court with the Chief Justice and her staff. My company President Jacqui Pitt manages, organises, and charms our teams into amazing feats. I think that finding opportunities to exercise key skills and demonstrate your greatest qualities should form part of your ‘life’ balance.

What’s changing in the law?

Mental health and wellbeing in the legal industry is something that has become a key issue for law firms, and it is also something that I, and the team at BottledSnail, are passionate about.   We have partnered with the Tristan Jepson Memorial Foundation, which was behind the first studies into anxiety and depression in the legal industry, and have committed to making annualised donations of $10,000 to them. All the firms we’ve approached have enthusiastically embraced this cause.

Things have really come a long way over the last decade. There is now a greater sense of awareness of the importance of mental wellbeing amongst firms, and all firms appear to genuinely care about the issue. It’s an important challenge we face as an industry, and I’m optimistic that change is in the air – and that this will bring tangible, positive results for the legal industry over the long-term.

Max Paterson is a lawyer in the Family & Relationships Law team at Lander & Rogers. He is the Artistic Director of BottledSnail Productions Inc. – the production company for the legal profession. He is currently directing ’12 Angry Men’ with a cast made up entirely of members of the Victorian Bar, playing in the Supreme Court on 24-27 September.