What are your passions outside of the law?
Footy and having an opinion. I’m a tragic Western Bulldogs supporter and attend as many games as I can, including interstate games. Footy is a fantastic contrast to the law. As a lawyer, I need to be rational, logical and aware of how I am perceived by clients, the judiciary and my peers. At the footy, I can be loud and completely irrational – I firmly believe that what I wear and where I sit can influence the outcome of the game! I have an opinion about everything – from daylight savings to the state of transport planning in Australia to the appropriateness of buying cherries out of season.
If you had your time again, would you choose to practice in law? If not, what else would you choose to do?
I would still practise law, but I would do it a little bit differently. I like to think I would take a more proactive approach to planning my career. I would have started expanding my non-legal skills sooner – things like mediation, marketing and technology. But I can’t imagine another profession or role which would combine as well as law does my need for intellectual stimulation, my desire to work in the public interest and my enjoyment in working as part of a profession with shared values and common interests.
If you could only give one bit of advice to new lawyers, what would it be?
Only you are responsible for your career but there is lots of help along the way! Identify what sort of lawyer you want to be and then figure out what you need to do to get there. Ask for help along the way and recognise that what you want and who can help you will change as you develop and grow as a lawyer. Don’t wait until you are unhappy to make changes in your career.
What would you say are the hazards of this profession?
The risks to your mental health from being a lawyer are well known. Every lawyer needs to treat it as an occupational health and safety risk inherent to the job. We can manage and mitigate the risk, but we shouldn’t ignore it.
When I feel myself getting ‘the mental sniffles’, I do something about it before it becomes a big problem. Mental sniffles takes different forms in different people – for me, the symptoms are being overly tired for days at a time; snapping at my family at home; and limiting my focus to the things I absolutely have to do just to get through the day. Like a cold, sometimes the mental sniffles will fix itself with some early nights or a quiet weekend. But sometimes I do need to take a day off and rest – just like I do with a cold or a case of ‘debilitating man flu’. Taking a day off for mental health doesn’t mean you have a ‘mental condition’ – just like having a day off for a cold or the flu doesn’t mean you are going to die or need to be hospitalised. It’s just about looking after yourself and letting your body recover.
How do you balance life and work?
As President of the LIV this year, I’m not! But there are still things I do to ensure that I have ‘me’ time. Scheduling ‘me’ time in my diary ensures that it has the same priority as other immoveable appointments, like a client meeting or a court hearing. For example, I have a regular gym class and try to exercise each morning; the footy fixture is sacrosanct; and Sunday night is family roast night. I also try to avoid social media use in bed (mornings and nights) – being on social media 16 hours a day should be enough for any person!
What will the legal profession look like in twenty five years time?
The pace of change in the legal profession is going to be so fast over the next few decades that I don’t have a good picture of what the legal profession will look like in 25 years.
I do have a clear picture of what I think it will be like in 10 years. The legal profession will be dominated by the very big and the very small – large, global firms providing wrap-around services (legal and non-legal) for clients at one end of the spectrum; niche, specialised, flexible sole practitioners at the other end of the spectrum. Lawyers will have harnessed technology to do more of the work we don’t like (I’ve never met a lawyer who actually likes discovery), leaving us with more time to focus on lawyering as a creative endeavour – things like problem solving, strategising and business advice. Technology will also allow lawyers to make money while we sleep, i.e. clients will be able to access legal services using software designed by lawyers, so lawyers will no longer be limited by the billable hour.
How can one distinguish themselves as a legal professional?
Identify what you do that no one else does as well as you and do it to the best of your ability. It might be a legal skill, like advocacy or writing contracts. Or it could be a non-legal skill – you might be an engaging presenter, a plain English communicator or have incredibly high emotional intelligence. The trick is to find a way of using those skills in a way that enhances how you deliver legal services to clients.
Katie Miller is the 2015 President of the Law Institute of Victoria and is the first government lawyer to be president. Katie is an LIV Accredited Specialisation in Administrative Law. As president, Katie is supporting lawyers to evolve their practices so they can survive and thrive into the future.