Why I lawyer

by Dean R P Edwards

dean blog

Some sing, some paint, others do data entry, I write.

But I write with some purpose, of course, and there is nothing out of the ordinary in that. In my current situation, I am not, however, just a writer. I am a graduate lawyer by practice, though not necessarily by intention.

Had you asked me four months ago would I have expected myself to be working in a small law firm, enthused to wake up early each day to tackle the daily grind of letters and pleadings and everything in between, I’d have said no.

Simple as that. Not in the widest, chanciest guess would I have entertained an affirmative reply. Yet here I find myself positively enthralled with the daily work I do. I suppose, lawyering or not, I am foremost a writer and there is something to legal language that piques my interest.

I came to the law as a student just over three years ago, at Melbourne Law School. I had previously worked several years in journalism and government service, when I realised that I was just not satisfied with either line of work.

In the case of journalism, that realisation was likely mostly due to the fact that newspapers were a dying industry, and that fact was plainly obvious. I was rather taken in my journalism, which stems from my longtime career in writing for papers and student publications. Writing is in my lifeblood; the love of words and interest in constructing and deciphering text are second nature to me.

But there is only so much my career as a reporter could withstand the near-poverty line wage and substantial student debts. I had to undertake my first career move because of factors outside of my control, in addition to my reluctance to continue writing that just did not reach my personal standard.

Shifting careers caused me to rethink what effect I wanted my writing to have. Journalism is a critical enterprise, but my heart wasn’t in the long hours and low pay. To my chagrin, I never gained the personal courage to write essays in my spare time; what there was of it. Perhaps a more engaged life as a writer would have encouraged me to stay in the profession, notwithstanding the living on the margins as an indebted servant.

By way of friendly connections, I entered several contracts with the U.S. Government in Washington, D.C., and I had my first exposure to working within the behemoth of public service. Now, I will be among the last ones to criticise government service, but it was, for better or worse, just not for me. As I said before, some can crunch data and churn out white papers and memoranda; for me, it was all a tad overwhelming.

Something else was niggling at the back of my mind. I found that, as a government writer, I was a step removed from any actual intellectual role in the work before me. Memoranda went through lawyers for information and refinement; I was a mere assembly line technician. So, to an extent, I told myself, let’s move up a step.

Incidentally, I was also weighing a move back to Australia at that point. That was the major change I was considering to make, a break from my past in the U.S., where I lived for nearly two decades, and a return to my place of birth and early residence. Entering law school was in some respect my excuse for such a daring ploy in my quarter-life crisis, and so when I was admitted to Melbourne Law School, I felt some purpose for finally engaging with the law.

It wasn’t the first time I toyed with the idea of a life in the law. I had participated in Mock Trial during high school and my first couple years of undergrad. But I had dispelled the notion that as a lawyer I could effect the sort of change I sought in society; better I was a journalist or, even more so, a novelist! Everyday concerns and, to be honest, everyday diversions had nonetheless got the better of me.

Now, entering law school at the age of twenty-four, with some years of worldly experience under my belt, I turned my attention to what interests I had in the law.

My political persuasions naturally drew my interest to human rights and humanitarian law, and my previous university training in history led me to investigate legal questions in light of their social and political context. Despite the onslaught of assignments and absolutely, awfully stressful examinations, I made it through law school with some great insights into the human condition and how our society functions. All in all, I consider that worth my while.

In the last couple months of law school, I found myself working on a project for the small firm I incidentally now work for full-time. At the time, I would have had no words to describe my interest in estates and probates, loan agreements and notices of default, even the simplest of client letters! But the law is a ripe venture for a student of language fond of words and meanings, and it took this brief experience in that environment for the light to finally switch on, I’m a lawyer!

So today I consider myself a writer working in the law. A solicitor’s job is frankly not too different from the responsibilities of a good journalist or public servant, or even a good writer, in my opinion: it is to serve the public interest. That public interest is different for each of us, but it is how we conceive of our own roles and our place in society. Our duty demands our attention to the language and procedure of our work; to author and refine beneficial judicial power for the public good, and that takes dedicated writing.

Perhaps somewhere down the line I might just save enough to write that novel, too.

This blog was highly commended in our Bloody Monday’s unpacking a lawyer competition in April.

Tubas & Tiaras

by C.C McGarva

Tubas and Tiaras

We wouldn’t have been friends if it weren’t for band. She was a year younger than me, and wore a faded school dress. I had polished Clarkes and my own clarinet. The clarinet was purchased as an advanced Christmas present in the belief that music helped the right and left side of the brain communicate. Sandy had wanted to join band because that’s what the smart kids did; and if she was going to join band, she might as well go big. She chose the tuba.

The only problem with the tuba was that she couldn’t carry it to and from school. Previous tuba players never had this problem. Their mothers waited diligently at the school gate for them, unloading their children’s burden upon their arrival. I took my brother’s skateboard and brought it to school the next day. The band teacher, Mr. Shijari, helped us bolt the tuba case to the weathered board.

She looked like a roadie, guiding the tuba across the zebra crossing, down the curved road, across Mr. Jones’ impeccable lawn, and through our secret walkway into McDonald Place. I felt guilty, being able to freely swing my clarinet whilst Sandy maneuvered the black crackled case like an unwieldy trolley.

Once we reached McDonald Place, we said goodbye at the invisible border. My parents and other young families privately purchased the houses at the beginning of the street some 20 years ago. The blocks were generous and backed onto untouched bush land. Each year, the bush land receded like an aging hairline.

My house was the fourth house along McDonald Place. It sat on the top of the curve in the road. The road rapidly steepened and pooled into a cul-de-sac. For those who were game, the cul-de-sac was an abrupt end to many bike races, spurring graveled knees and visits from the tooth fairy.

Sandy lived right in the nook of the cul-de-sac. Mum and Dad protested when the NSW Labor government approved development for the housing commission. I didn’t understand the problem. We finally had neighbours.

For the first couple of weeks, I said my farewells to Sandy and left her to navigate the Tuba down the hill to her home. I was scared to venture pass the checkpoint. The naughty kids from school lived down there, peddling their BMXs around the cul-de-sac like sharks circling prey. Sometimes they pointed and laughed at Sandy and me. One of them even threatened to take a shit in Sandy’s tuba. I was confused by this peculiar threat and its lack of context. However, when I saw Sandy lose her grip and the Tuba roll down the hill into a tree, I could no longer be a shirker.

We navigated the rolling tuba down the hill and kept our heads low when passing the BMX bandits. Very quickly we established a routine of afternoon cordials and playing ‘wheel of fortune’ on the Sega at Sandy’s house.

The entire house smelt like stale cat pee, where there were no less than 14 resident cats. Apparently Sandy’s mum didn’t like to let them outside, and there were makeshift cat runs tacked onto the windows. Sandy said that Housing had threatened to take her mum to court to make her get rid of them, yet nothing ever happened.

Sandy’s mum didn’t get back from work until 6pm, so we had free rein of the house after school. I started smuggling supplies from my house down the street; tins of milo, muesli bars and roll-ups, and we set up camp in Sandy’s living room. We pretended that our parents had died, and we somehow became housemates, living in a ‘loft’, and ‘trying to make ends meet’. Neither of us knew what this meant however it sounded grown up.

One afternoon, Sandy’s mum came home early from work. Sandy and I were midst roll-up, stretching the gelatinous goo between our fingers to create a web that we would poke our tongues through. A game of monopoly was set up on the floor, the tiny red houses sprinkled like thumbtacks across the floor. When Sandy’s mum pushed open the front door, my school bag obstructed her entrance. She dramatically kicked the bag across the room and a tin of milo rolled under the couch.

“Who are you?” Sandy’s mum demanded.
“Mum, she’s my friend from band. She lives up the street. I told you about her”.

Sandy’s mum placed her bag on the kitchen bench, kicked off her shoes, and sat on a stool lined up at the bench. She swiveled the stool towards me. Sandy put her head down and started to scoop up the monopoly houses from the floor.

“You have a swimming pool don’t you?” she asked, accusatorily.

I nodded, limply.

“Why aren’t you swimming in your pool? If you have a swimming pool, you make use of it. Not everyone has a swimming pool you know, a lot of upkeep. You probably don’t appreciate it”.

I quickly packed up my bag and excused myself. I was embarrassed yet confused why I was so embarrassed. The confusion morphed into frustration and the frustration condensed into tears. All I heard was that Sandy’s mum did not want me there; that I shouldn’t be in her house.

That night, I told my parents what happened. Dad agreed that pools were a lot of upkeep, and something about the pool pump.

It was only until I had to submit university preferences some 7 years later that I understood what Sandy’s mum had said. I’d like to say that I enrolled in Law for the same reason that I helped Sandy wheel her tuba home. However, really I chose to study Law because Sandy had to wheel her tuba home. I had a swimming pool. You have to make use of it.

This is the winning story in our Unpacking a Lawyer writing competition.

Unpacking a Lawyer

by Stephanie – A winemaker who found her way

aboriginal turtle

My mum was a single parent with an only child and a newly completed teaching degree (focusing on Early Childhood and Aboriginal Studies) from when I was five. Her first position was in Onslow, a coastal Pilbara town with one school and a large indigenous population where we lived for 4 years. In my memory, my childhood was a never-ending summer (to be fair, it pretty much was in terms of the weather) spent exploring a beautiful part of the world. This fondness for remote Australian locations may have influenced my future career choices.

I completed my primary school and high school years in Perth. When I finished high school, my mum returned to work in remote indigenous communities in central Western Australia. She has spent the last five or so years in the Kimberley.

I now practise native title law.

It took me a while to get this point though. I took a gap year after high school, and studied a course I wasn’t particularly interested in before switching to a Bachelor of Science (Viticulture and Oenology). I realised about a two thirds of the way through this degree that I didn’t want to be a winemaker, took some time off, finished the degree anyway and then continued to spend the next couple of years working in hospitality and becoming increasingly depressed with my contribution (or lack thereof) to anything good or interesting.

I discussed my feelings with a friend, who asked me to name the people I admired most in life and why. The first person I named was my mum. Her dedication to the education of indigenous children made me want to contribute in some way. She inspired me because she didn’t shy away from something that needed doing. Moving to remote indigenous communities as a single mother, and then later as a single woman, couldn’t have been easy. Choosing to focus her teaching degree in the first place on Aboriginal Studies was not necessary. And yet she clearly recognised that the education of indigenous students was a necessary component of furthering the position of this minority group, and also recognised that few teachers seemed willing to make this move. And so she did. She was (and still is) the sort of teacher who, when a Kosovonian parent discovered she had spent time in Saudi Arabia and thus was familiar with the concept of Ramadan, accepted their dinner invitation because she realised its significance. My mum is satisfied and content in her career and what it means. She knows that it is important because other people aren’t always willing to engage with the difficult jobs in life, and if no one engages, then the difficult jobs don’t get done. In the field of social justice, this generally means that people, sometimes whole groups of them, miss out. I wanted this same satisfaction for myself.

The second people I named were the adoptive parents of my ex-stepdad. They were such vibrant and interesting people. Into their seventies they were still travelling on a yearly basis to China to participate in dragon boat racing. They cared deeply for their (rather sprawling) family and had a beautiful lust for life that age had obviously not dimmed. They inspired me with their energy.

The third person I named was the manager of a restaurant I once worked in. I didn’t always get on with this woman, but admired her nonetheless. She had been engaged six times, and had travelled extensively. When I knew her, she was in her fifties, single, childless and content. I admired her curiosity about the world, and I admired that she hadn’t conformed to societal expectations that she marry and procreate. I admired that she clearly felt that this was entirely her choice.

My friend told me I should become a human rights lawyer. He said it was clear I was interested in social justice and that this challenge and the rewards that go along with it would likely bring the energy to my life that I was missing. He said that my curiosity about other cultures, which was also something I admired in others, would be a beneficial trait in such an industry. He also said that my admiration for the third person I named, in regards to their decision not to adhere to societal norms regarding marriage and children, was perhaps a trait of a lawyer. What he said resonated with me, and within six months of this conversation I was starting a post-graduate law degree.

It was challenging, but I really enjoyed the way my studies started to change how I thought and processed information. This was not something I had felt in my previous studies. My undergraduate degree had been about learning the established processes for growing vines and making wine, whereas to me my law degree was about learning the shape of society and then seeing what was happening in the spaces.

One of the main reasons I ended up working as a lawyer is because I remained interested in the subject matter. The numerous internships I completed confirmed I was making the right choice. My dedication to social justice grew (the majority of the internships I completed were in this field) and I came to realise it really was the perfect career choice for me – I could do something that challenged me academically (a selfish reason) while also feeling like I was making a valid contribution to my community (also a selfish reason, but with more altruistic overtones). I hope my degree will take me further than the practice of law – possibly into the realms of international policy and academia, which will allow me to travel and delve into other cultures – but my interest in social justice will remain the focus of whatever I do. And it is law that has allowed me to get to this point, and will carry me on to wherever I choose to go from here.

This short story won second place in our Unpacking a Lawyer writing competition.

Why I Became a Lawyer, Instead of Becoming a Bird

By Jess – Just another lawyer who wants to help people.

bird - jess

From my earliest memory, my biggest fear was to not be able to be all the things I wanted to be because there wasn’t enough time in a lifetime.

I wanted to be a bird for most of preschool. And everyone had to be fine with that. According to my preschool log book kept by the teachers, that I was reading a couple of years ago, my teacher once told me that I couldn’t possibly be a bird and I apparently told her that I couldn’t not be one.

It was the first sign that I was heading towards a career in the law. While 2 year old me may not have realized that I could not physically be an actual bird, 2 year old me was willing to fight for what I believed was possible. Being told it wasn’t possible made me want it even more.

When I worked out, some time just before primary school that I might not be able to become a bird, I looked for an alternative and discovered that I could instead, become a pilot. I have pursued this passion for flying, not as a career but as an interest and a hobby. One day, I hope to be able to be fully qualified to fly myself whenever I choose, just like my preschool self predicted all those years ago.

Of course, interests change, people grow up. When I was 12, my uncle died from a drug and alcohol overdose. He died intestate, in the middle of a divorce. He left behind my cousin, a one year old baby girl. I was old enough to understand that the legal side of his death was forcing cracks to appear in our family. Threats from lawyers were arriving every day, demands for property we did not have were being thrust under our noses and worst of all, it seemed there was nothing we could do. It was only later, when I had been studying law for a while, that I realized we could have done something, but grief and anger had clouded my parent’s thoughts through that time. They did not want to do anything. Dad just wanted his brother back, and that was never going to happen so nothing else mattered.

When I was in my HSC year, I decided that law was a good course to aim for. Not because I knew I wanted to be a lawyer, but because it had one of the highest marks to get in to and I knew that I would need motivation to be the best I could be. I figured if I got the marks for law, I would have the marks for anything I wanted.

I was still struggling with all the things I wanted to do, including flying and working with animals. Studying legal studies through the HSC, I had a teacher who I got along very well with. We just clicked. He always encouraged me to explore career options because he felt that I was smart enough to be everything I wanted to be.

He gave me a book at the end of year 12. I came first in the course, which would normally mean a cash prize, but instead he got me the Dr Seuss book “Oh the Places You Will Go”. He told me that I would make an excellent lawyer. He told me my quirky personality, and passion for life, would keep me sane in a job like that, and that I could really help people. And so it was, on his advice that I applied, got into, and enrolled in, a law degree.

In my fourth year at university, I was enjoying my degrees (I had tacked on a journalism degree to make it a double for good measure). I wasn’t sure if I actually wanted to be a lawyer, but I knew I was on the right track.

One evening, in March of 2012 I went over to my best friend’s house. We listened to dubstep music, played video games and threw glow sticks at each other. We drank vodka out of water pistols and had a conversation about where our lives were heading. He told me that he didn’t think it mattered what I did, because I would be good at it regardless. I could be a great pilot. And an excellent journalist, and a very good lifeguard, and still be practising law.

I always kept coming back to wanting to help people to never be in the situation our family had been in many years before after the death of my uncle. I wanted to help people navigate the complexities of a system I was getting to know well.

Two days after that night, my best friend jumped off a cliff. They found him in the early afternoon, lying there in the sun as though he was having a pleasant afternoon nap. I don’t know why he did that and I guess I never will. What I do know, is that instead of making me doubt myself, or making me want to wallow in all the memories of him I could muster, it had the opposite effect. It made me want even more out of my own life. It made me more passionate about helping people through problems. It made me more passionate about flying people away from them. It made me more determined to make every single minute of every single day count for something.

My life, could never be all about the law. I have too many loves, but my career can be for the moment. The events that have led to this choice, in the big scheme of the world, were not that big at all. Tragedy is part of every day. Perhaps the stereotype of “wanting to help people” is a romantic notion. Perhaps I will follow a new career path some day. But for now, this is where I need to be and of that, I am as sure as I was the day I told my preschool teacher that I would have to become a bird.

This short story won third place in our Unpacking a Lawyer writing competition.

And the winners are…

by Tony Wilson
bloody ink 2

It was kind of curious being asked to judge the newlawyerlanguage writing competition. After all, I am a former lawyer – someone who ultimately chose not to pursue law as a career. Moreover, when you look at why I originally chose to be a lawyer; it amounted to little more than the fact that it pretty much fitted in with my footy training schedule.

In 1990, when I was filling out the tertiary admissions preference form, I was captain of the Hawthorn under 19s and a likely 1991 draftee. In 1991, I was drafted, and AFL footy became a five-days- a-week-job, and seven-days-a-week obsession, with Torts and the Process of Law tutorials tucked around the edges. Twelve contact hours a week! A fair bit of reading I guess, but not uncrammable, and plenty of course notes floating about. It doesn’t come much slacker than that.

But why Law and not just Arts? I adored history, English and politics, and it’s not like the Arts faculty are slouches on the skimpy contact hours front.

I think my eighteen year old self was attracted to the prestige. I was an incredibly stupid footballer, constantly injuring both myself and my teammates, and not a particularly adept sporting decision maker. I remember Darrin Pritchard, who was gun Hawthorn wingman at the time and who always spoke to me like I was a bit simple, finding out I was studying law and saying with genuine bewilderment, ‘Are you smart, Willo?’

I was attracted to the safety, the sense that society would value what I was doing. I was attracted to the sniff of a career, and the likelihood of financial security. I remember wanting my parents to be happy, after all the support and all the private school fees.

I was attracted to the idea that I was ‘keeping my options open’, because surely law could be a launching pad for anything involving words, whether it be policy development, creative writing, comedy, public speaking, a media career, teaching or advertising. I’d been editor of the school magazine, and loved writing year book entries for every 1990 leaver. Maybe, deep down, I thought I could be a writer, and figured that my natural progression to a stellar Ben Elton-esque writing career would be better served studying law, rather than cutting up cadavers. And medicine definitely didn’t fit in with footy training.

But why was it a choice between medicine and law?

That’s the ridiculous part of all this, and I refer again to the stuff about prestige, safety, and expectation. Getting the marks. It can be a blessing and a curse.

Eventually I became a lawyer. I only lasted two years at Minters, until the gap between the sort of stuff I’d hoped to be writing, and the sort of stuff I was writing became too wide. I remember in my Race Around the World introduction video saying that ‘the creative highlight of every day was deciding whether to write ‘yours sincerely’ or ‘yours faithfully’ at the end of a legal letter.’ That actually involved some fudging of the facts. Firm policies were clear and abundant on the all-important ‘faithfully’ / ’sincerely’ divide.

So that’s my story, or part of it. I didn’t become a footballer because I was too slow. I didn’t become a lawyer because I was too bored. Instead I became a writer due to an enormous slice of fortune in the form an ABC travel documentary reality show.

In judging the entrants to this competition, I was reminded of the writing talent that is concentrated in the law; how it is a profession that attracts the readers and the dreamers. Every finalist produced to a high standard, and in choosing a top three I was looking for:

1. Originality of idea, connecting with self beyond mere CV writing;

2. Creative writing skill, sentence structure, overall structure, choice of words, readability;

3. Saying something interesting /meaningful about study /practice of law;

The winners are:

Third place – Jess – Why I Became A Lawyer Instead of Becoming a Bird

From the wonderful title, to the neatness of its circular structure, to the lovely details about pre-school, primary school, high school, and university life, this is a sometimes funny, oftentimes moving account of the moments in the author’s life that crystalised in her a desire to help others through a career in law. Really skilfully executed. I loved it.

Second place – Stephanie – Unpacking a Lawyer Writing Competition

This piece speaks to the people we admire, and the influence they can have on our lives. We learn about the author’s mother, her ex-stepdad’s adoptive parents, and an ex-employer who managed a restaurant. It’s easy to say ‘I developed an interest in social justice’ but it’s harder to connect disparate influence and events to form a coherent explanatory essay. The writer does so brilliantly here. There was one phrase I particularly adored: “… my law degree was about learning the shape of society and then seeing what was happening in the spaces.”

First place – C.C. – Tubas and Tiaras

This writer chose to focus on a particular friend and a particular event in favour of a more ‘whole of life’ approach. The result is that we find ourselves completely immersed in a suburban world of cut grass, winding streets, unwieldy instruments and after-school shenanigans. It has a real literary feel; we hear the sounds and smell the smells of the story. The downside of the approach is that we don’t learn so much of the author’s actual motivations to choose law. But given this was primarily a writing exercise, an outstanding talent for sharing a story won the day. Congratulations!

 

tony wilson

Visit Tony Wilson’s Blog

Bloody Mondays Musing AND Writing Competition!!!

by Arna Delle-Vergini

bloody ink 2

I have a challenge for you. My challenge is for you to journey back into your past and ask yourself: what are the events that led me to be the kind of person who would choose a career in law over any other? When you have selected a few, write them down. Create a story out of those experiences or even select one. It doesn’t have to be completely factually correct. In fact, they couldn’t be – memory simply doesn’t work that way. Ever. Instead, tell the story in the way that makes most sense to you. Because, that is actually what you are doing when you unravel the narrative of your life – you’re simply making sense out of it all. What I am asking you to do then is quite specific: I want you to undertake a process whereby you “make sense” out of your decision to become a lawyer. And I want you to do it now – before you begin practicing law or, if applicable, shortly thereafter.

Now I would not ask you to do something I was not prepared to do myself which is precisely how ‘Bloody Mondays’ I, II and III came to be. Well, almost precisely. Not quite. There was another story behind that task so before I tell you about how ‘Bloody Mondays’ ultimately came about, I need to describe a conversation I had a few years ago.

I was once asked by a mentor why I had chosen to be a lawyer. This mentor was no ordinary person. He is one of those people who just seems to understand things. He carries understanding in his eyes so that when he asks you a question you know that he both has a keen interest in the answer you’re about to give, but also somehow knows the answer you’re about to give before you do.

So here we were sitting across from one another in a café drinking coffee. He asks me why I chose to be a lawyer. Why law? Why not dentistry? I, naturally, pull out one of my stock standard phrases: “because I could”. Or, – since I actually have a couple – “because it was the sensible thing to do.” To which he replies: “Really? Is that the real story? Is that all there is?”

I let his incredulity hang in the air for a while. What else was I to do? It was a difficult moment for me because I value myself on being ‘straight down the line’, ‘direct’, a ‘what you see is what you get’ kind of person. But, in fact, I had just delivered a classic obfuscation. I’d said nothing really about why I had become a lawyer because – and this was the saddest part – I had not actually even worked it out myself.

I was almost forty.

Being almost forty and still not having an understanding of why I chose to practice law was, can I say, a little embarrassing. But not as embarrassing as the fact that I realised that I had taken no responsibility whatsoever for having made that choice throughout my entire career. The narrative I had always chosen to describe why I became a lawyer was designed to divest myself of responsibility and, as my mentor astutely pointed out, it wasn’t the real story. It wasn’t all there was at all.

So what was the real story? How does one tell the story of how they came to decide on one career over another? I pondered this for years before I chose to set myself the task of writing that story down. The ‘Bloody Mondays’ trilogy is really just an exercise (like the one I suggested to you above) in unpacking various events of my life and looking at them for clues as to why I might have chosen to pursue law. The three events I chose all involved a ‘murder’ (of sorts). They were all real events and the stories were based on my recollections of those events and, particularly, how I processed those events at the time.

In truth, I could have chosen several events throughout my life. I chose these three because they captured how I became a person who valued – above any other quality – the courage to speak out about injustice. As Martin Luther King Jnr so aptly put it: “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” Can I suggest to you that lawyers lead the populace in the capacity, willingness and courage to speak out against a range of injustices in ways that can (and does) effect real change? (But then I’m biased.)

The three events I chose also described how I came to be a person who felt compassion for people even when they were acting at their worst. Even when they acted in utterly unspeakable ways. And they also describe the sense of responsibility I came to feel toward people who were suffering. And, to be honest, I saw suffering everywhere. My desire to alleviate people’s suffering was critical to my decision to practising law in the social justice field.

Not everyone becomes a lawyer for the same reasons. We are all unique people with our own drivers. But there is something very freeing about finally coming to an understanding of why you have chosen the career you have. Of retracing your steps throughout your life to uncover various events that you now see, in hindsight, were actually pivotal to making what is probably one of the most critical decisions of your life: what will my life’s work be?

To kick off 2014, newlawyerlanguage will be running a writing competition. In not more than 1000 words, tell us the story of why chose the practice of law to be your professional calling.

The winning entries will be judged by lawyer turned writer (no irony intended here) Tony Wilson. Tony is the published author of 9 books – 3 for adults and 6 picture story books for children.

1st prize – $200.00

2nd price – $100.00

3rd prize – $50.00

Entries due by 10 March 2014.

All entries will be published on the website. Since every story is unique and potentially quite personal, we are open for the stories to be published via a pseudonym. Submit to newlawyerlanguage@gmail.com. Good luck!

In case you missed Arna’s Bloody Mondays series, you can read them here: 

Bloody Mondays – Part I

Bloody Mondays – Part II

Bloody Mondays – Part III

Bloody Mondays – Part III

by Arna Delle-Vergini

blood spatter 3

Winter, 1986. I was fifteen years of age – a permanent resident in the land of forgotten gods. It is an age when you discover that the world has let you down – before even beginning and without even trying – and you’re mad about it. You can’t talk to anyone about it either really. The adults around you KNOW NOTHING! Your house is a veritable prison. Disappointment hides in every corner. Even the décor lets you down.

Suddenly the familiar sounds of the house begin to grate on you. You switch off. You check out. You play another Bob Dylan song or maybe Neil Young because you’re feeling mellow. You play Kate Bush for profundity or David Bowie because he spins you out. Violent Femmes takes care of your two remaining mood states – angry and angrier, and, if you want to really make a statement, you play Tom Waits, because everyone in the house hates him, but no-one can argue with poetry.

Every feeling had a song, every song had a message, every message meant everything but, paradoxically, nothing meant anything anymore. I was in hell!

Enter Brian and Kev.

First I hear, the Malaysians are going to kill two Australians and if we don’t act real quick they’ll be dead by next week. Everyone is following this on the news and everyone is suddenly forgetting how much TROUBLE I am being lately. What is the big deal? They are criminals aren’t they? Do we really care? Have I ever trafficked heroin? Well, have I? HAVE I?

No-one was listening to me. Really, for the first time in a long time.

There was a pall over the house. Things were quieter. Sadder. Barer. And yet, there was an extra presence in the home. There were suddenly two extra people – Brian and Kevin. How had they come to be here? How had they suddenly made it into my home where only my drama reigned supreme? I wondered about them. Who were they? Who were they when they weren’t on death row? Why did my Mum care so much? She explained it to me, over and over and the more she explained the more I knew that frankly, I wasn’t ready. I wasn’t prepared for two men to die in this way. I felt a dreadful anxiety, a crushing weight. Surely there was something I should do, but what could I do?

I knew things were really getting serious when Mum wrote to the Governor of Penang. She wrote: “I abhor the situation”. Other people wrote as well. Even the Foreign Minister. The question was, would the Governor of Penang receive the letter in time? I’m not referring to the Foreign Minister’s letter of course. That letter he would be expecting and probably would take no notice of. But would he receive my mother’s letter?

This seems unbelievably naïve now but I actually visualised the Governor receiving my mother’s letter, knowing in his very bones that my mother abhorred the situation and, suddenly appreciating the gravity of the situation, relenting and agreeing to grant a stay of the execution. Indeed, one night I had trouble falling asleep – what with the worry about Brian and Kevin – but I eventually comforted myself with the thought that this actually could be the night that they  would be granted their freedom. Surely the post would have arrived by now.

The next morning I woke up to the news that Brian and Kevin were dead.

It was that quick. Suddenly I cared. Suddenly their lives meant something to me. Suddenly I wanted them in the house forever. Suddenly they were taken. Suddenly I was bereft.

I wasn’t quite sixteen. There was only so much I could take from this but what I took from it would stay with me forever. And it’s not the obvious lesson. I didn’t really come away with views about capital punishment. I didn’t think a great deal about politics and I cared even less about international relations. I didn’t have any delusions whatsoever that individuals could change the world – goodness, it was obvious that there were times where very little could be done.

But there it was – the lesson uncovered, bare. It was simply this: even when you couldn’t make a difference, even when it was impossible for you to change something, you still had to make a stand. You had to stand for something.

I never loved and admired my mother more than when she sent that simple letter to Malaysia; the whole time knowing that it would make no difference whatsoever, and yet, also knowing that if she didn’t write – if she sat and did nothing – she would not be able to forgive herself. I knew then, palpably, like I know now, palpably – that one can never stand idly by in the face of injustice. It’s not okay. It’s not an option. It’s not worthy of who we are.

On Monday 7 July 1986, Kevin Barlow and Brian Chambers, two Australian men found guilty of trafficking heroin in Malaysia were executed. At the time of their death, Barlow and Chambers pleas for a stay of execution were still pending in the Penang High Court. Bob Hawke, the then Prime Minister of Australia, called the hanging “barbaric” and yet the death penalty was not effectively abolished in Australia until 1985, the year before. Incidentally, the last man to be actually executed in Australia was Ronald Ryan, who was hung in Pentridge Prison in Victoria on the 3 February 1967.

It was a Friday.

 

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Image from: Unspoken Codes

This blog was first published on 20 January 2014. It is re-published in May 2015 as history has a way of repeating itself.

Bloody Mondays is a three-part series describing how our regular blogger, Arna Delle-Vergini, came to be a lawyer. Come with Arna on this journey; unpacking some of the experiences and events that led her to choose a career in the Law over any other.

Bloody Mondays – Part II

by Arna Delle-Vergini

Bloody Mondays is a three-part series describing how our regular blogger, Arna Delle-Vergini, came to be a lawyer.  Come with Arna on this journey; unpacking some of the experiences and events that led her to choose a career in the Law over any other.

blood spatter

There was nothing peculiar about this day. It was a day like any other. I was at school. I was nine. Then for one reason or the other the teachers began to cry. One of them – a female – I can’t recall her name – rushed down the hall, her hands cradling her mouth. I don’t remember the rushing part actually. I just remember the sight of her crying into her hands. I must have filled in the gaps later on. Of course she was rushing. Something had happened. Something really big.

It was December 1980. School was not quite out for the year but it was getting hot. I remember the heat most of all because I experienced this event as heat mostly – the heat of the sun burning down on my bare neck as I collected my bag, sick with the knowledge that something incomprehensibly awful had happened. The heat of the thick, dry air that I breathed as I walked slowly home, not even trying to guess what had happened because that seemed largely irrelevant to me at the time. My greatest concern was whether the teachers would ever be happy again or was this, somehow, a permanent thing. This was an overwhelming thought and I wilted under the weight of it all.

Was my mother crying when I arrived home? I can’t remember. If she was, she would have been sitting in the lounge room – or perhaps in the kitchen, drinking a cup of tea. She would have looked up from her cup and smiled faintly. She would have said: “John Lennon has been shot”. Her eyes would have been reddened but she would not be crying. She would not cry in front of me. I would have then sat in her lap and cuddled her. I would have sensed her shock but I would not have known what it really meant to her because, even though I knew that John Lennon sang songs, I had no idea that he sang songs that changed the world!

Did she try to explain it to me? I bet she did. And I would have sat there with my rabbit-in-the-headlights stare knowing exactly what she meant without understanding a word of it. Like when my mamina, who didn’t speak a word of English, would talk to me. We understood each other perfectly but I didn’t speak Italian so it was only “understanding” in that incomprehensible way that children understand things – without words – that everything and nothing way of understanding that we all seem to lose as we age and reason takes us over.

It was many years before reason took me over. Thinking was not my superior function as a child. I experienced things instead. I understood the world largely though my senses which, if I tried to make any meaning out of them at all, were often unhelpfully influenced by ill-timed facts and miscommunications. That’s how I came to know that the man who shot John Lennon later appeared on television and sang about it. He sang “Jealous Guy” in this beautiful, haunting voice that made everybody cry all over again. It was a difficult moment for me. I hated this man for killing John and making the teachers cry. At the same time, I couldn’t help feeling sorry for him. He didn’t mean to hurt John. He was just a jealous guy.

At some stage, I’m quite sure, someone must have told me that the man singing the song wasn’t John’s killer at all, but a singer – and that it was a ‘tribute’ to John that he was singing, not a song actually describing why John was killed. But it wasn’t any time soon.

I probably don’t need to point this out to you but John Lennon never came back. I waited and waited and waited for God to bring him back to life. It was, after all, the only sensible solution. Everybody loved John. Nobody loved the jealous guy. Nothing else made sense to me. I did not believe in a world where wrongs could not somehow be made right again. Surely, if there ever was an occasion for God to intervene, this was it. What was taking so long? When would John be back? When would the teachers be happy again? Was there something I should be doing that I wasn’t? Anything?

Children can accept the incomprehensible even better than the adults around them can. But it does something to them. It changes who they are. This is not such a bad thing. Life alters us. And, in some circumstances, what alters us has the capacity to “make” us also. This was one of those events for me. I was going through a religious phase at that stage of my childhood and yet, quite clearly, my God had forsaken me. Well, at the very least he had forsaken John. This was troubling. Very troubling. Because if God had abandoned John, myself and all of the teachers, then who was left to right all of the wrongs in the world? Who was left with that incredible power? I would mull over this for many, many years to come and by the time I had the answer to it, not only did I not believe in God anymore, but I was at an age where I didn’t believe in ANYTHING!

On Monday 8 December 1980, Mark David Chapman shot John Lennon five times with a .38-caliber revolver outside his home in New York City. His official explanation was that he thought by killing John, he would become famous himself. He also said that the copy of J.D. Salinger’s “Catcher in the Rye” he was carrying at the time of the murder was his ‘statement’. Which, of course, made no sense whatsoever…

Image from: biography.com

Bloody Mondays – Part I

by Arna Delle-Vergini

Bloody Mondays is a three-part series describing how our regular blogger, Arna Delle-Vergini, came to be a lawyer.  Come with Arna on this journey; unpacking some of the experiences and events that led her to choose a career in the Law over any other.

bloody mondays 1

It was summertime, 1979. I was eight years of age. Somehow my brothers and I had got our hands on a vinyl – Boomtown Rats “Tell me why I don’t like Mondays”. We probably got it for Christmas. My brothers were older than me so it no doubt belonged to them, though I felt a certain ownership over it. It was me that played it every day that summer. It was me who memorised all of the words.

Was it they who told me what the song was actually about? It was the sort of thing they would gleefully do. Then they would get into terrific trouble because I was fearful and sensitive and I never missed an opportunity to tell my mother if I felt gravely abused by them. I imagine it happening this way: them telling me that the song was really about a young girl who shot at a crowd of children and me running to my mother in tears because “the boys are trying to scare me again!

But of course I cannot remember how I found out. I just remember being fascinated by the song, and about the story behind it for that entire summer.

To me, by far the most fascinating aspect of the song was how no-one could possibly have known that this girl was going to shoot the whole day down. Not even her father! Probably not even herself! Was it truly possible? Could a silicone chip inside one’s head just switch to overload, just like that? With no prior warning? With no provocation even?

I decided to test it out myself.

We lived in the same street as our school, about half a dozen houses away from the back entrance. While this was not really quite “living right across the road” from a school, I reasoned that the situations were similar enough for me to put my silicone chip to the test.

My methodology was simple – I would put on the ’45 roughly at the time children were walking to school. Then I would climb up onto the couch, part the curtains, and I would stare out of the window at the passing children intently. The curtains could only be parted slightly because I wanted to be able to see them but I certainly did not want them noticing me. It was quite a covert operation and I was proud of myself at the time for coming up with it.

I remember one morning only. There could have been more but I doubt it. Like most experiments, the actual experience of it was a little tedious. This was is in the days of vinyl and, if you wanted to listen to a song more than once, you had to crouch down by the stereo, lift the arm of the needle and take it back to the start yourself. This meant that just as I was getting into the swing of the experiment I would have to stop, hop off the couch, re-start the song, hop back on the couch again, and ensure the exact amount of curtain parting before I could start the experiment again. Fortunately, I was a determined child once I had set my mind to something. And I had certainly set my mind to this.

The first child – a boy – walked by. I couldn’t immediately find anything to fault him but I tried very hard and then noticed – unforgiveable – that he had pigeon-toes. “HOW ANNOYING!!!” I screamed inwardly. The next child – a boy again – HUGE PROBLEM!!! His pants were way too baggy. Next there was a girl wearing glasses. FOUR EYES! And another kid had an old, tatty bag. TATTY!!!! Goodness knows what words I used back then but I certainly somehow managed to find a fault with every single child passing by my window that day. Every one.

Nothing happened.

My silicone chip did not switch to overload. It lay dormant and bored stiff and, before too long, I tired of the experiment and went to school myself. As I was walking to school that day I had to wonder if my neighbours were sitting by their windows with their guns looking at me and thinking -“nobody’s gonna go to school today.”

I didn’t solve the mystery of what makes a person want to shoot a whole day down. But I didn’t stop looking for answers for a long time though either. Sure, Bob had said that “We can see no reasons because there are no reasons. What reasons do we need to be shown?” But as a child I felt that there had to be a reason.

A world where random, inexplicable and unexpected events could happen was not a world that I could belong to emotionally at that time. I needed to believe that there were answers. And I did believe that there were answers, even if those answers weren’t available to me. Adults were always saying: “you will understand when you get older” – and I was content with that – at least for one more year of my life. That all changed when I was nine though. Everything changed when I was nine.

On Monday, January 29, 1979 Brenda Ann Spencer, a 16 year old girl, picked up a .22 calibre rifle and shot randomly at children waiting at the gate at their school in San Diego, California. She killed the Principal of the school and another custodian. She wounded eight children and also a police officer who attended the scene. When asked why she had committed the massacre she shrugged her shoulders and said “I don’t like Mondays.” Which, of course, made no sense at all…

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Image from: Crime Magazine: Brenda Ann Spencer