When did you know that you wanted to be a lawyer?
Like many lawyers of my generation, I probably first decided that I wanted to be a lawyer while watching an episode of LA Law during my formative years (who could forget Victor Sifuentes?) I then promptly forgot about it and studied a Bachelor of Music instead. Given the limited career options available to concert pianists, I subsequently found myself studying Law. Although I can’t pinpoint the exact moment, it was probably a fairly certain thing that I would become a lawyer when I found myself enjoying trips to the library to read cases about contract law in first year. Certified law nerd, case closed.
What are your passions outside of the law?
I have a number of them. I usually like to have some sort of “project” on the go, which is often something in a creative vein. At times it has been music-related, and for a while it was writing “performance poetry” (I have two self-published anthologies, available in an obscure-book store near you). At present it is directing, specifically a re-enactment of one of the trials arising out of the Eureka Stockade, being performed in the Supreme Court, for BottledSnail Productions. I’m not particularly good at doing nothing as a form of relaxation, so I find the best form of “down-time” is something that allows me to focus completely on something non work-related.
If you could only give one bit of advice to new lawyers, what would it be?
Back yourself. I have had experiences when more senior (and more aggressive) practitioners tried to shout me down (out of court) or rolled their eyes and scoffed while I was making an argument in court, only to work out later while debriefing with colleagues that everything I had said was completely reasonable and had a solid basis in law. But as a junior practitioner, it’s easy to doubt yourself and assume that your opponents would only do those things if they had a real basis for doing so. Not so. Some people (thankfully not most) like to play games, and after a while, you learn that’s all it is.
What would you say are the hazards of this profession?
See answer to the last question! I think that law can be more combative than most professions. Some people would say that is a function of having an adversarial system, but I think there is a certain amount of unnecessary aggression in the law. You should certainly advance your client’s case robustly, but there is no need for that robustness to morph into rudeness in court or out of it. Sadly, I think that bullying and harassment does exist in the legal profession, and it’s a real problem for those who experience it. Thankfully, I think that is increasingly being recognised and steps are being taken to address it.
What is your best tip for maintaining sanity in the law?
Maintain solid friendships within the legal profession and outside of it, and do things you love. Law can be all-consuming, and that can be enjoyable for a while, but I don’t believe it’s healthy in the long term. I had a role in 12 Angry Men in my first year at the Bar, when I had just moved to Melbourne, and it was a fabulous opportunity to meet other people in the legal profession who Imay never have come across otherwise.
Warning – shameless plug ahead: from 23-28 February, BottledSnail’s production of the musical Parade will be showing at the Coopers Malthouse Theatre. The show is amazing, and you can tell from talking to members of the cast and crew how proud they are of what they have put together and how much enjoyment they are having from their experience.
What will the legal profession look like in twenty-five years’ time?
Same, same, but different. I think there are probably aspects of lawyering that will never change, and I think that lawyers can be a pretty conservative crowd! But sometimes you see change happening that is really heartening. For example, last week there was a vote on whether to alter the Bar’s Constitution so that the head of the Bar Council is referred to as “President” rather than “Chairman”. I am thrilled to say that the vote passed. Until last Wednesday, Victoria was the only remaining independent Bar in Australia to retain the gendered term “Chairman” as a title, and it means a lot to many of us that the change was voted in.
I think it would be great if the legal profession adopted more flexible working practices, so that practitioners could more easily combine work and family, as well as taking on interesting pursuits outside of work. I believe that many talented lawyers become disillusioned with law due to the long hours and high levels of stress. I also hope that over the next twenty-five years we will see a big increase in the numbers of women in the upper echelons of the profession, at the Bar and on the Bench, but that is a hope rather than a certainty.
How can one distinguish oneself as a legal professional?
I believe that people distinguish themselves as legal professionals by what they contribute to the legal community and society more broadly. It is all very well to be a “legal genius” and we all know people who live and breathe law, and can cite case law like they’re quoting Shakespeare. But I think the people who really distinguish themselves are those who improve the lives of others, lawyers and non-lawyers, by their broader involvement in the law, be that through membership of a committee, participation in pro bono work, or mentoring law students and young professionals. It’s easy to do things that will advance your own career and reputation; it takes more time and effort to involve yourself in work that will help others.
Dr Kylie Weston-Scheuber is a Melbourne barrister practising primarily in commercial and administrative law. She has a PhD in law from the ANU and completed a Bachelor of Music before embarking upon the path that would lead her to the law. She is the President of BottledSnail Productions Inc, the production company for the legal profession. She admires those who choose the path less trodden, and those who stand up for what they think is right, even when it’s a whole lot easier to keep their traps shut. http://www.greenslist.com.au/kylie-weston-scheuber.html