How a bottled snail changed my life

by Jessica Heyes

31567043_ml

Yes, the bottled snail case is the negligence case we all learn about in first year law.  But I’m talking about something of much greater relevance to our daily lives as practising lawyers.

I’m talking about BottledSnail Productions, named from that famous case. BottledSnail is a company created by and for lawyers with an ingenious purpose: to support initiatives aimed at addressing the high levels of mental illness in the legal profession.

It does this in two ways. First, it provides creative opportunities for lawyers and promotes work-life balance in a profession that tends to struggle with that concept. Second, it supports the Tristan Jepson Memorial Foundation, whose objective is to promote psychological health and safety in the legal community.

As a pianist and singer from a young age, I have always been involved in various musical projects.  But it’s safe to say that my involvement in these kinds of activities has decreased fairly steadily during the ten years I have been practising law, and especially now that I am a parent too.

So I was ecstatic to discover BottledSnail in early 2014, just in time to secure a place in the cast of the cabaret The Secret Life of a Lawyer – and then to join the cast of the musical Parade, which is on at the Malthouse Theatre from 23-28 February 2015.

When I tell people about my involvement with BottledSnail, they usually say: ‘How on earth do you have time to do that?’

And of course they are referring to the inherent tension between extra-curricular activities on the one hand, and, on the other hand, the expectation on many lawyers that they will be available to work 24/7 if need be – that it is rarely acceptable to say no to a partner or a client – and of course to the relentless challenges of caring for a small child.  And they are right – taking on something more than that seems like madness.

The fact is, the way I see it, I don’t have time NOT to do it.

There are lots of reasons why:

  • It’s so refreshing to do something that doesn’t have anything to do with legal skills. I think many of us lawyers have our identities and self-esteem bound into our job descriptions. It’s liberating to take on a challenge out of left field and find that we can be more than just lawyers. Studies have shown that achievement across a range of areas is more conducive to a fulfilling life than expertise in one very narrow area.
  • When you are used to a rational, analytical, critical way of thinking, it’s incredibly freeing to be able to make creative choices. How do I want to portray this character? What kind of tone do I want to produce when I sing that note? What do my instincts tell me is the right movement for this scene? When will the audience laugh or cry? None of these questions have answers that you can find in a judgment or textbook.
  • It’s fantastic exercise for the imaginative, emotional parts of our brains. Few things in law (especially corporate law) can move us the way that words and music can.
  • It builds our resilience to times of stress. Just being committed to something outside of work means gives us more perspective on work dramas – our well being isn’t so dependent on what is happening in the office.
  • Making a commitment to a project like this forces us to regularly take time away from work. It’s a great incentive to try and get everything done by 6pm instead of letting things drag on until 9pm (well after the law of diminishing returns has generally kicked in).

You don’t need to be an artsy type to participate in BottledSnail’s projects.  There are dozens of jobs associated with any production and opportunities to use all types of skills.

And I know from experience that all the challenges and sacrifices associated with being involved in Parade will pale into insignificance in that electric moment just before the house lights go down and the drum roll begins.

BottledSnail presents the Tony award-winning musical PARADE, at the Malthouse Theatre at 7pm from Monday 23 – Saturday 28 February 2015.  More information and tickets available at: http://parade.bottledsnail.com/