What you See is What you Get

17384594_m

by Arna Delle-Vergini

This actually happened.

Just before Christmas I was arriving home from work and as I pulled up in front of my house I saw a young man, approximately aged fifteen, entering my house and pulling the security door quickly behind him. He was tall, thin, and clearly adolescent with scraggy blond unwashed hair, very thin gangly limbs and wearing a bright fluorescent pink singlet and board shorts. I only managed to get a glimpse of him before he entered the house but it was enough of a glimpse to know that he definitely was not one of my nephews and, since I don’t know any other teenage boys, it rather seemed to me that he had no right to be there.

I quickly sprung into action and called 000. I was immediately told a car was on its way and not to enter the house. Of course I was not going to enter the house! I didn’t even feel comfortable in my car so opted instead for crouching behind the car and peering through the driver’s window. I reasoned that I could bolt if he came out of the house whereas if I was in the car, I might fumble with keys; struggle to start the car, all sorts of things could go wrong. The police hadn’t yet arrived when I saw the same teenage boy walk out the side door into my garden. I saw the top of his head over the fence. “What’s he doing in the yard?” I asked myself. I decided that he was going to carry all of the electronic goods out into the yard, protected from onlookers by the fence, and then ultimately leave through the side gate. Of course! That’s what I would do if I were committing a burglary on a house like mine! I felt a little bit proud of him.

When the police arrived I told them that he was out in the garden and I gave them the keys. There was a male and a female officer. Both were well kitted out with guns and batons and capsicum spray. I was surprised to see them wearing bullet vests. (‘Is there going to be a shootout?’ I thought. ‘Good god, I’d rather just forego the electrical goods.’) But by this stage it was well out of my hands. The male police officer took up position at the left side of the property where the front door was and the female took up position by the side gate. She ducked down so that the offender couldn’t see her and peered through a gap in the gate before quickly ducking down again. She must have seen him straight away!

This was all getting a bit much for me. Crouched low behind my car, I considered, quite seriously, just leaving the cops to their business and hitting my local for a glass of prosecco. What I did not want – what I was quite sure I could not cope with – was to watch the police arrest an emaciated teenage boy, drag him out in cuffs and then throw him in the divvy van. As much as I wanted to avoid watching that spectacle, I decided to stay. After all, I would be a handy witness in the event of any potential ‘police brutality’. A strange thought, I am aware, given that the police were there to protect me.

At that point the policewoman departed (one would presume) with the usual protocol by calling out to me rather loudly and completely blowing my cover: “Are you sure it’s a male?” she yelled.

“Of course I’m sure it’s a male” I yelled back from behind my car, really annoyed that she’d given my location away.

The police woman peered over my fence again: “Are you absolutely sure?”
(Really, are we even having this conversation?) “Yes, yes, absolutely sure.”

Then slowly, in a moment which I am unlikely to forget in a long time, my side gate slowly creaked open and out walked my five foot nothing, blond, Swedish cleaner holding a broom. “Can I help you?” she demanded of the policewoman, incredulously. The policewoman turned to me with an expression that probably should have been sheer contempt but was more a kindly intentioned bemusement. Had I only kept seated in the car I could have swung into gear and just nonchalantly driven off, pretending to know nothing of the odd affair my cleaner had found herself in. However, I had to suffer the indignity of suddenly stepping out from the car and greeting Anita (not her real name) with a casual “Oh hey, how you going? So got a funny story to tell you!”

To their credit, the police were very kind about the whole thing. I apologised profusely but they just laughed and said, “no worries”. I got the sense that they were relieved they had avoided a confrontation. Even Anita could see the humour in it all. I, on the other hand, was utterly mortified.

How could I have seen a tall, gangly, pimply, adolescent boy with cropped hair when in reality my cleaner is pushing five foot, with a high pony tail of very clean blonde hair, and was wearing tracksuit pants at the time, not board-shorts at all? The only part of the description I had gotten right was the fluorescent pink singlet.

Of all people, I should know about the fallibility of eyewitness testimonies. I, of all people, should know that we are in the process of interpreting our memories at the precise time that they are being formed. Memory is an utterly creative act. It is never a picture of exactly what happened that we just replay in our mind at will. It is constantly evolving and this is particularly so the more we tell the story or our remembered event. Good god! I’ve dined out on this story so many times now I can’t even say: “this actually happened” with any sense of surety at all. In that way, we are all a bit like the Golux – we make things up you know.

The question then becomes, well why did I make up the story of the teenage boy committing a burglary on my house? I knew that my cleaner was coming over. Why didn’t I see that person at the door and tell myself that’s Anita? Instead, I became convinced, in the blink of an eye, that it was an unknown male. I even added bits of information that clearly was not there including the short, shaggy hair. I believe I saw in that person what I expected to see. And, as a woman who has been practicing in criminal law and associated areas for over fifteen years now, what I expected to see was a criminal. It’s kind of a bit sad isn’t it?

Bias comes into play every single time we observe an event and every time we remember it. Despite my exposure to how fallible and misleading eyewitness events are, I was no different than anyone else in the same situation. Potentially, I was even worse because I have bias x 1000 as a result of my occupation. The take away lesson for me is to look more clearly, take more time to question my perceptions and certainly, count to ten before I ever call 000 again. The shame of it!

Law as a Healing Practice

30796686_m

By Joel Orenstein

Buddhist imagery refers to compassion as being like one wing of a bird. She needs the other wing of wisdom in order to fly.

When I first decided to study an undergraduate law degree, I had made a very conscious decision, at the age of 26, to use law to strive to work for the benefit of others. At that time I had been working in refugee advocacy, and was in the fortunate position to be able to dedicate my energies to the study of a discipline that could be of assistance, on a very practical level, to those most in need.

After finishing my studies, whilst I saw others go down the traditional pathway in the law to the big firms, I never had any interest in such work. Instead I actively sort work in “poverty law” – entering the Community Legal Centre world by undertaking my articles year at Fitzroy legal Service before moving across to Victorian Aboriginal Legal Services and working in indigenous advocacy.

This was a time in my life defined by a very clear delineation in my mind between those worthy of fighting for, and the dominant power structures that needed fighting against. This dichotomy between good and evil was at the forefront of my world, and was also the backdrop of my values-based approach to lawyering that in some ways has stayed with me throughout.

During this time I sort to define myself by the type of work I did and the clients I worked for. I called myself an “activist lawyer” to distinguish myself from the self-serving and money-motivated lawyers that dominated popular culture. I identified myself with my peers working in the community sector and Legal Aid – underpaid, overworked, but righteous and proud, working for good.

You would think that working with the motivation to be of benefit to others would sustain a healthy and long career in the law. Unfortunately in my experience this is not the case, as I have witnessed many of my colleagues who have either dropped out, are miserable in their work or live with a high degree of conflict or dysfunction.

Why is it that so many of us, motivated to assist others, as not travelling so well? I know from my own case I nearly did not make it. Although perhaps outwardly my actions could have seemed compassionate and caring to others, inwardly I was terribly conflicted by righteous indignation, anger, burnout and an inflated sense of self. I would invest so much of myself in positive outcomes for clients and would suffer terribly with each tragedy or injustice that presented before me. The suffering seemed so cruel and unjustified, caused by fear and greed. I became angry with the world and those who did not share my view of it, and despairing of my inability to change it.

A decade on, and although I continue working for the same client groups dealing with much the same issues, coming up against the same power structures, somehow I have come to find peace in myself and in my work. Don’t get me wrong, I certainly have my off days, but generally I am able to find equanimity and joy in what I do. And I seem to be doing good work.

So what has changed? Over the years, with a developing wisdom, I have changed emphasis in the way that I work. Now I practice law consciously in a therapeutic way. Although I still have a certain legal outcome that I am working towards, there is an awareness of focus on the moment-to-moment process of working with clients and others within the judicial system. This involves an emphasis on mindful communication and presence, and at the same time recognising and acknowledging my own suffering and reactivity as they arise.

The result for me has been that I now work with greater balance. My prejudices have softened, relationships improved and I have much greater understanding of a positive way to facilitate change. I do not avoid conflict, and am much better able to judge when to stand strong or when to be conciliatory. Emotional awareness means that I recognise when I am heightened, angry, anxious or upset, and my emotional state does not have the same heaviness to direct my experience.

Generally therapeutic jurisprudence has looked at changing legal systems to facilitate therapeutic outcomes, as opposed to the looking at the way to work as a therapeutic lawyer within the system. My experience, however, has been that unless legal practitioners practice consciously in a therapeutic way, the prospect of therapeutic outcomes is greatly lessened.

Practicing law with motivation to work for others and instigate change without wisdom is like trying to fly with one wing. We must develop and practice insight and wisdom in the way we work, as otherwise we are bound to crash and burn.

This is moment to moment, and with practice, inevitably impacts in a positive way not only the outcomes of legal problems, but is also the source of great healing, both for others and oneself.

Wake Up Call

-1

It was four am when I realised I hated my job.

Four am when I first seriously considered that maybe I didn’t want to be a lawyer anymore.

I was sitting alone at my desk, marooned in the darkened silence of the vast open office waiting for my Partner to give me new instructions or (I hoped) let me go. Limbo in the twilight zone of the witching hour.

You develop a strange mindset in Big Law. If someone had told me even eighteen months prior that I’d be sitting around in the early hours of the morning waiting for someone to tell me I could go home at 4am I would have laughed. Would have told them not to be silly, that as soon as the work was done I would’ve been outta there like a shot (if not before, let’s be honest). I had been a firm adherent to the eight-hour day.

And yet there I was, resting my head on that evening’s stack of discarded drafts, unheeding of the red ink transferring to my cheek in bloody caress. Staring at the closed glass door, willing it to open.

My Partner had been closeted away for what seemed like an eternity. Important client. Billion-dollar deal. Something about the tax treatment. It always came down to the tax treatment. I could see him through the clear but impenetrable barrier, furrowed brow furrowing further over an over-long nose, the fluttering of my eyelids rendering the whole face demonically distorted.

And it was here, eyelids drifting, body slumped, that I realised I hated my job. I hated that it kept me bone tired and tied to office furniture at all hours. I hated that I had become familiar with stress sleeping (an involuntary cousin to the cat nap, it is hallmarked by the sudden jolt of consciousness when your body’s exhaustion no longer outweighs the constant heavy fear of being found kipping on the job). I hated that I had stopped making plans for weeknights so that I wouldn’t have to cancel last minute due to the euphemistic ‘work’. I hated that I was so tired and overemotional that I regularly cried in the disabled bathroom (in an open plan office, these quickly become the unintended havens of privacy).

But most of all, I hated that my Partner was still there too.

Having hit his hallmarked time for a mid-life crisis earlier that year, he had given nearly thirty of his waking years to the firm. And there he was, sitting head slumped in hands at four am while overseas clients in time zones more conducive to comprehension and consciousness berated him for the minor errors that sneak between the pages when you don’t have the attention to keep them out.

I hated that he would talk incessantly about the importance of family, of his love for his three young children, and yet, if he made it home for dinner one night out of five it was in positive aberration. I hated the realisation that he, like me, was still working for the weekend.

Because surely, surely, thirty years should have changed that?

Surely, surely, that was why we will bought in?

The premise that you worked hard (too hard, ludicrously hard) on the promise that there would be a time you wouldn’t. That there would be a time where you would have clients who trusted and respected you and you would have others (underlings, minions, serfs) to support you in providing duly timed services to those clients while you saw the family you delayed for a decade.

For this was the Promised Land of Partnership.

I don’t know when it changed or if it ever was. But I know many of the parched lips hungrily drinking from the poisoned well, unaware that salvation is saline. For in a world of stagnant demand but thriving competition there is no point on which laurels can be rested. Not even for a moment. Not even at four am.

And so you keep working for the weekend. And that realisation, that my fifty-year old Partner was still in the same boat as I (albeit with flashier brass fittings and leather seats), was the semi-conscious realisation that broke my already wavering belief in Big Law. Because followed quickly on its heels was the realisation that if the job never changes, never becomes less demanding, less needy, then something’s gotta give right?

And that something is you. It is your weeknights. Your weekends. Your expectations of boundaries. Your ability to say no. Your perception of what working hard is. By the time I left I didn’t think I was working hard. I knew I was working more than I wanted to, but I did think that was because I was selfish and lazy. It seemed normal to have less than six hours between when you finished and when you came back. It seemed luxurious to have eight. It seemed weak to complain.

And these were the thoughts I had in the dark wasteland of empty desks. And it was after five am when I left. And it was just after nine am that I came back.

And I didn’t think about the thoughts I’d had for another month.

Henrietta Farrelly-Barnett

This blog and original artwork is a re-print with permission from the author. It originally appeared July 27, 2015 on Henrietta’s own website http://www.redlipswhitechina.com/

Domo Arigato, Mister Roboto (Esq.)

9137433_m

By Dean R P Edwards

“My lawyer’s such a lifeless tool” might be soon closer to the truth as the day approaches when your lawyer (or at least their paralegals) may well be tools.

By tools, I mean machines. Computerised, automated workers, part of a wave of technological innovation that promises to sweep in the real “Knowledge Economy”. And that day’s not too far off, if recent reports are to be believed. Continue reading

In Praise of Doing Nothing

inpraiseofdoingnothing

 

By Stephen Tang

With the late arrival of streaming video services to Australia (legally, at least), we never got to use the phrase “Netflix and chill” in its plain and ordinary meaning. The success of its transformation into a slightly creepy euphemism probably depended on its original innocence: the joy of passive entertainment and the joy of switching off by switching on.

For a time, “Netflix and chill” succinctly gave fresh expression to a certain kind of pleasure which I fear is on the verge of extinction: doing nothing. Well, not quite nothing, but a restorative retreat to a comfy state of rest.

We’re of course all different in what this looks like. It may be watching an entire season of a show (it’ll take 1 day and 22 hours if you want to catch up on all of Breaking Bad), re-reading a trashy novel, cooking up some comfort food, or planting tomatoes in the spring. It’s not necessarily about alone time either, although as an introvert that’s where I find myself most often.

Idle restoration could also be found in the familiar rhythm of a regular catch-up with old friends, or unrushed and agenda-less time with your partner. Those with higher baseline levels of activity might find their default rhythm in a familiar run or gym routine.

What’s in common is that returning to this state is something that comes so naturally, so effortlessly and so mindlessly. There’s nothing particularly novel, demanding or even memorable about the activity. Indeed, what can be an effortful act of choosing what to do vanishes altogether through habit and familiarity, or by having choices made for you. Time passes with languid ease, and we feel refreshed afterwards. Continue reading

Workplace Infidelity – the Acceptable Affair.

Look, I don’t hold myself out to be an expert on these matters but usually when people marry, they intend for their marriage to last forever. We don’t expect the bride and/or groom to recite their vows promising to be true for better, for worse, for richer, for poor, in sickness and in health – well, at least until they get a better offer!” If that were the case, it would be hardly worth the effort would it? I ask this almost (but not quite) rhetorically. With divorce rates as they are, one could be forgiven for being cynical about some people’s motivations to marry, or at least cynical of any realistic appraisal of their own capacity to actually remain in a marriage.

But I digress.

We are I believe – in spirit anyway – a faithful or, at least, fearful species. We need to have some belief that our current situation will last, or else we feel too insecure to go about the business of living. We depend on a feeling of permanency in order to relax and get the job done. I’m not being critical of this by the way. I think it’s incredibly important. People who constantly worry that the sky is going to fall in on them are not terribly productive people. Unless they are in the workplace. The workplace is a very different creature to marriage and here is why.

I think it is accepted now that almost all of us will have many jobs in our lifetime. There is always the odd Gina Reinhardt but, heiresses aside, most of us will seek out various positions over the course of a career, or, indeed, be sought out for various positions. So it follows that every time we start a new job we need to be conscious of the fact that it is unlikely to be a marriage made in heaven; even if it feels like that to begin with. In short, we are in it for a good time not a long time.

This is worth pointing out because I mentor a lot of new lawyers – many of whom happily state that they will never leave their current workplace; they are far too happy where they are. These new lawyers are in the honeymoon period of their employment sure, but they truly believe what they are saying. This is lovely. But also a little misguided and it can actually operate to their detriment.

If you are in a reasonably secure workplace, I’m afraid you still need to reserve a small corner of your heart for the inevitable prospect of infidelity. More than that, I would advise you to make it your mission to look around – are their other positions in other organisations that catch your eye? Great! Then work towards those positions by utilizing the training opportunities in your current workplace. Keep in mind you need to be completely on top of your own professional development in order to be competitive in the marketplace; not just in the broader marketplace, but also in the smaller marketplace, i.e. within the organization in which you work. Are you happy where you are right now? Great! But don’t stop up-skilling, networking or looking around generally. To do so would just be to ignore the reality of the modern workplace.

“What about loyalty to my employer?” I hear you ask. Loyalty to your employer is absolutely critical but it doesn’t involve a commitment to ‘everafter’. Loyalty to your employer only requires that you be thoroughly engaged in your work, the organization’s ethos, and your own professional development whilst you are in their employ.

So how do you make sure you are eminently employable at all times no matter whose employ you are in? I advise all new lawyers (all lawyers actually) to engage in the following 6 core activities as a minimum:

  1. Create a LinkedIn account if you do not already have one. LinkedIn allows you to essentially have your curriculum vitae on-line for prospective employers to see. You can add to your CV as you go which keeps it current. Record all of your achievements. Add links to any articles you publish. Ask people to endorse you for various skills.
  2. Establish some sort of on-line presence. To be eminently employable you need to stand out from the crowd in some way. You can utilize LinkedIn for an on-line presence too but you can also blog or twitter, publish informative articles online or contribute to websites that cover your areas of interest.
  3. Specialise if you can. You ultimately want to be the ‘go to’ person on a particular topic, area of law or for a particular valued skill.
  4. Network. Network. Network. Never stop networking. Network outside of your organization too.
  5. Be involved in something greater than your immediate job; whether this means joining an advisory committee within the institution you work in but not necessarily related to your position, or sitting as a board member of another organization.
  6. Constantly develop yourself. You need to do 10 points of Continuing Legal Education each year. Double that. Or triple it. Don’t see yourself as someone who does the bare minimum to develop professionally. Being in an organisation puts you in a unique position to actively increase your skill sets via training and attendance at conferences (free) whilst still undertaking the work you are paid to do.

These activities will make you eminently employable at all times. And, the advantage is that it keeps your employer pretty keen on you too. Don’t you worry – they’re watching you – and the more you stand out as being thoroughly engaged, devoted to your professional development, capable of networking and, essentially, making their organisation look good, the more they will work to find creative ways to keep you there. This potentially means more money, more perks and a greater variety of work on offer.

That being said, don’t be surprised if you leave anyway. Even in the best of marriages, sometimes, one person feels that there is a different journey out there for them and that their lives will somehow not be complete unless they pursue it. In the workplace context, other journeys are inevitable as you develop and grow. And whilst potentially fatal to a marriage, different journeys are actually a healthy and sustainable part of every career.

Lawyers of the world unite – trade unions and the legal profession

by Phoebe Churches

Chains

Lawyers and Unions+

When I say ‘lawyers and trade unions’ in the same breath, you might immediately think of one of the big labour law firms. You know, the firms which have historically backed the union movement and focused on employment law – for other workers. Indeed that is an interesting history…but perhaps for another time. This time I want to talk about lawyers and trade union representation.

There is a great deal of commentary on the eternal work-life balance battle in the legal profession. Is it particularly bad for lawyers or are we lagging behind in this area?

It would be overstating it to say that the battle has been won in other fields, however the trade union movement has been collectivising and fighting on a number of fronts in the battle for work-life balance since early last century. Trade unions were originally started by workers to collectivise and create a stronger voice in the workplace to improve a range of conditions, not just for themselves, but also for other non-unionised workers.

When you think of our current struggle for work-life balance in the legal profession, you might also consider how life was for all workers before the 8-hour day, holiday and sick pay, superannuation, workers’ compensation and equal pay for equal work. Yes, that was your friendly trade union achieving all that.

So where is the lawyer’s union? There is a Finance Sector Union, a union for any number of other professionals – including engineers, pharmacists, airline pilots and scientists.

A bit of research uncovers that there once was a specialist union for lawyers employed in the public service at least – the Australian Government Lawyers Association which existed from 1974 – 1991, to eventually be subsumed by the CPSU, the Community & Public Sector Union. Now there is nothing.

So why is there no union for legal professionals in Australia? The Law Institute of Victoria and similar associations across the country fulfil some functions of a union – they have information on work-life balance on their website, which is great… but that’s it. If you work in the Community Legal Sector, you have the Federations of CLCs to provide collectivised advocacy and support for vital issues in the sector such as funding and promotion of the CLC model. There is no specific focus on the conditions of its workers, however.

There is also no body to campaign for private employers to improve their conditions and implement good work-life balance policies. There is no representation in enterprise bargaining to improve conditions and entitlements throughout the workplace. Yes, many legal professionals are self-employed, but so very many also work in large firms. So who is looking out for the vulnerable in these firms: those with family responsibilities, people with health problems and other issues which put them at a relative disadvantage?

Currently – that’s all up to the individual. At least at the moment. Unfortunately historically –  without collectivising – changes to these fundamental conditions in the workplace have not come easily (or at all).

In the UK this seems to be changing. There is a fledgling group setting up a Legal Workers’ Trade Union. They aim to ‘forge a unified profession and establish better working environments’ and ‘fight for fairness and equality across the industry’.

If that sounds like a good idea to you – maybe it’s time we collectivised and set one up here in Australia?

You have nothing to lose but your chains billable hours.

 

 

+A tip o’ the pen to Mr Dean R P Edwards for suggesting this topic

Mind our Words Redux

Speak plainly.

By Dean R P Edwards

It’s not often that an amateur scribe like your humble author receives free, unsolicited advice on his writing. But Mr Robert Angyal of Queen’s Counsel has come to the aid – in this instance – of my Queen’s English!

His tool: Plainglish (“Plain English” for the uninitiated — OK, that’s my term; check out Robert’s earlier post on lawyers’ lexicon). The patient: a blog post of mine and middling quality (I said I was humble) from 19 June 2015, which is republished here, in the left-hand column below.

Wielding with deft precision the fine cut of the scribal scalpel, Robert has trimmed the verbiage from my textually beleaguered post to expose the lean, plain English beneath. As The Bard would have written, “If it were said when ’tis said, then ’twere well it were said plainly.

The challenge: could I make Robert’s translation of English any plainer? The task may be in the offing…

Without further ado, New Lawyer English presents “Mind Our Words Redux, or, Two Variations on a Theme of Plainglish”. Enjoy.

“Mind Your Words”
By Dean Edwards

It might not occur to one, at first thought, that all lawyers are multilingual: we speak English and a very peculiar dialect that, for convenience sake, I call law.Law is as much about rules and procedure as it is about language, and we might take for granted that, besides all of the Old French and Latin jargon, lawyers speak in an English where argument and precision are deliberately reinforced in how we choose words, formulate sentences and speak to others within the legal system.

Our use of language might be by the by in our working lives, but lawyers need to be conscious of not only how language is used, but how it is understood.

This reflective practice is critically important when dealing with clients, the majority of whom live lives in blissful ignorance of the meaning of propounding the contract, or the balancing of probative value and prejudice. There is skill in talking to, and not at or above, the uninitiated.
Technicalities don’t need to be dressed up in nineteenth century turns of phrase to be concise and constructive. (Although lawyers do look sharp in their nineteenth century costumes.) Translation into plain English then is important. And consciously adjusting our language for the layperson has an additional and particularly valuable benefit: we can make our legal language more accessible, clearer and more democratic.

Recently, I had the opportunity to put the above into practice.

Teaching alongside fellow lawyers and legal academics in a program run by Melbourne Free University, I introduced a class of asylum seekers and refugees to core ideas in the theory and practice of law. Our material covered as much ground as a one hour, once a week class can across seven weeks, starting from the basics of law in Australia (how law is made, for instance) to the finer instruments of commercial, criminal and international law.

Classes generally attracted between 20 and 30 students, and there was a team of English tutors as well. Students, the vast majority of whom had no legal background, enjoyed immersing themselves in not only English but the language of the law, made plain and approachable.

Experiences of this kind are crucial, for a general population that deserves access to legal system and an understanding of that system’s workings, and for lawyers. It was equally rewarding and instructive, as we honed our ability to translate law. No small feat when handling a highly technical craft, with its principles and reasoning!

The more reflective we are on our profession, the more we can build a relationship and uphold our responsibility to public.

Translation into Plain English
By Robert Angyal QC

You might not have realised that lawyers speak more than one language. They speak English and, also, a very peculiar dialect of English that I call Law.The law consists of rules and procedures, which must be expressed in precise language. Because of this, when lawyers speak in Law to other lawyers, or make legal arguments, they consciously try to be precise. They choose words and structure sentences with care. Sometimes, they use old French and Latin terms that have specific meanings in Law.

Lawyers must be aware that, while it’s OK to speak Law to other lawyers, non-lawyers might not understand Law.

This awareness is critically important for lawyers when dealing with clients. Most clients don’t speak Law and thus are blissfully ignorant of the meaning of Law phrases like propounding the contract or balancing probative value against prejudice. Because of this, it requires skill to talk to non-Law speakers in terms they can understand.

There are two skills needed to translate Law into plain English: (1) expressing technical ideas concisely and constructively; and (2) (while barristers look sharp in their 19th-century costumes) avoiding dressing up our language in 19th-century turns of phrase. While consciously translating Law for non-lawyers is challenging, it produces a particularly valuable additional benefit: It can make Law itself more clear and thus more accessible to non-lawyers.

I recently had a chance to test whether this theory worked in practice.

Teaching alongside fellow lawyers and legal academics in a program run by Melbourne Free University, I introduced a class of asylum seekers and refugees to core ideas in the theory and practice of law. The classes were an hour long, given weekly for seven weeks. In the time available, we covered as much ground as possible, from basic legal questions (such as how law is made in Australia) to complex concepts of commercial, criminal and international law.

Usually between 20 and 30 students turned up. Very few of them had a legal background. With a team of English tutors to help them, the students enjoyed immersing themselves not only in English but also – once it was made plain and approachable – in the language of the law.

Everyone deserves to understand how the legal system works and to have access to it. So, for non-lawyers, experiences of this sort are very important. The lawyers involved honed our ability to translate Law into English. Given the highly technical principles and reasoning involved, this was no small feat! As a result, the experience was equally instructive and rewarding for us.

The take-away lesson? The more conscious we lawyers are of the need to communicate clearly, the better we can relate to non-lawyers and satisfy our professional duty to the public.

Lawyers’ Mental Health ‘a Life and Death Issue’

Victorian committee members with TJMF board members - Erandathie Jayakody, Max Paterson, Marie Jepson, Jacqui Pitt and Jeremy Hyman (Photo: Sagona Photography)

Victorian committee members with TJMF board members – Erandathie Jayakody, Max Paterson, Marie Jepson, Jacqui Pitt and Jeremy Hyman (Photo: Sagona Photography)

 

By Dean R P Edwards

The recently appointed Honourable Associate Justice Mary-Jane Ierodiaconou keynoted the Tristan Jepson Memorial Foundation’s annual lecture held at Monash Law Chambers last Tuesday, October 6, 2015.

TJMF co-founder Marie Jepson, Tristan’s mother, introduced her Honour to a packed room Tuesday night. Jepson also highlighted the Foundation’s mental health guidelines for the profession, saying the guidelines “provide a unique opportunity to leaders who want to leave a legacy and help to forge a new path”.

Her Honour spoke on the theme of “Inspiring Change: Creating a Positive Workplace”, drawing on her experience as a founding partner at law firm Justitia and, in particular, in encouraging lawyers to adopt an “ethics of care” in the workplace.

Her Honour said the legal profession had focused on individual resilience to date while “structural issues need addressing”. Continue reading

A Day in the Life of a Criminal Defence Lawyer

24259101_m

By Jack Leitner

We can all attest to having watched one or a number of crime dramas or movies on prime time television. Central to these dramas are not only the suspects and the police who try to catch them, but also the lawyers who star in televised court room drama. The ruthless badgering of witnesses, questions littered with multiple propositions and, in the case of American dramas, getting in the face of witnesses or the jury are all too often scenes in all manner of crime dramas.

Many are led to believe that lawyers only have a select handful of cases within their practice and that their work is confined almost exclusively to the courtroom.

The stark reality, however, is very different. What does a criminal lawyer really do? Is it really like what you see on television or on movie screens? I’ll take you on a journey about what really goes on behind the scenes in the life of a criminal defence lawyer. Continue reading