The Lawyer in the Mirror

by Arna Delle-Vergini

lawyer in the mirror

It’s all so terribly exciting. You see I have been shortlisted for the LIV Mentor of the Year award. For those of you who do not know, the LIV awards are like the Logies, but for Victorian lawyers and sans the glittering gowns and tiaras. Not to mention, for that matter, the paparazzi, press, red carpets, after parties, and a month of feature articles in the Women’s Weekly and New Idea. Bar all of those things then, they are very, very similar.

For instance, if you win you get a glass plaque. I’ve never won a glass plaque before. In fact, I’ve only ever won a single trophy and, to be honest, “won” is probably the operative word. It wasn’t a competition exactly. It was more like an encouragement award or, if you really wanted to strip it down, it was an award I got for showing up to ballet class every week for a single term. The trophy was a plastic golden ballerina on a stand and for the longest possible time, I really did think it conferred on me a greater pirouetting prowess. It didn’t really. Not that I want to detract from this terrific success. I’m not one of those self-effacing, humble types.

Which is, of course, why I am preparing my acceptance speech for the LIV awards now. Let’s face it –it is my nature to like to be prepared for anything, including random and completely unpredictable events. But I also just don’t want to be “that person”. You know, the one who actually wins the award and then climbs up on the podium only to say: “um…wow…such a shock…I only had like…two months notice that this would happen…I can’t think of a single thing to say!”

Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear! Really? Is that the best you can do?

Mind – this is where one starts to feel the pressure. How to say something meaningful and heartfelt in less than a minute…while everyone is watching… and when you know the other shortlisted people have as much right to stand there as you do. Very, very tricky. My preference, at this stage, is for a haiku that makes no sense to anyone but is unique enough to make me look smart. Something like this for instance:

wise once and knows all
firm views end in the trolley
the corn and flakes abide

Which pretty much sums up everything. Or nothing.

Look, the truth is, nothing very meaningful can be said in a brief acceptance speech. It’s too short a period of time. Which, as it turns out, is the perfect segue to the story of how came about in the first place.

You see, each year I mentor hundreds of students, either on-line or in-person, while they undertake their Practical Legal Training. During the brief relationship that forms, the students and I often get an opportunity to have meaningful discussions about life, law, the universe and everything, but no sooner have those discussions started than the course ends and I have to move on to the next in-take of students. I felt very keenly that this was a lost opportunity. I wanted the dialogue to continue even though it wasn’t practically possible for me to continue those conversations with everyone.

Ultimately, the website, which I run with my colleagues Pamela Taylor-Barnett, Ffyona Livingstone Clark and Phoebe Churches, is designed to give the vibrant dialogue, that begins naturally in law school about how to be a professional, an opportunity to continue and develop. And I want it to continue for as long as the new lawyer needs it to; at times that suit new lawyers; at completely their own pace; and in their own private space.

I once won a trophy for showing up. But when you can’t dance to save your life, showing up is quite an achievement. You have to recommit to every class. You have to say, “I want to be here… even if I’m not the best ballet dancer in the world; even if I can’t even touch my toes – dancing is what I want to do; it’s in my blood.” And then you have to go ahead and walk the talk.

This LIV nomination means the same thing to me. It means that I showed up. And I keep showing up because it’s such an incredibly important conversation to be having. So whether or not I win the actual award is largely irrelevant. What matters to me is that lawyers are beginning to engage in the conversation that I want all lawyers to be having. What does it mean to be a member of this profession? What is required of me? What can I expect? Will I be happy? These are questions that you don’t just ask yourself as you enter this profession: you ask them throughout your entire career. “Showing up” as a professional means more than gaining technical competency at practicing law, that’s the easy part – “showing up” requires you to bring your whole Self to the profession – your passion, your skill, your desires and dreams, your thoughts and ideas, your commitment and your constancy. Now that is something I would like to see every lawyer do, beginning, of course, with the lawyer in the mirror!