When did you know that you wanted to be a lawyer?
Most good lawyers have had at least one mentor who has inspired or guided them in one direction or another. In fact, it is important to cultivate mentors to develop resilience as a lawyer. One of my great inspirations was my high school legal studies teacher. He was an extremely engaging man. He had a captivating presence in the room, and his commitment to his students was palpable. I remember vividly his robust interactions, and the dry wit of an intelligent, compassionate but slightly cynical humanist. He skillfully combined vision, realism and humour in a way that made you want to learn. In his class, I first felt the urge to practice law. I caught up with him recently at a law school alumni dinner and it was a very proud moment.
One of the risks of having many mentors is that you may get conflicting advice. This recently happened with one of my students, who had received some guidance from me about court appearances, and contrary guidance from another legal practitioner. I can say that the benefits of having mentors far outweigh the difficulties. The only way to deal with the difficulties is to acknowledge them, and recognize that advice is merely a suggestion based on personal experience and training. Everyone has different experiences, and one lot of advice may help you, whilst another may not. If you find it helpful, use it! If you don’t, file it away in the back of your mind until a later time – you never known when it might make sense.
What makes a lawyer a great lawyer?
I am afraid that my conception of a lawyer is skewed very much in the direction of a litigation lawyer. Despite being a Nationally Accredited Mediator, much of my time is spent in court, representing parties to litigation.
A great litigation lawyer is able to quickly perceive the broader picture of a dispute as well as pay special attention to the detailed facts. They have a deep understanding of what motivates humans, and can become temporary experts in the subject matter of any litigation in which they are briefed. They present the client’s case fearlessly and robustly in court, and at the same time encourage the client to resolve the dispute without the need for a contested hearing. They work co-operatively with their opponent, whilst maintaining their duty to the client, to further the efficient administration of justice. In sum, they are balanced in the exercise of their duties to the court, to the client and to the administration of justice, but they exercise those duties with a passion, a focus and a seriousness of purpose beyond that of any other profession.
Finally, let’s not forget good manners. It is easy, in the heat of contest, to become emotionally attached to the outcome of your case. This can lead to discourteous or even unethical behaviour. A great lawyer is always respectful of the court and court staff, of opposing counsel, of witnesses and of the parties to the proceeding. Courtesy breeds respect and co-operation.
How do you balance work and life?
The major difficulty in establishing and maintaining a so-called work/life balance is to recognize that it’s out of whack in the first place. After all, being a member of an independent bar is a vocation, or calling. That is why becoming a barrister is referred to as being called to the Bar. It comes with a sense of duty to further the administration of justice, to act honourably in the performance of that duty, to always aim to perform at one’s best and to a minimum standard of professional competence, and to meaningfully contribute to society.
In this sense, your work (or your membership of the profession) tends to become a foundation stone of your identity; it becomes, in part, the source of who you are. The intensity can make it easy to lose your balance. My advice? Always have a hobby which is beyond law and lawyers – something which keeps you in touch the life of ‘real’ people, people who don’t spend their lives developing arguments in their heads about how past events should be presented and interpreted and then debating it. Time and again, it is the quality of our relationship with our family and friends that keeps us happy and grounded, not our number of hours billed.
What attracts you most to the profession?
I would mention three things.
First is the sense of helping people solve their problems. Ironically, as a litigation lawyer, it is vital to recognise that most problems are better solved without litigation. Yet when disputes require judicial resolution because the parties simply cannot agree to settle, then it is a privilege to be entitled to represent them before the judicial arm of government. It provides a great sense of achievement.
The second is flexibility in work hours. At the Bar, it is possible to set aside time when you will not take on briefs, and though you don’t get paid for the time you don’t spend working, the upside is that you have control over your working life and you can allocate time to your family, friends or other pursuits.
Last, but certainly not least, are one’s intelligent and innovative colleagues, who have a great sense of humour. It is inspiring to spend the working day amongst some bright sparks. It would be hard to spend the lengthy amount of time intensely negotiating or appearing in court with my colleagues if I also didn’t enjoy their company.
A lawyer, a priest and a classicist walk into a bar. What does the lawyer say and why?
Tot mala iocos Quid faciemus?*
*Translates roughly as: ‘Why are we the butt of so many bad jokes?’
Randall Kune is a Barrister at the Victorian Bar, a Nationally Accredited Mediator, and a Senior Fellow at Monash University Law School. He has been in practice for nearly 20 years, and regularly trains and assesses law students, lawyers and new barristers in advocacy, evidence and procedure.