Mental health and the legal profession

By Dr Michelle Sharpe


A stigma is a mark or sign of disgrace. To stigmatise someone is to characterise them as disgraceful. People suffering from mental ill health are commonly stigmatised in the general community. This stigmatisation may adversely impact upon a person’s self-esteem and their ability to access support to assist in their recovery.

The stigmatisation of people suffering from mental ill health within a profession, such as the legal profession, holds particular dangers to individual professionals. These dangers can ripple out to the profession at large and the consumers of these professional services.

The most immediate and obvious danger in the stigmatisation of legal practitioners who suffer from mental ill health is that it promotes negative and ignorant views of mental illness. These views seem to suggest a failure or weakness in sufferers. Many dangers flow from this, including the adverse impact that the disclosure of ill health may have on the careers of legal practitioners. For example, employers and colleagues may doubt the ill practitioner’s competency or suitability for legal practice. The practitioner may accordingly experience social isolation in the workplace and a reduction of opportunities for career advancement. As a consequence, some practitioners who are treated in this way may sadly conclude that their employers and colleagues are indeed right: they are not fit for practice.

The loss of a legal career (which may have been hard-fought and long-cherished) has adverse impacts beyond the individual. Not only does the practitioner experience immediate personal losses, such as self-esteem and income; the community at large will have lost the services of the legal practitioner. In regional areas these services may be sorely missed. The cost to the public in training legal practitioners for practice (even in fee paying courses) will have been wasted. And the profession may well have lost a legal practitioner that could have made a contribution to the legal sector, whether in mentoring others, or in improving access to or administration of justice.

Unsurprisingly, the stigmatisation of practitioners who suffer from mental ill health often discourages other practitioners from disclosing their own illness to employers and colleagues. A practitioner’s reluctance to disclose mental ill health may not only increase feelings of isolation that might aggravate the illness; it may also create a barrier to accessing much needed help and support.

Stigmatisation may also have a chilling effect on employers and colleagues providing this help. Help is unlikely to be readily available to mentally ill practitioners if mental ill health is viewed as a personal failing or as a personal trait that is inherently unsuitable for legal practice. A legal practitioner’s inability to receive help may cause harm beyond hindering the individual practitioner’s recovery. If the practitioner’s illness results in an absence from work, or in leaving the profession altogether, the community and profession will have lost the services of that practitioner.

Conversely, if the legal practitioner remains in practice without the required support, the unmanaged mental ill health of the practitioner may undermine the timeliness and standard of his or her work. It may cause a practitioner to withdraw into him or herself and impede communications with colleagues and clients. As a consequence, the end consumer of legal services – the practitioner’s client– may be adversely affected.

But this harm is not confined to individual clients. If a client incurs loss or damage as a result of a legal practitioner’s failure to maintain a high professional standard, the profession’s insurer may be required to pay compensation to that client. The size and volume of insurance claims have an impact on the cost of insurance to the profession at large. Further, there is the intangible cost to the reputation and standing of the profession in the community.

The ripple effect of stigmatising legal practitioners suffering from mental ill health can be seen to extend further still when it is remembered that tribunal members, magistrates and judges are drawn from the legal profession. And they take with them any mental health issues they may have had in practice, together with their attitudes and prejudices toward mental health issues. If the wellbeing of these decision-makers is similarly poorly supported in their workplaces, it is likely that the performance of these decision-makers will be adversely affected; in their timeliness and quality of judgments and in their dealings with the legal practitioners who appear before them and their clients.

Challenging the stigma attached to mental ill health is not just an act of compassion for those who suffer from mental ill health, but is ultimately an act of self-interest.

On an even broader level, the stigmatisation of legal professionals who suffer from mental ill health poses the less obvious and more insidious danger of undermining respect and compassion for others both inside and outside the profession.

Respect and compassion are integral to a legal practitioner’s ability to communicate effectively with their clients, their colleagues and decision-makers. They enable a legal practitioner to more readily identify a client’s needs and to communicate the range of options open to the client. They enable the practitioner to be more persuasive with colleagues and decision-makers.

Consumers of legal services who are treated with respect and compassion by legal practitioners and decision-makers are more likely to consider that they have received a fair hearing, whatever the ultimate result. With respect and compassion for others, a practitioner is less likely to descend into inappropriate workplace behaviour. Such may, in turn, have its own adverse consequences on the mental health of others.

It follows that the dangers of stigmatising legal practitioners are not limited to the practitioners themselves. They ripple out across the profession and the community at large. Challenging the stigma attached to mental ill health is not just an act of compassion for those who suffer from mental ill health, but is ultimately an act of self-interest. We are all connected. How we treat others contributes to a workplace culture and a community culture that influences how we are in turn treated.

Dr Michelle Sharpe is a barrister practicing primarily in the areas of general commercial and regulatory law. She chairs the Health and Wellbeing Committee at the Victorian Bar.

This article was first published on 29 June 2015, on Right Now and is republished on newlawyerlanguage with the consent of Dr. Sharpe.

Soul searching- a break from survivalism

By Kristy Mantzanidis

Soul Searching

As a new and emerging lawyer, I am passionate and satisfied working in law. I enjoy the daily challenges, stimulation and buzz of being surrounded by likeminded individuals. That being so, it came as somewhat of a surprise when I was given my first task in my current legal placement which was, essentially, to try to find someone who had found their true calling outside of the Law, and to reflect on their story.

I found Jeff Brown.

Acclaimed author and founder of Soul Shaping Institute (SSI) Jeff Brown left the law in order to find his true calling. Born in Toronto Canada, Brown graduated on the Dean’s Honour List, apprenticed with top criminal lawyer Eddie Greenspan and won multiple awards. He was what you would call the “high achieving lawyer”. It was not until he sought to open his own practice that Brown heard a little voice in his head telling him to “stop, just stop”.

“Law is rooted in a survivalist structure, and reflects its very darkest elements”.

After a self-enforced sabbatical from Law, Brown gradually discovered that “real education” happens “inside out”. His philosophy is simple: by connecting with one’s spirituality and studying their inner world, it is possible to reach true potential and learn essential life lessons.

Brown has written several books about spirituality: Soulshaping (2007); Ascending with Both Feet on the Ground (2012) and his third book Love It Forward was released just in time for Valentine’s Day 2014. Brown has also written a series for ABC’s ‘Good Morning America’, appeared on Fox News, radio shows, written blogs, and directed documentaries.

Beyond writing however, Brown had a dream of supporting others in their life journey. As such, he founded the Soulshaping Institute (SSI), an on-line learning centre committed to supporting and educating others on how to find their truest path and purpose. Brown stresses: we are born with tremendous potential yet need help to self-actualise”.  It was with this in mind that he created SSI. An institute that understands the human existence and obstacles ranging from emotional to collective, SSI provides the tools needed to find our most ideal path and offers a range of courses including: education in healing, spirituality and support networks. Of course this is only one of many cases beyond the law.

For me, I do not think I will be venturing out of the law zone any time soon; however I respect that when you embark on a career in the Law, you need to ask yourself: is this where I really should be? If the answer is yes, then great! But if there are doubts then a little journey outside the square can’t hurt anyone. After all, whilst we might all start with one dream, dreams change, and that is okay. As someone very wise once said:

 “The unexamined life is not worth living”- (Socrates)

Links to some of Brown’s projects are provided below:



BottledSnail presents Habeas Chorus’ inaugural concert ‘Luminous’

BottledSnail presents Habeas Chorus' inaugural concert 'Luminous'

By Callum Dawlings

Law can be a cutthroat profession. The performance of music, however, is never cutthroat (ignoring for the moment films like Pitch Perfect). In recognition of Melbourne’s occasionally blinkered attention on sport, music is the ultimate team sport. It is only possible to win with teamwork, but not only that, there is only one team. If there is a winner, you only win together and if you lose, everyone loses. Although law and music might seem dissimilar, each encourages co-operation and community; the legal profession upholds the rule of law for all, and music brings people together to inspire and reinvigorate themselves and others.

I started singing at the start of high school (my voice broke early), where I was roped into a newly formed choir; willing male voices being hard to find in suburban state schools. I ended up completing a Bachelor of Music at the University of Melbourne, specialising in composition. In my first year of studying post-graduate law at La Trobe University, I was the Director of the Queen’s College Chapel Choir at the University of Melbourne, a position that allowed me, while in the midst of the intense study of law, some artistic outlet and communal activity.

I haven’t had the opportunity to sing consistently since then, so I was thrilled when I was able to become involved in BottledSnail’s new choir for the legal profession, Habeas Chorus. It is great to meet lawyers with an interest in music, performing or the arts. Involvement in something (anything) other than black-letter law is important in a profession that can become all consuming. Habeas Chorus’ first concert, Luminous, will be held on Saturday 20 June 2015 at 7pm at St Johns Southgate, Southbank, directed by Dan Walker, and accompanied by Ria Polo and strings from the Melbourne Lawyers’ Orchestra.

The performance of music is an inherently communal behaviour (as is the practice of law). It requires a meeting of the minds of the composer, the conductor, performers (both individually and as a single, collective mind) and the audience. When you are one of those participants, it is necessary to imagine yourself in the place of each of the other participants for the whole endeavour to succeed. Not only does music take you to the minds, experiences, expectations and realities of other people, it also takes you to other times or places.

Habeas Chorus’ first concert will feature Fauré’s superb Requiem, first written in the late 1880s and subsequently revised to include orchestra. It was performed at Gabriel Fauré’s own funeral in 1924. The work is far less gruesome or gloomy than some other Requiems; it is more tranquil and often angelic. Fauré’s idea of death was “as a happy deliverance, an aspiration towards happiness above, rather than as a painful experience”. “Lux perpetua” shines upon the dead. Light is therefore the theme of Habeas Chorus’ first concert. The concert’s opening work is by Norwegian composer Ola Gjeilo entitled Luminous Night of the Soul, written in 2012 for the Cantare Houston. The text highlights the role of the spirit in communal activities, such as music, poetry and love. Although stepping through various styles, the composer maintains consistency over the whole work through impressive harmonic and melodic control. Ben van Tienen, an Australian composer, used the opaque and evocative words of Paul Auster’s White Nights to create a work with obscure, complex and fascinating harmonies and intense rhythmic interest. This is contrasted with John Tavener’s deceptively difficult Song for Athene (performed at the funeral of Princess Diana), the simplicity, clarity and restrained beauty of which is apprehended sharply with the phrase, “life: a shadow and a dream”. Morten Lauridsen’s well-known setting of Sure on this Shining Night with its modest harmonic palate, but flowing and pleasing melody and phrasing will be sure to delight. John Rutter’s A Gaelic Blessing is full of metaphors for peace, which are amply reinforced by the setting, the lower parts serenely supporting a soaring melody from the sopranos. The extensive and diverse repertoire ensures that this will be a wonderful concert, and the beginning of a promising new musical outlet for legal professionals in Melbourne, for participation either as performers or audience.

The legal profession needs new influences and cultural engagement to maintain the confidence of the public. The need for an individual to have a proper balance of work, family and life requires one to try new things and have different experiences, to engage with new people, and expose oneself to new ideas and culture. We hope to see you, your friends and family at the concert, and then at rehearsal next term!

Tickets available at

Callum Dawlings is a Tutor at La Trobe University

How to Handle Difficult Clients in Family Law Proceedings

by Richard Mackenzie


The most difficult part of the family lawyer’s occupation is handling clients’ feelings and emotions during law proceedings, especially dealing with clients in high conflict divorces or child custody cases. As a family lawyer, you accept to take on a difficult client intentionally or without knowing. Such clients may push you to the breaking point if you do not know how to calm them. However, taking certain measures can be used to avoid possible disagreements, conflicts or complaints.

Make your role clear

You are expected to be clear in your representation, but if you are dealing with volatile client your role may not be that clear to them, and therefore you should be ready to explain yourself in a simple and easy to understand way. It is always prudent to be very clear when explaining the roles in order to reduce the chances of misunderstanding arising. Note that people going through these situations can be very angry and emotional and you are required to assist them find the way to overcome the tough moments. You should not take any upset personally, so long as you are doing the job to the best of your abilities. However, volatile and threatening clients should be reminded that this sort of behaviour will not help their case, and may lead to you refusing to represent them.

Be ready to explain things more than once

Be patient when handling a client who is difficult to work with. Always do your best to be clear and calm with them regarding every detail they would like to know. Avoid giving scant information in writing because the more you do so, the more likely there will be conflicts. Therefore, you need to disclose everything to your clients in order to avert possible misunderstandings. Let them know in advance what they should expect concerning their connections with you and your team. This will help them understand when to come to you or your staff whenever they need assistance. Surprisingly, clients of this nature want only to deal with their lawyer on every issue, but not the staff. However, this approach is very expensive and time consuming, not very effective and in most cases unnecessary.

Make Use of Your Staff

Your staff can help you deal with difficult clients, as they can be empathetic and may be a voice of reason, explaining legal terms in laymans language. However, do also make sure your staff are able to handle the client and they are not put in a position where they feel under threat. This happens sometimes because complicated clients are more often hard with the staff than they are with a legal representative. Deal with the matter without delay and openly with the individual you are representing regarding the unsuitable treatment to make sure that the client understands clearly the duty of staff in the representation and to ensure that such behaviour is not repeated in the future.

Be ready to manage the Expectations from the Start

Several clients have expectations that go beyond the services you are offering or the results they expect from you. It is advisable to have a forthright discussion with your clients from the start in order to know their expectations. Sometimes the clients’ expectations are not realistic and thus you should be clear from the beginning that you cannot offer that kind of service. In a situation where you cannot meet the expectations of a client, you can transfer the client to another lawyer or even ask the client to look for another family lawyer.

It is more crucial to be honest with the people you represent if you find that their goals cannot be achieved. When a client cannot accept your evaluation of the issue, then he or she should find another legal representative.


Richard Mackenzie is a senior partner at Eales & Mackenzie, a reputable legal firm in Melbourne, specialising in the areas of commercial law and property law, commercial litigation, wills, estates and estate disputes and family law. He employs a personalised approach to his cases and holds an unrivalled reputation for establishing long-lasting relationships with his clients.

How a bottled snail changed my life

by Jessica Heyes


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:


From lawyer to yoga teacher – my journey of connecting to my heart’s calling

by Lisa Ball


I wanted to be a lawyer from a young age. Initially I was drawn in by the excitement and glamour of TV shows like Law & Order. I would passionately read the closing address I had prepared as lead prosecutor in a pretend court case to my grandfather. In true Ally McBeal style, wearing my mother’s heels and lipstick. Suffice to say I had clear ambitions from an early age!

I studied diligently at school, with steady vision of where I wanted to go. I’ve often wandered what it was that made me so sure I wanted to be a lawyer. I’d be lying if I said it didn’t have to a little to do with the prestige and perceived glamour. But it was much more than that. I had a deep desire to be of service. To give voice to the voiceless. To empower those people most disempowered in society.

After graduating high school I begun an Arts/Law degree at Monash University. While most people would describe their uni days as carefree and fun, I felt anxious about how competitive the legal world seemed. In first year someone told me that if I wanted to get offered Articles at a good firm I would need straight distinctions. Driven by a fear of failure, I worked hard. In my final year I secured Articles at a reputable mid tier firm.

Before starting my Articles I went to Europe for a few months. I found myself in Assisi, Italy, where I did a week long meditation retreat in the breathtaking Italian countryside. Although I come from a family where spirituality is part of daily life, I had never been that interested. On this retreat I connected to something I had not experienced before. I felt a profound sense of joy and peace that emanated from deep within me. It was different to anything I had experienced before because it was not dependent on external conditions. In the past I was happy because of something- a boy, a job, good marks. Up until this point I had lived my life completely at the whim of life’s circumstances. If the boy called, I was happy. If he broke up with me, I was sad. If I went well in exams I was happy, if I had an argument with my best friend I was sad. And so on. My sense of happiness and peace was completely dependent on my external circumstances. And as result I felt uneasy and insecure in myself and about life.

Upon returning to Melbourne I began my Articles. I also continued diving deeper into my meditation and yoga practice. These practices helped me to manage the demands of corporate life.

Although there were aspects to being a lawyer that I enjoyed, I increasingly began to question whether law was the path for me. I was finally ‘living my dream’ and yet I was constantly stressed, anxious and tired. I looked around and saw that although my peers also experienced these issues, the enjoyment of the work and legal culture outweighed the negatives.

Amidst the business of corporate life, I maintained a regular yoga and meditation practice. In my meditations I glimpsed moments of stillness. And in that sweet stillness I connected to a deep knowing that told me I was not on my soul’s true path. This was hard to acknowledge, as I’d spent the last 10 years feeling certain I was on the right path. I derived a sense of identity and purpose from being a lawyer. I had worked hard to get here. How could I give all this up? What would people think? Who would I be if I wasn’t a lawyer?

These questions overwhelmed me. For the next four years I tried my best to reconcile my spiritual path with the legal path. I tried big firm and small firm. I tried different areas of the law, hoping to find my niche. In my final year of practice I worked at the Children’s Court in the area of child protection. I also studied Family Mediation, desperately seeking a sense of fulfilment through my legal work.

Eventually, on the eve of my 30th birthday, the pain of living an inauthentic life became too great. I didn’t want to wake up when I was 40 or 50 and wish that I’d had the courage to make a change. I had no idea what I would do if I wasn’t a lawyer. All I knew was that the pain of living a life not true to my heart was far greater than the fear of the unknown. And so I dived into the unknown and quit my job.

I decided to go to Bali to complete a yoga teacher training. I wanted to further my own yoga practice and hoped that some time away would help clarify what I wanted to do next.

Soon I realised that sharing my passion for yoga with others was my deep heart’s longing. As soon as I completed my training I began teaching yoga in Bali. I lived there for almost 2 years, teaching yoga, leading retreats and sharing my passion for inspired and authentic living.
Recently I have returned to Melbourne where I continue to teach yoga and meditation, as well as lead retreats in Bali several times a year.

I see yoga and meditation as the way to balance the busyness of corporate life. My intention as a yoga teacher is to create a space for people to connect with the deep sense of inner joy and peace that has transformed my life.

Lisa is a former lawyer following a deep heart calling to teach yoga and share her passion or authentic living. She teaches yoga and meditation in Melbourne, Australia and leads retreats in Bali several times a year. Her full teaching schedule in Melbourne and Bali can be found on her website

The Four Things I Learned from Law

by Joseph Kahlil


One of my elusive dreams is to practice law in Australia. I’ve always wanted to take up a litigator’s degree and apprentice at one of the top firms in the Queensland area. I first marveled at law TV series, then started reading about realistic cases of personal injury lawyers and medical negligence experts.

As an advertising-graduate-turned-journalist, I later on found other professions can be equally demanding as that of a litigator’s career. This is true especially when you put passion into what you do. I’ve experienced being sent to seemingly absurd news coverage areas, hoping my pieces would not only satisfy show ratings, but also to send powerful messages to our viewers.

Nights of editing and working with the news team for a piece to air on TV can also take a toll on one’s lifestyle. I was once a morning person, but with the news chasing and shifting schedules, my body clock has become quite erratic.

Law specialisations can also vary and amongst all the literature I’ve read, four values come to mind when practicing law Down Under. You might not need to have lawyering skills, but I found these values are also applicable to any profession. These lessons are handy whether you’re a pastry chef, a gym instructor, a doctor or something else entirely:

  1. Find a mentor

You’ll never know what to expect as you launch out into the challenging world of work. Even the most seasoned practitioners are often unsure about the upcoming trends in their corresponding industries. What’s great about having mentors is they’ve worked longer than you have, which means they’re more experienced to deal with the unpredictable.

Veterans and experts have gone through different scenarios, and the best value you can learn from them is their resilience to face the toughest trials in their jobs. So what makes a good mentor? There are three basic standards you have to include in your checklist:

  • Stellar credentials and track record
  • A match of personalities
  • Shared values

Your mentor should be your Yoda in faring through intergalactic career challenges. Schedule a quarterly, if not a monthly, meet up with him or her and see how listening to seasoned insights can make a difference to your professional path.

  1. Thorough knowledge and research of the company

Not knowing what an organisation stands for is similar to crossing a highway blindfolded. Whether you’re a fresh graduate or an experienced employee who’s looking for greater job opportunities, always make sure to thoroughly research your target organisation.

Lawyers who handle several cases gather as much information as possible before plotting out the main claims they’ll present to win a case. Similarly, you can use the target organisation’s information to your advantage. You’re likely expecting to stay for three to five years with this company and this means the firm will be formative to your professional career in the long run. Its culture will influence the way you work.

Before going to your scheduled appointment, you may want to make a random visit to its vicinity and see how much you like the atmosphere. Don’t hesitate to gather your connections, so you can speak with previous and present employees. See the company’s strengths and weaknesses, then check on how these characteristics align with your professional objectives.

  1. Lawyers need a life outside the court

Getting to the bottom of every case is entails a lot of hard work. Tasks include, but are not limited to, defense sessions, additional consultations with clients, case analysis with associates and drafting out argument strategies.

It puts a lot of pressure on a lawyer knowing the client’s future lies on their hands. This means each and every crevice of a case needs to be gathered to ensure the fullest defense and justice is served.

However, it’s never a good thing if a profession occupies one’s entire life. This can lead to inefficiency, as a litigator gets burnt out in the process. Surely, you have a secondary passion other than your present job. Pursue this on the side. Why not try a sport such as golf or fishing? This can be quite therapeutic and you’ll be more recharged as you resume at court.

  1. Leave the SoAs (Statement of Accounts) to the Billing and Collections Department

At this very moment, take the dollar signs out of your eyes. No client wants to hear you’re just after their money. While it’s true you need to earn a living, you still need to prioritise your client’s welfare above all. After all, this is this is your firm’s  primary purpose. This value should especially be applied to bigger clients, where constant handholding may be required.

As a practitioner of any field, you’ll always aim for the big shots as your top clients. The key to establishing a long term relationship with them is to really know their needs and be ready to address them, even before they’re asked. When all the transactions have been said and done, send your billing department over to separately settle your accounts.

I’m sure every lawyer has his or her share of stories to learn from. Throughout the years of following Court of Appeal cases from the Australian government’s website, news and online releases, these mentioned rules can help you become successful in any industry you choose.

About the Author

Kahlil or Joseph Kahlil was named after Kahlil Gibran – a world-renowned poet and author of “The Prophet.” Following his footsteps, he harnesses his creative juices through poetry, prose, and occasional musings about the “human condition.” As an observer, Kahlil loves to write about technology, legal matters and living green. He’s writing on behalf of MEJ – they have been protecting the rights of injured Canberrans since 1985.

A good review

by Charlie du Bois

a good review

‘This is why you’re the lawyer, mate’ he says, almost mockingly, but sarcasm, comedy generally, insults and gratitude, like beauty, is invariably in the eye of the beholder.

‘And that’s why you’re dressed slicker than possum-shit’ I retort.

But that’s my colleague, lets call him Colleaguatron, he’s my partner in crime within our firm’s large-scale larceny of our peculiar taste in PI law from competing firms and other legal reps.

Not that we’re wholeheartedly and unethically stealing clients, we’re just helping, and borrowing them for a little while and for a purpose others who can’t be bothered with and showing them a trick or two in a field knowing we have the skills that meet the bill(able)s.

But here’s the brief, of which my avid followers of 2retweeters and 4bacefook sharers will have already observed, I’m not yet a practising (yet admitted) lawyer, and my colleague has never seen the inside of a law- lecture/textbook/exam/court/society’s young lawyers’ drunken trivia night. In fact he’s more trained and comfortable in chipping together a you-beaut’ chest’o’drawers than a sturdy, structurally-sound PI file. We operate in a ‘he-sets-’em-up-I-represent-their-legal-concerns’ type of fashion. Ultimately, we’re just two rugged adventurers of plaintiff law making the big cheeses in our new town take a second whiff/thought on whether they could take on our playground of an eerily grey field.

And today, what we’re on the back of is a rare visit from our supervisor, and an almighty pat-on-the-back.

Heaven hath no frivolity than two lunchbox-heroes twirling in grati-fudge.

There was dancing, there was air-guitar duets, there was drinking of concoctions later on that even Hemingway would warn against.

But it is a wonder WHY we rely on these praises to boost us so. We work hard, as in really hard. Long hours, with at times stressful autonomy and travelling 100s and 1000s of kms in spreading the good word (“gargantuan”, amongst others.. (see what I did there?)), do the yards usually covered by assistant and paralegal to finance to practitioner, and do it with sometimes minimal direction and guidance from above our level of the corporate structure.

We do these tasks and roles as assigned, and are self-motivating enough to keep the ball rolling on our own steam, but it’s these praises, as rare as they might be, that truly gets the motivation at it’s peak.

And it makes me wonder further of how this would affect others, and how much people crave this type of praise and professional gratification. As lawyers, we can appreciate doing the hard slogs for distant goals, and it would be unlikely that we would have made it all the way to graduation without that persistence. I would even go as far to say that this would possibly be the defining difference in our attitudes from the rest of Gen-Y (for those that would dare categorise themselves generationally).

And is it ok to cover yourself in a bit of praise, glory or otherwise, if only just for a little while? Isn’t it alright to celebrate the great, as long as you commiserate and learn from the bleak?

Yes. Yes it is, of course it is! And what a terrible article if that was my big point!

But it’s important to know when the occasion marks for each and to what extent. As throughout my very short career, I’ve seen both exploited or ignored and it’s as important as any other skill that could be brought to any career.

For our roles, it’s sometimes shitty tasks, but it’s sometimes 5-course degustation… fo’free. Is this what they mean in work-life talks at WLA events? (See Courtney Brooks’ great article I’m sick of talking about the work/life struggle with no men present if you’re wondering why I’m commenting on WLA events) or apart of the Pursuit of Happyness?

Am I happy, yes, because I like being a part of ‘those guys’, and currently, I’ve made my individual niche to the point of not being left wanting. Is Colleaguatron? Meeeeeyeeeeeahhhhh beeeee. He shares triumphs and still only boxes air and not me in moments of frustration, two positive signs.

Today, we are both definitely happy, we just got our pats on our puppy-dog heads. Are our superiors? I can’t answer, while the praise is nice and comforting, my stained-oak frame is still minus a practising certificate and those sturdy pats aren’t followed-up by something that is going to pay for Colleaguatron’s and my hobbies/habits.

Praise is great, direction is awesome too, but where does actual recognition of hard-work come into it? And what form does it take?

Is THIS my Gen-Y inner-self impatiently complaining now? Or is this something a baby-boomer should have attended to before they developed SAD?

Either way, to the point of this article, at which point of the spectrum of Hockey’s Age of Entitlement (and I’m going to include Expectation too) is today’s young lawyer? A question I hope raises both broader and specific questions for those who read this.

This role I have outlined above can be incredibly fruitful, but can I even trust that all promises will be followed through? Or that next week’s me is going to have the same fortitude as last week to see it through?

Ahhhhh well, time will tell. Until then, I’m off to discuss the degust

The alternative entry-level lawyer

by Charlie du Bois


So I’m sitting in the middle of my admission at the Supreme Court, thinking of the series of announced congratulatory sentiments, both past and impending. I’m looking at my principal lawyer knowing exactly what he’s going to say to attest to my good character to the honourable judges of the bench, and there is a grand spark of absolute pride that must go through all imminently-admitted attendees. We all nostalgically recall the boundless anxieties and full-blown emotional and mental straining sourced from us and that was sustained by those who know them dearly, and remembering the ball of irritable and twitchy obscenity we all experienced, that at times required the keenest of eyes to discern the studious, odorous and wretched shell before them from the personable and warm person they knew previous.

These incredible hurdles surpassed, and a long seven years behind me (I dawdled to admission, to be quite frank) I did however feel conflicted. I already had a job, I was heavily involved and integrated into one of the more recognisable national firms, albeit, a “TodayTonight-appearing” type of firm, and the position actually allowed for quite a bit of travel to conferences and capital cities around our grand country. And through the slightest of clicks, I would be allowed leave whimsically, just like the ludicrous 4-day weekend I attended in Byron Bay for a basketball tournament this past weekend.

But I’m not a lawyer. Admitted as I may be, practising I am not. I’ve been sent magically into uncharted territory for my firm for a particular area of injury law to pick up business where others have failed before me, contracted as a law clerk to first prove myself as an asset.

I tried my hand at the traineeship gig previously, but like any good broken-hearted scumbag, firm and I “mutually” decided we weren’t right for each other.. …

Alas, I threatened departure!! Yes dear reader!! Your rugged protagonist asserted his youthful and brutal boldness, and in his mightiest of man-vocal (see: Whimper) indicated his desire to leave the city to which he called home for the past 7 years, escaping failure of career and relationship alike (the latter is another story you can read on another blog: “The Beautiful women of Charlie du Bois”).

What resulted was an offer I couldn’t refuse. Different role, different city, with a promise within my contract to cover my admission, practice certification, and employ me as a lawyer on the basis of my performance in this new area.

NOW! “Performance?” I hear you mumble. Yes, a good question, and one that is still present within my vocabulary unfortunately. While I entered into this contract full of vim and vigour, excited to get out of the last capital and into another, a raise and moving costs and pretty little clauses and gym-membership and the rest of it, the Smith v Hughes intention of both parties about what “performance” actually involved has been lost in translation through the turnover of superiors and redefinitions by interested parties, which is many considering the interstate nature of my role. Interesting at this point to also note that while I’m pushing for a career-progression from law clerk, that my work goes largely unchecked as I deal with matters, only calling on my interstate supervisor for matters which are immediately overly complex or confronting.

Another concern being that the principal lawyer I mention above, being the ultimate decision maker about my employment as a lawyer, has the same amount or focus/concern on my position as I do about the
brand of toilet paper I buy, even though I love him and his style as much as he’ll call some brown-nose expletive out on being a brown-nose expletive (see what I did there?).

So what to do in a position like this?

Take advantage.

I have worked my sweet-little-tucus off to build up a now impressive client base, spread the word of this unique area of personal injury law, and have penetrated a market which seems needed someone like me to do the hard yards and find the gold in ‘dem ‘der hills.

I spent six months pre-admission doing the 8am-7pm shifts during the week, taking advantage of the autonomy to announce myself in the legal community in my new city, and really take big strides for my self and my firm. And on my weekends, I’ve tried to use my new money and new singledom (again, see blog “tBWoCdB”) and explore this amazing country of ours.

But is that simply all I want? Is that what I studied 5, nearly 6 years to accomplish? This great role and opportunity, unfortunately for me, means little if it means that all that I’ve set out to become is kept from me during an argument concerning a contractual term. There is still no timeline on when I will be employed as a lawyer in my current firm. I have my own timeline though, and plans from A-F, and hopefully that youthful boldness to plunge into the undertaking of plans B onwards if need be.

Family laws and sliding doors

by Mike Wells


Hi to all at NLL. Here is another instalment from me!

It has been on my mind lately that we shouldn’t keep doing things if they don’t work: Life is too short.

My thoughts descended on a poem I learnt whilst idly letting my mind wander for a few years at Uni doing an Arts degree. It is called “In a Station of the Metro” by Ezra Pound and is coming up for its 100th year anniversary – but don’t worry, it has only 14 words!:

The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.

So, life is short. And beautiful. And dark. And everything else in between. And we are constantly observing all of this. So why do we keep doing things, seemingly waiting for someone else to take the lead, when we know there might be a better way?

Now you readers who have caught any of my blogs or indeed spoken to me in the last 5 years will know that I am very much focussed on family law situations and particularly situations of high conflict. So perhaps all you commercial litigators may want to tune out about now?

Hopefully not.

This blog is centred on the struggle for us as a society to find more humane ways of responding to abhorrent and otherwise inappropriate behaviours, without necessarily thinking that lawyers and courts and old school litigation is the only pathway through. I think we can learn a lot by looking at what many might think of as more primitive societies, where a communal, tribal response was the norm.

But for some reason we have not generally valued this approach, and as a society when there is a perceived or actual need to respond we have been more inclined to involve complete strangers in peoples’ lives (be it counsellors, police, lawyers, judges, etc). We then set off on a completely new path, to the “search for truth” and “for revenge” and “to vent our anger and hurt” in a forum where (at least in the family court, and certainly in the minds of many lawyers) it is a battle of attrition rather than looking for and valuing the ability of such ‘strangers’ and others who arguably are more invested in fulfilling such roles. What I am saying here is that we as lawyers should be more mindful about caring for the impact of the process that we are subjecting our clients to (and not forgetting we ask them to pay us for the ‘privilege’ of so doing).

Another point is that we as lawyers (and barristers and judges) seem to chronically under-acknowledge the damage that can be inflicted on a family by bringing them within the institution of the traditional legal system. For example, why do we as a society permit 20-something-year-old law graduates to think they know more about a family and what is appropriate and necessary for the members of a family, just because they know the law? It is not the fault of such lawyers (who are not necessarily only the 20-something-year-olds, either!) by the way, because my point is that potentially many family lawyers have not had the insight or life experience of trauma, tragedy, loss, and basically have not (you might say fortunately!) had to learn the life lessons of truly understanding and appreciating the impact of a badly handled family law matter where thousands of dollars, years of peoples’ lives, and the unknown impact of significant and sustained trauma and stress of emotionally charged litigation has ensued – and most tragically – has actually been encouraged and exacerbated by some lawyers.

Now, I acknowledge that this is a fairly inexact science because without the benefit of overlaying a “sliding doors” (I love that movie, btw) technology, we never see the actual difference between a family that has endured the cut and thrust of litigation, compared with, say the same family engaging in an interdisciplinary team collaboration. But I say why should we keep this cycle of potential damage spinning along, when it is arguably easier and more humanistic to (say) reverse the thinking and forcibly direct all family law clients to work with lawyers who have been accredited with skills and abilities to work with other professionals in a co-ordinated framework and structure that is geared toward building foundations for the future, instead of going to war?

Why can’t we take lawyers and courts out of the traditional dynamic and instead respond to family and couples who are experiencing the trauma of a separation by recognising the inherent value of using psychologists; financial advisors; counsellors; child experts AND lawyers (but to name a few) to respond in a holistic family focussed way that is consistent with the notion of cherishing and valuing the beauty of children and of a society that genuinely cares for the individuals within it.

So my message is to be a good lawyer, for sure, but don’t ever forget the bigger picture.