What will the legal profession look like in twenty five years time?
I’m not really sure but I recommend that all law students and junior lawyers read Richard Susskind’s book ‘Tomorrow’s Lawyers’, as I reckon his predictions will be pretty close to the mark.
Prior to reading this book, my dream was a little High St law office with comfy couches, fab art, a teepee for kids to play in, natural light and plants, a fridge stocked with yum beers for clients and great music playing at all times.
But Susskind predicts that High St firms will die out in the near future and Northcote rents are crazy, so I started thinking outside the square about how I could achieve my broader aims of being a convenient and accessible lawyer, in a manner that allowed me to care for my son and spend my days in a pleasant environment.
Susskind describes the kinds of jobs that people with law degrees will perform in the future, and general themes about the kinds of businesses that will survive in his new world and those that won’t. Don’t bother with his earlier books as he extracts the best bits from them in ‘Tomorrow’s Lawyers’, which you can finish in 2-3 hours. Even if you don’t want to start a business, his guidance is useful for young lawyers wanting to develop skills that will make them resilient in the changing legal market.
If you could only give one bit of advice to new lawyers, what would it be?
Don’t get too hung up on which subject-matter you want to specialise in. The happiest times of my career have been more about the ‘how’ than the ‘what’. You might be working on the glitziest deals or most high-profile pro bono case, but if your colleagues and clients aren’t friendly, your conditions not flexible, you are given no autonomy and your shoes hurt, you will dread Mondays.
What makes a lawyer a great lawyer?
I never call up a barrister’s clerk and ask for the barrister with the highest university marks and the fanciest Masters degree. I get friends’ recommendations for barristers that are competent, tactical, good communicators and not jerks.
Ditto as a solicitor. You need to be able to analyse legal problems competently – that’s a given. But it is the lawyers who can read interpersonal situations, write clearly and (god forbid) entertainingly, persuade, project manage and think creatively that win people’s hearts.
This last aspect is something that took me a while to make peace with. My mum was always encouraging me to quit the law and ‘do something creative’ as she didn’t think I would find it sustainable. And a lot of creative people do leave the law thinking they don’t have the personality type for it. But those who manage to find a place that allows them to use their creativity often really shine because it isn’t a common trait in the profession. Einstein said that creativity is intelligence having fun. I like that, much more than this black and white idea that the law isn’t a place for creative people.
How do you balance life and work?
I’m probably not the best person to answer this as more than often than not, my husband (a criminal barrister) and I spend our nights on the couch working away on our laptops, albeit with a wine and some good tunes playing. And every time my son naps, I’m answering emails or preparing for the teleconferences I have scheduled that evening.
Some lawyers resent being able to be contacted at all times via their smartphone but for me, it’s key. It means I can finalise conveyances from the zoo or talk through a client’s Will instructions from the playground. I do try not to answer non-urgent emails while my son is awake, although his childcare tells us that one of his favourite games is banging away at a computer keyboard and pretending to talk on anything that looks like an iPhone so I might have room to improve in that respect.
I personally would prefer to have life and work merge in this respect, than to try and confine each to set hours then have arrangements come crashing down when a child is sick or a deadline urgent.
What are your passions outside of the law?
My husband and son – we call ourselves ‘team noodle’ for reasons I can’t begin to remember. Live music. The bush. Christmas.
What is your best tip for maintaining sanity in the law?
I have a four part to-do list system which enables everything to get out of my head and onto a page, freeing my brain space to focus on the task at hand and reducing the stress that something will be missed.
Part 1 is ‘urgent’ (being things that need to be done in the next 48 hours), Part 2 is ‘to do someday’, Part 3 is ‘to chase’ (being things that I’ve completed and are now with someone else and due back to me at a stated date) and Part 4 is a post-it note where I jot down thoughts as they come into my head whilst working on something else. At the end of the day, I do anything on the post-it note that can be completed in less than 60 seconds or less then categorise (or delete) the remainder, rewrite the urgent list for tomorrow, bumping up anything from the someday list as required, then send a batch of emails chasing all the things due back that day.
What are your hopes for our profession?
That its members take responsibility for making it sustainable – for those working in it, but also for those it serves. I highly recommend that young lawyers read the Centre for Innovative Justice’s report on Affordable Justice in this respect and its genuinely pragmatic suggestions for making legal services accessible to ordinary Australians.
Laura Vickers home-delivers legal services to busy people, outside business hours, via her online law firm Nest Legal, which she runs from her kitchen table in Northcote around her toddler’s nap times. Nest Legal offers wills, conveyancing, disputes and infringement advice. Nest Legal also offer court coaching for self-represented litigants and briefing (where possible) barristers whose caring commitments prevent them working fulltime. Prior to Nest, Laura has been a constitutional lawyer, prosecutor, commercial lawyer, university tutor, conveyancing clerk, marketing manager and skincare consultant. She got first class honours in law from the University of Melbourne.