What are your passions outside of the law?
Gardening, plant propagation, landscape design, cycling and renewable energy. I have just had 16 storage batteries and solar panels fitted to my home so the day’s sun comes out of the batteries at night.
If you had your time again, would you choose to practice in law? If not, what else would you choose to do?
Yes, definitely. I was talked out of Archaeology as a career by a wise Professor of Archaeology at Melbourne University when I wanted to switch after 2nd year Law. He said, Archaeology would not support a married life and a mortgage in the same way Law would! I stuck it out and loved every minute of being a solicitor for 23 years, and then a public sector CEO in courts and legal regulation for the last 9 years. Law offers so much human contact and community influence, allowing you to advise and assist people by generally knowing how to get things done.
What was the single moment, case or event that you feel defined you as a lawyer?
Winning a hard fought, impossibly difficult, but truly deserving case against the Commonwealth for a client. It was called the Australia Post case. My client was shot by the deranged gunman, Frank Vitkovic, during what became known as the Queen Street massacre in 1987. John Dyrac survived being shot in the neck and shoulder at point blank range by an M1 Carbine when he opened the door for the gunman. The floor was bullet-proof because Australia Post held $250,000 of collectable (and steal-able) stamps, but had ceased using the security equipment properly. It was a hard case to win because the law was ill-defined about whether an employer was liable for the movements of a madman with a gun, even if the employer planned for gun invasion in their workplace. The Supreme Court jury upheld the negligence action against the employer after a two week, highly publicised trial. This defined me because it involved me and my firm taking a big risk in a controversial case for a client who could never have personally afforded to bring it to court, and involved success in a case many people thought would fail.
If you could only give one bit of advice to new lawyers, what would it be?
Accept that whatever your experience, clients will give a lawyer a free gift of trust when first appointing them. That gift is yours to lose by a number of simple means: lying, misleading, fudging, over-promising, under-performing and the super-human complex. The super-human complex is feeling your client expects you to know and do everything for them. You need to reduce or change your client’s expectations about what you can and can’t do for them at the outset of the relationship. Don’t do legal work for clients that is beyond your knowledge and understanding. Refer or get help. Your client will respect you for doing this because they will see you are acting to protect their interests.
What makes a lawyer a great lawyer?
Knowing the importance of servicing and communicating with your client. Great “bedside manner” is valuable. Remaining humble and conscious of the community role every lawyer plays as an officer appointed by the Court, with a primary duty to the Court, but then to represent the interests of their client to the best of their training and ability.
What would you say are the hazards of this profession?
Conflicts of interest between clients’ interests and fee budgets. Stress and anxiety in the working life of a lawyer causing performance, conduct and health issues.
What are your hopes for our profession?
That it continues to meet its own very high standards of ethical conduct, trustworthiness and fairness. Also, that it shifts to a fully national uniform regulatory scheme.
Michael was appointed as the Commissioner and Board CEO in December 2009. Prior to this Michael was the CEO of the Supreme Court of Victoria for three years. He practised as a solicitor at Holding Redlich for 23 years where he specialised in personal injuries, civil litigation and dispute resolution. Michael is a Graduate of the Australian Institute of Company Directors and is also a graduate in strategic management of regulatory and enforcement agencies from the John Kennedy School of Government, Harvard.