When did you know that you wanted to be a lawyer?
I had always felt that the law disadvantaged women in a multitude of ways. The 1996 Victorian Supreme Court trial of Heather Osland disturbed me so greatly that I applied to university to study law immediately.
Heather was convicted of the murder of her husband and sentenced to 14 years jail. She had been subjected to a decade and a half of repeated rapes and brutal violence. Her defences of provocation and self-defence failed. The court did not recognise the defence of ‘battered wife syndrome’ as it was unfortunately known then (as if a woman was a piece of fish). Nor did the High Court recognise the doctrine on appeal. Heather served nine and half years and her situation prompted more than one state government to attempt to reform the law. Unfortunately those changes, to date, have largely failed women.
At that time, I felt compelled to do whatever I could to assist women and children to access justice. I still feel that way every day.
What are your passions outside of the law?
The splashes of paint on my clothing give me away. There’s no place to hide when every wall in your house (and those of your family and friends) is covered with canvases of shall-we-say varying quality. I can’t resist a blank wall. I would not go so far as to call them art, but they’re original, and I guess unique. When I have a brush in my hand I’m focused on the colour and form, and therefore not worrying about my clients, which is a wonderful thing.
If you could only give one piece of advice to new lawyers, what would it be?
Two pieces (in the same vein). Volunteer in a Community Legal Centre. And not just for a short placement. The experience, contacts and rewards you’ll gain will be immense. What goes around comes around.
Don’t discount positions in remote regions. Working in a big city firm is not the only way to gain respect. A year in an Aboriginal Legal Service in the Kimberley would be just as impressive on your CV, if not more so. There’ll be plenty of time for that big city job later.
What makes a lawyer a great lawyer?
Humility. Empathy. And an excellent grounding in reality.
What would you say are the hazards of this profession?
Email. Cloud storage. Remote access. You are always on-call and it is so difficult to get away from work. But as a colleague very dryly pointed out ‘I presume the device does have an off-switch’.
What are your hopes for our profession?
It’s shocking to think that an individual’s ability to access justice might be dependent on the depth of her pockets. However many women report to me that this is their reality. I hope for a future where no disadvantage or inequality goes unidentified, or unaddressed. I celebrate lawyers who run cases pro bono, volunteer in CLCs, or give their time in other ways. Today’s young lawyers are tomorrow’s High Court judges, I wish them the best for their careers and hope they remain mindful that not everyone is so fortunate.
Sharon Carr is a lawyer at St Kilda Legal Service, advocating for family violence survivors (mostly women and children) at Moorabbin Magistrates Court. Sharon has a decade’s experience as a community lawyer, and this semester will teach Legal Practice and Ethics at Deakin University, something she’s been looking forward to greatly (but not without some trepidation).