Stand by Me – The death of a lawyer.

by Arna Delle-Vergini

stand by me

STAND BY ME (1986, 89 MINS)
DIRECTOR: ROB REINER

Few people 35 and over have not seen the 1986 movie, “Stand By Me”. Directed by Rob Reiner, the movie is based on the Stephen King novella, ‘The Body’. It’s iconic theme song is, of course, Ben E King’s song of the same name and it is probably no exaggeration to say that it is impossible these days for a great many people to listen to this song without thinking of the movie.

“Stand by Me” is a moving coming of age story that tracks four young boys as they hunt for the body of a boy reported as missing and dead. The protagonist, Gordie (played by Wil Wheaton as a child and Richard Dreyfus, as an adult) hangs out with a gang of boys who his father disapproves of greatly: Chris (River Phoenix) – the son of a violent alcoholic, Teddy (Corey Feldman)– also the son of a violent father – he tried to cut off his son’s ear – and Vern (Jerry O’Connell) slightly less dysfunctional than the other two, but not by much. One day the boys hit on the idea of searching for the missing body and returning it. They have dreams of a possible reward, perhaps some publicity.  Their plan works out well until they discover that Chris’ psychotic older brother (played by Keifer Sutherland) is also searching for the body. When all the boys – both young and older reach the body, there is an inevitable standoff, which the younger boys ultimately win. It is, however, a Pyrrhic victory – by the time they have found and taken possession of the body – they have grown enough to realise that some things are best left as they are – undisturbed and unadulterated.

What make this film really fascinating for the writer is not so much the coming of age story of the four boys but the “coming into being” story of one of the principal characters, Chris Chambers. At the outset of the film, the adult Gordi, is reading about his friend, Chris Chambers, in the paper. It outlines that Chris was recently stabbed to death trying to break up a fight between two people in a queue. The newspaper clipping prompts the adult Gordie to reflect on his time with Chris.

The first thing we learn is that Chris “came from a bad family and everyone knew he’d turn out bad, including Chris”. And yet, if we follow Chris’s role throughout the movie we notice immediately some pretty impressive traits – one’s that are commonly associated with lawyers. Chris always takes the lead. We are told that he is the leader of the gang. He is also the one that comes up with the idea to find the body. Chris is always standing up for others when they are being bullied or even when they are acting destructively themselves. He tries to protect Gordie from his own brother’s bullying. He is the one who saves Teddy’s life by physically pushing him out of the way of the oncoming train when Teddy is playing ‘chicken’ with a train. Gordie narrates that this is not the only time that Chris has saved Teddy. He stopped him from falling out of a tree house, an event that Chris still has dreams about. In his dream, instead of catching Teddy, he misses him. But Gordie can’t understand this: “Chris never misses.

When there are disputes, it’s Chris that acts as mediator and he is the one who is always ready to reassure the others at times of distress. When Gordie asks him “Am I weird?” Chris replies: “Yeah, so what, everybody’s weird.” Chris then hones in on Gordie’s real concern is – does the fact that he wants to be a writer and not a footballer like his older deceased brother make him a loser? Chris is all support: “It’s like god gave you something. If your parents are too fucked up to tell you then maybe I should.”

It’s easy to see that with these traits, Chris would make the perfect lawyer, but we are told time and time again in the movie (usually by Chris himself) that the odds are completely against him – he will never amount to anything. So how does he go from being a smart kid with a lot of good qualities but from a bad home, to an attorney at law? One of the catalysts seems to be when Chris experiences a grave injustice himself.  Chris opens up to Gordie one night about a recent experience. It was nothing too unusual; he had stolen the milk money from school, which Gordie was aware of. But what Gordie didn’t know is that Chris returned the money to the teacher who, instead of congratulating him for doing the right thing, spent the money herself. Chris breaks down when he tells this story. His greatest pain is that there was no point setting the record straight because nobody would have believed him. This is a boy who has been told as long as he can remember that he is no good and will amount to nothing. After the boys have returned home, and at the end of the young Gordie’s reflection, Chris is still convinced that he’s got no hope: “I’m never going to get out of this town, am I Gordie?” Gordie’s answer: “You can do anything you want man.”

Which is exactly what Chris does do. The adult Gordi tells us at the end of the movie how Chris ultimately ended up going to college and becomes a lawyer. It is completely ironic to the adult Gordie that Chris, “who always made the best peace”, dies doing what he always did best.

“Stand by Me” is as much about the evolution of a lawyer as it is anything else. At the beginning and the end of the movie we are left with the image of a dead attorney – a man wrongfully killed trying to keep the peace. During the movie we are introduced to a young boy who is wronged in a variety of ways: by his family, teachers at the school, his whole community, but who somehow manages to find a way through. And yet, despite this commanding narrative, arguably the most powerful image that we are left with is not one that is suggestive of success; it is one that is suggestive of failure. We never actually see this image in the film but it will resonate with most lawyers. I am speaking of course, of the image of Teddy falling from the tree house – with Chris reaching down, desperately trying to catch him, but missing.

This movie is a must watch if you want to understand the inner world of a lawyer. Many lawyers are attracted to Law because they want to save and protect others, but they are haunted by the specter of failing in that endeavour. Each matter brings a new opportunity to fail. Each success is short-lived because it is overshadowed by the risk inherent in the next case. “Stand by Me” captures perfectly the lawyer’s classic credo: “I may not win this case, but I’m sure as hell gonna die trying.”

The Judge

by Phoebe Churches
 
the judge

THE JUDGE (2014, 141 MINS)
DIRECTOR: DAVID DOBKIN
PHOEBS’ RATING: 1/5

Do you like sentimental movies? Yeah – me too from time to time. Do you like schmaltzy, soppy impossibly cloying films which could be great, have a cracker, top-notch A-list cast but just never make it into third gear?

Yeah, not so much.

I do however like a bit of coherent intelligent courtroom action – but unfortunately The Judge fails to deliver. Things start out well enough –a bit of suspense builds as we meet the key players. Hank (played by Robert Downey Jnr with his usual cocaine-urbane method) is a slick, badass city defence attorney who spends his days securing the freedom of guilty but rich types.

We meet the titular character (played by a suitably dour Robert Duvall) a humourless and strait-laced parochial judge who happens to be Hank’s dad. Naturally they are estranged with a tortured history between them. Then something happens and Hank has to defend his dad on a murder charge.

Well, I would have said the stage is fairly set for a tense thriller with loads of clever courtroom arguments and twists and turns and triumph and adversity. Alas – the fine cast and worthy acting just can’t save a script that veers so recklessly between tear-jerking sentiment and courtroom action. The latter revolves around a defence which descends rapidly into foolishness and then manages to go even further downhill to be just ludicrous.

Harsh, I know – but I felt really ripped off by this film. The film is self-indulgently long. The Court action really could have sustained the film (had the case theory been vaguely plausible). Billy-Bob Thornton who plays the prosecutor barely gets a run at anything and instead there is a lunking sub-plot about Hank’s childhood sweetheart that just dragged the thing into the abyss for me.

The promise of smart actors and a good yarn is squandered by the oversupply of cliché and an outright improbable story line. I didn’t buy one bit of it – and on that basis I feel as though I had been sentenced to cruel and unusual punishment. Sorry Margaret and David, I give it one star.

Image from IMDB

“Tomorrow’s Lawyers: An Introduction to Your Future”

by Arna Delle-Vergini

tomorrows lawy

IN REVIEW: Richard Susskind, “Tomorrow’s Lawyers: An Introduction to Your Future”, Oxford University Press, 2013.

Notorious for writing a book predicting the demise of traditional lawyering called, aptly…“The End of Lawyers?” (2008), Richard Susskind is at again, this time with an even more ambitious plea to lawyers than before. In “Tomorrow’s Lawyers”, Susskind is not just forecasting a change in the times and exhorting the profession to get with it or be left behind. This time Susskind actually invites lawyers to participate in the dismantling of their own profession with cheer, good will and even, I think it is fair to say, unbridled enthusiasm:

“Here is the great excitement for tomorrow’s lawyers. As never before, there is an opportunity to be involved in shaping the next generation of legal services”.1

You just want to slap him in the face, but for the fact that he is almost certainly right. The legal profession as we know it is in a slow and painful decline. There may be a very, very small space for traditional law and traditional lawyering in the future but “small” is the word to pay attention to here. Pressures to provide more legal services at less cost to the consumer, the continuing liberalization of the profession introducing new players into the legal services arena, and rapidly developing technologies, are all working together assiduously to ensure that the legal landscape as we know it will be virtually unrecognizable in decades to come.

This is not such a bad thing, Susskind argues. If you dismantle what lawyers actually do (and charge a lot of money for) very little of it is a purely specialized service and most of it can be commoditized and multi-sourced. Susskind offers a variety of examples including in-sourcing, out-sourcing, off-shoring, de-lawyering (passing the work on to paralegals for example), relocating, sub-contracting, co-sourcing, near-shoring, leasing the engagement of lawyers, home sourcing, open sourcing (legal advice free of charge, usually on line), crowd-sourcing, solo-sourcing and computerizing. A final category is “no-sourcing”; this is where the legal service provider takes the view that the matter is not in need of legal sourcing at all.

Susskind ultimately argues that we have two choices. We can be jealous guards of legal services and insist that everything we do can only be done by highly specialized lawyers and charge accordingly. Or, we can be benevolent custodians of the law and ensure legal services are affordable and accessible by multi-sourcing aspects of the service that really does not require specialized legal knowledge. Susskind argues that the latter approach is more in line with our professional integrity. He writes “…the law is no more there to provide a living for lawyers than ill health exists to offer a livelihood for doctors. It is not the purpose of law to keep lawyers in business. The purpose of a lawyer is to help to support society’s needs of the law.”2

So where does that leave tomorrow’s lawyer? Where does that leave all of the new and emerging lawyers who are being trained right now to be traditional lawyers in circumstances where there is simply going to be less and less need for them? This is where Susskind urges everyone to get creative and to be involved in the fashioning of new legal services. Whilst he projects that tomorrow’s employers will likely be global accounting firms, major legal publishers, legal know-how providers, legal process outsourcers, High Street retail businesses, legal leasing agencies, new-look law firms, online legal service providers and legal management consultancies3, he also stresses that these are just predictions and we need to start thinking ourselves about new and novel ways to deliver legal services in cost effective ways. In order to prepare us to do this he calls for a re-vamping of legal education, including practical legal education, and invites lawyers to become multidisciplinary in their learning.

Excited? Or just exhausted? I read this book in one sitting and whilst it was a little disheartening at times (in a goodbye yellow brick road kind of way) I could well see the sense in it. I imagine though, if I were a new or emerging lawyer just reaching the end of, or fresh out of a combined degree or my PLT training, this book might just reduce me to tears. Which is all the more reason why it’s a must read. As harsh as it might sound, there’s no power in being an ostrich with its head in the sand. This book is an appeal to mainly new lawyers to put the fiddle firmly down, take heart (because being a lawyer is still a truly wonderful thing) and make sure that while Rome burns, you are out there forging new distant lands, and doing it your way.

1   Richard Susskind, “Tomorrow’s Lawyers” An Introduction to Your Future”, (Oxford University Press, 2013) 164.

2   Ibid.

3   n 1, 122

Law & Order and courtroom stills

by Finchley Atticus

lawandorder

I don’t know who coined the well-worn phrase “a photo captures a moment in time” but if there’s more than a kernel of truth in that (and I think there is) we sadly miss those poignant, intimate, confusing and unjust moments in our Australian courtrooms. We’ve been witness to the Oscar Pistorius murder trial thanks to court room TV coverage, and members of a certain generation will remember being fixated by similar ongoing TV coverage of the murder trial of former NFL great and Naked Gun star O.J. Simpson. Recently in Australia royal commissions have opened up their proceedings to live streaming, where we recently saw former Prime Minister Julia Gillard holding her own in the face of questioning from counsel. But as ABC Photo Editor Nic MacBean commented, still photography is not allowed of Australian court proceedings.

Reading Nic’s article unexpectedly made me reminisce about one of my favourite American legal dramas, Law and Order, the original series which had an amazing run of 20 years, with the gavel coming down for the last time in 2010. Each episode of Law and Order had a tried and true format. The first 30 minutes focused on the NYPD’s investigation, usually of a suspected murder, and then the eventual arrest. The second 30 minutes saw the NY County DA prosecutors up against the alleged perpetrator, with the occasional twist, cliché (“Motion to suppress Jack”) and courtroom sidebar. Void of any car chases and street brawls (although the occasional punch was thrown during an arrest), Law and Order’s quality stood on the intriguing storylines, high standard of writing, and the outstanding acting.

Talking of sidebars, when I was a Monash law student back in the early 90s, I remember the University’s Police Studies Department wanting to become part of the Faculty of Law. I wryly thought the Faculty could rename itself the Faculty of Law and Order. Remarkably over two decades later, one of the first decisions of NSW Liberal Premier Mike Baird was to controversially rename the Department of Attorney-General and Justice to Department of Police and Justice. This was seen as a sign to the community (and maybe shock jocks?) that Order was rightfully in charge over that pesky Law, with the Police Minister heading the rebranded Department, making all those soft-on-crime lawyers stand to attention! Spend less on wigs and gowns and more on police uniforms and prison robes!! But after a few weeks Law was restored when the Attorney-General was back in charge of the Department after the Minister for Police, Mike Gallacher resigned after being named in an ICAC investigation. Law and Order again. Besides, Law and Order is more euphonic than Order and Law, and the Department was again quietly renamed, this time simply Department of Justice.

So why did Nic’s article make me reminisce about Law and Order? Believe it or not, it’s the memorable opening theme, or to be precise, the still photographs that you see throughout the theme. Much has been written about the theme, composed by prolific TV composer Mike Post. But I equally find compelling the still photograph – a defence lawyer conferring with his client, another lawyer commanding the presence of the courtroom. There’s not much internet discussion about the origin of these photos, so I wish I knew if they are real or staged. But one can read much into these photos. What was the defence lawyer conferring with is client about? What was the trial about? What was going through the mind of the lawyer as he took stage in the courtroom? The fact the photos are in black and white give it that photojournalistic authority that many colour photos lack.

It’s these moments that we fail to capture in Australian courtrooms. Sure never-ending video streaming captures more than a moment, but the photo captures that moment forever. The moment when the accused surveys the potential jurors wondering if they will acquit him, the moment the prosecutor is relieved when the defence is oblivious to key evidence that would exonerate the accused, when the defence is ecstatic that the judge rules key evidence inadmissible, the anguish when the accused hears the jury’s verdict, the judge wondering what the jury was thinking when it decided guilty or not, the victim and the defendant realise whether not justice has been served. Yes, post-trial interviews reveal what went on in the courtroom (and even in the jury room). But there’s something about the impact of the still photograph, where we can ponder and interpret, and be dismayed and confused.

Iselin M. Gambert, Associate Professor of Legal Research and Writing at The George Washington University Law School, utilises an innovative approach to enliven the teaching of the duty to rescue concept. Professor Gambert shows her first year law students famous and iconic photographs (e.g. Napalm Girl and Vulture) which initiate much discussion on the duty to rescue. In the case of the photos, a broad question of whether the photojournalists should have rescued those in distress is asked, leading to discussion of finer legal principles behind the duty to rescue. The power of the photograph is sufficient to be provocative. Professor Gambert writes about her teaching technique in The Law Teacher I wish that Australian lecturers in torts and contracts consider following Professor Gambert’s initiative by moving away from carbolic smokeballs and snails in bottles, and instead use more relevant examples.

Maybe one day Australian courtrooms will be open to still photographers, and if they were, it would provide a wealth of images that would contribute to society’s continual shaping of their perceptions of law and order.

Secret Life of Lawyers Revealed in Cabaret

by Kylie Weston-Scheuber

secret life

In July 2013, the Paris Cat Jazz Club was packed to capacity for three performances of The Secret Life of a Lawyer (a Cabaret), the latest production from BottledSnail Productions.

Featuring well-known pop and music theatre songs and a cast of lawyers, Secret Life tracks the career progression of a lawyer, cabaret-style, starting with law school (“What do you do with a BA in English?”). The perils of job interviews (“I hope I get it”) and billable hours (“Seasons of Love”) are canvassed, along with caffeine addiction (“Taylor the Latte Boy”/“I Dreamed a Dream”) and social networking (“Let’s Have Lunch”).

The cast of Secret Life comprises members of Melbourne’s legal profession – Ed Harcourt (Maddocks – once removed), Bruce Hardy (Supreme Court), Jessica Heyes (Minter Ellison), Justine Ingaliso (Maddocks), Allie Sutherland (Law Student), Kathryn Sutherland (Maddocks), Kylie Weston-Scheuber (Victorian Bar) and Sarah Zeleznikow (Supreme Court). The show is directed by Kathryn Sutherland and piano accompaniment is provided by Georgina Lewis.

The show was developed by the cast in a collaborative process involving a number of brainstorming and writing sessions conducted over a glass of wine (or two). Maddocks generously allowed the use of its offices for rehearsal, with late-night furniture and keyboard shuffling providing cause for some bemused looks.

Audience members, lawyers and non-lawyers alike, were able to empathise with the long hours, time away from family and stresses that are part of the lawyer’s lot. Take this example from the first half of the show, sung to the tune of “I Dreamed a Dream”:

But the statement’s due tonight,
And the witness had a freak-out
And my partner’s at the snow.
I guess I’ll push on to the dawn.

What lawyer (or family member of a lawyer) cannot relate to that?

BottledSnail Productions, the organisation behind Secret Life, was formed in 2013. It creates and supports theatrical productions by lawyers, aimed at giving lawyers a creative outlet and helping to achieve a better work/life balance. Recent BottledSnail productions include two smash-hit seasons of The Law Revue at the Melbourne Comedy Festival 2013 and 2014, sell-out seasons of 12 Angry Men with a cast drawn from the Victorian Bar, and a recent benefit concert to raise money for imprisoned Australian journalist Peter Greste. Rehearsals have recently commenced for Parade, a large-scale musical theatre work to be staged in February 2015.

Fortunately, if you missed Secret Life the first time round, it’s back by popular demand. It’s on Wednesday 17 and Thursday 18 September 2014 at The Toff in Town (Level 2, 252 Swanston Street, Melbourne) at 8pm (doors open at 7.30pm).

Tickets: $24 (pre-sale) / $27 (at the door), available from Toff in Town.

For more info visit the BottledSnail website , or Facebook page.

Proceeds from The Secret Life of a Lawyer will be donated to the Tristan Jepson Memorial Foundation, which seeks to create greater awareness of depression and anxiety within the legal fraternity.

What’s legal is not necessarily just

by Finchley Atticus

 

Hostage Flight 1985
Director: Steven Hillard Stern
Finchley Atticus’s rating: 3/5

 
Major spoilers ahead. If you’d like to, watch it, then read Finchley’s review.

 
When I watched Hostage Flight, a made-for-TV movie from the 80s, it made me think about the dilemmas some lawyers face in deciding whether or not to represent a client who have committed repugnant crimes. Of course most lawyers will not end up representing terrorists, but on a general level there is a constant debate, even if it’s internal within the lawyer’s mindset, about whether to represent certain defendants. Outspoken barrister Peter Faris QC has clearly stated why he will never again defend rapists.

Introduce yourself as a lawyer to a lay person and before you know it they’ll soon be asking (or even demanding to know) “How can you represent a guilty person?” even if your specialty is conveyancing, legislative drafting or space law. I remember many years ago watching a US talk show where a Jewish lawyer, representing a person accused of committing hate crimes, said “He probably hates me!!” but still, the lawyer had no qualms taking on the case. In Australia, barristers can’t turn away clients due to the cab rank rule, but if I were a barrister I might find myself surreptitiously scheduling an operation, just like Queen Elizabeth II did to avoid personally conferring a knighthood on Mick Jagger (or so it has been alleged).

As a plane hijacking movie, Hostage Flight is a US TV drama movie that follows the well-established storyline: the terrorist hijackers board the plane, take the passengers hostage, demanding the release of their leader in a foreign prison, demonstrate brutality against the passengers, the motley crew of passengers (a cop, ex-sports star, journalist, the caring husband and wife who survived the Holocaust, the lawyer, the hothead who wants to fight it out with the terrorists right here, right now) plot to reclaim the flight, the terrorists as a concession release some passengers most of whom coincidentally don’t have any speaking parts, and then the ultimate confrontation.

What made Hostage Flight unique in the plane hijacking movie genre is its ending. Actually, two endings (more about that later). You may be wondering, does Hostage Flight end up with the terrorists being put on trial for murder, assault and hijacking? In a way, yes, and this is where Hostage Flight can be cathartic, especially in the wake of 9/11. It’s not surprising that following 9/11, Hostage Flight experienced renewed interest because at the end of the movie the passengers subdue the terrorists and in effect, put them on trial mid-air (the surviving three terrorists are buckled in their seats) as the flight approaches London.

In effect the passengers have appointed themselves judge and jury to take justice in their own hands, with one of the passengers waving a gun captured from the hostages. The “trial” throws up lines that whilst sounding clichéd, do resonate with public debates about criminal justice (or lack thereof) and the nature of the legal system we want to believe will work. One passenger wanting swift justice asks “Maybe they go to trial, go to prison, then what? Get traded for another group of prisoners? Can’t let it happen this time”, and another passenger asks “How can you guarantee they will be even sent to trial?” In which the police lieutenant responds that he can’t guarantee anything, but he believes in due process of the law even though he’s been frustrated by a “murder plea bargained to jay walking”, and it’s not his right to judge.

The trial continues with notions of justice and the law, “Who is talking about the law? We’re talking about justice”. So true, as law and justice are not necessarily synonymous. What is legal is not necessarily just. Remember it was legal many years ago discriminate on the grounds of race. Anti-abortionists will argue that abortion laws are unjust.

It’s clear in the mid-air trial that the terrorists (who aren’t given the right to present their case) will have difficulty getting any sort of fair trial, but as the passengers point out, they had already killed two innocent passengers, and some aren’t willing to “trust the hijackers’ fate to lawyers, petitions and government.” That really hits a nerve, because who will ever forget the controversy caused by the Scottish Government’s early release of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi in 2009 on “compassionate grounds”, who had been sentenced to life imprisonment for the Lockerbie plane bombing which killed all passengers, and some Lockerbie residents.

Back to Hostage Flight…the passenger who survived the Holocaust then speaks up, yes the terrorists are brutal but the worst thing they did was to “defile the law, breach the convenient by which we live in peace.” But exacting revenge would make them no better than the terrorists, and would make them lawless, breaking the laws of man and God.

“We must be just.”
“Where was their justice when they killed people?”
“We are taking responsibility.”
“But it’s revenge!”

But what about the lawyer passenger? He’s frank and probably sums up how many of us – lawyers and lay people alike – would really feel in such a mid-air trial. Yes he believes in due process of law but would never under any circumstance defence this “gutter trash” who “make war on civilians, kill women, children, and will seek protection of the very law that they are making a mockery of.” The lawyer concludes they are “beyond protection of our laws.”

Watching the “trial” in Hostage Flight reminded me of “Operation Wrath of God”, initiated by the Israeli Government to target those responsible for the murder of Israeli Olympic team members at Munich 1972. I remember watching an interview with a widow of one of the Israeli team members murdered, and she said that she received no satisfaction that those responsible for her husband’s murder ended up being killed through the Operation. When I recounted this interview to a Christian friend at church (who was a wife and mother of three children), she wasn’t convinced by the widow’s sincerity, saying that it’s easy for the widow to take the moral and just ground after her husband’s murders had “justice” extracted on them. I could sense that my church friend, who lives by God’s laws, had no qualm about the justice meted out to the terrorists who killed an Olympian who was also a husband and father.

Back to Hostage Flight…one of the passengers solemnly declares “We know what we have to do, we just need to guts to do it.” We then get one of two endings. Both are gruesome and violent in their own way. The original ending had the hot headed passenger shoot two of the terrorists after they tried to break loose, and much to his horror in the ensuing struggle, accidentally shot the police lieutenant. Sure a Quentin Tarantino movie is far more gruesome and explicit (Exhibit A: Kill Bill) but remember, Hostage Flight is a 1985 made-for-TV movie.

The word is that this original ending disturbed many viewers, so the producers called back the actors and filmed a second ending, where we see the passengers really have passed judgement. This second ending had the camera pan down aisle, passengers pondering what they have done as they approach landing, and at the back of the aisle you see the dangling legs of the three terrorists, having been sentenced to death by hanging. And viewers thought the first ending was more gruesome?

The full movie with the original ending is on YouTube, as is a video with both endings. You can decide for yourself which ending was just, if at all. Remember though, what’s just is not necessarily legal, and what’s legal is not necessarily just.

Book Review: Who Moved My Cheese?

by Pamela Taylor-Barnett

whomovedmy cheeses

Author: Spencer Johnson
Publisher: Penguin Group
First published: 1998
Rating: 5/5

 
‘Bite off more than you can chew, and chew like crazy! Love, Rodney. 2002’.

This is inscribed in a small book titled ‘Who moved my cheese?’ that my big brother gave me for Christmas in 2002. And how very apt his originality continues to be.

Not being one for ‘these-self-helpy-books’, I was initially sceptical about this book. However, at a comfortable 94 small pages on a quiet Boxing Day, I was curious enough to set that aside. I really encourage you to read about Sniff and Scuffy (two mice) and Hem and Haw (little people). Cheese is a metaphor for what you want to have in life and each of us has our own idea of cheese. Let’s face it – to some people that delicious blue vein is just a stinky pile of mould – unappealing to every one of our senses.

Sniff, Scuffy, Hem and Haw have actually all discovered their cheese, and are enjoying it. The lovely story that this book shares is what happens when their cheese gets moved (eeek! Or squeeeak as the case may be!).

In a time-poor world, give yourself the short hour to read this little story and see what you gain from it. There are even a few animated you tube clips about now. Whether your cheese was completing university and is now somewhere else; or was an area of practice that has gone mouldy for you, this little story suggests some clues to deal with change in your work and life.

I need to constantly work on remembering where and when to ‘chew like crazy’ and this little book sits on my shelf always.

Movie Review: …And Justice for All

by Finchley Atticus

And Justice for All

…AND JUSTICE FOR ALL (1979. 119 MINUTES)
FINCHLEY’S RATING: 4/5
DIRECTOR: NORMAN JEWISON
LEAD ACTORS: AL PACINO, JACK WARDEN, JOHN FORSYTHE
GENRE: DRAMA/CRIME

 
If you can imagine Atticus Finch pumped up on Red Bull, you get Al Pacino as the memorable Arthur Kirkland in the courtroom drama …And Justice for All. Kirkland, an idealistic lawyer of 12 years whose divorced wife has custody of their children, displays a weary compassion for helpless clients in his bustling Baltimore practice, yet doesn’t hesitate to see through his client’s lies, “Don’t lie to me!”. Kirkland reminds us of the frailties faced by players in the justice system.

We witness a defence lawyer’s nervous breakdown after getting a murder acquitted on a technicality, and then finding he subsequently murdered two children. We witness clients who are stuck in prison when they shouldn’t have been there. We witness another lawyer who represents well-healed commercial clients disparagingly refer to poor and marginalised clients as the “nickel and dime”.

Nickels and dimes. If I remade …And Justice for All, I would have said that a client’s money (or lack thereof) plays a significant role in determining the winner. That’s not to say this is right, but I’m sure even a lawyer with the idealism of Kirkland recognises this especially as the judge accused of rape (played chillingly by John Forsythe, for whom members of a certain generation will always remember as the conniving yet charming Blake Carrington in Dynasty) is one who with his privileged position has significant funds to spare in his defence, even if he virtually admits his guilt to a disgusted Kirkland.

Throw in race and you are also certain of knowing who the winner (or sadly) who the loser is. Van Badham, writing in The Guardian on 26 July 2013 drew a tale of two defendants both aged 27, one a law student, Liam Danial Sweeney (and son of a barrister may I add), convicted of glassing and bashing a man in an “unprovoked and gratuitous” assault at a birthday party at Melbourne Crown Casino. The other defendant, Kwementyaye Briscoe of Alice Springs, had committed no crime when the police in their wisdom decided to chase him, wrestle him to the ground and place him in “protective custody”. It’s not every day that a defendant in the Magistrate’s Court has a QC, but it just happens Sweeney did, and Ian Hill QC certainly earned his pay, with Magistrate Jack Vandersteen being moved to say, of a possible jail sentence, that he thought Sweeney would not last very long, “Not many people are in jail who went to Haileybury or who had your client’s privileged background”, with Hill helpfully adding “Or who look like him”. I can imagine high fives went around in Sweeney’s family when the Magistrate imposed an 18 month suspended sentence and a $5,000 fine. I can’t wait to see how Sweeney explains his conviction for assault to the Admissions Board if he ever wants to practise as a lawyer. Tragically Briscoe, an Aborigine, didn’t even have the opportunity to defend himself in a court (not that he needed to anyway, as he wasn’t charged with anything), as he died in police custody. Sadly again, no police officers were charged although I’m sure they managed to get over being “formally disciplined”. Nickels and dimes indeed.

…And Justice for All reminds me of the helplessness of clients facing government bureaucracies, who can wield power causing unjust situations that can, unless the client has a resolute lawyer not desperate for huge dollars, result in tragic consequences. Like my former client, faced with escalating penalty notices from the Victorian RTA for unpaid speeding fines, due to bureaucratic bungling in failing to record my client’s new postal address. I’m thankful that my law firm colleagues and I, after much investigation, persistence, stubbornness, were able to use the justice system (the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court thank you) to not only overturn the unpaid penalty notices, but also the original speeding fines. Strike that as a win for a client against the State.

I wish I could claim the same for Nathan Gordon, a victim of NSW RTA’s bureaucratic indifference and insensitivity in failing to recognise he could not be responsible for $10,000 worth of speeding fines, resulting in him incurring $20,000 to travel to courts around NSW to defend his case. Tragically, Gordon died as a result of serious head injuries, lying beside his pushbike which he was forced to ride because his licence was suspended for failure to pay speeding fines he wasn’t responsible for. Cold comfort that the RTA sympathised with the family for their loss, and no doubt this statement was carefully vetted by their lawyers. Hardly a just outcome.

…And Justice for All will stir you, move you and even reflect upon the marginalised clients who look to lawyers, who are just human after all, to get them out of their legal hole, yet just lack the much needed funds to achieve justice. You really learn that the movie’s title is sadly and tragically ironic.

Image from IMDB

Legal Women Take to the Stage to Celebrate Vaginas

by Dr Kylie Weston-Scheuber

vagina monologues

On 29 April 2014, eight women from Melbourne’s legal profession took to the stage at Storey Hall, RMIT to talk about vaginas. I was one of them. The women, not the vaginas.

This Melbourne production of Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues was the brainchild of RMIT solicitor Karen Abraham, who can only be described as a powerhouse. Abraham first organised a production of TVM last year, with a cast that included Judge Liz Gaynor and ethicist Leslie Cannold. She conceived the idea after meeting Ensler at a conference in New York.

Ensler gives performance rights to organisations around the world on the condition that proceeds raised go to sexual assault prevention. This year’s one-night only production raised almost $15,000 for the Royal Women’s Hospital CASA House Sexual Assault Prevention Program and for V-Day, a global initiative that raises awareness about violence against women.

The 2014 cast comprised Renata Alexander, barrister and senior law lecturer at Monash University; Patricia Athanasiadis, senior solicitor with VGSO; Hilary Bonney, barrister and author; Jennifer Kanis, State Member for Melbourne; Moira Rayner, former Equal Opportunity Commissioner; Prani West, senior associate at Minter Ellison; Beth Wilson, former Health Services Commissioner, and yours truly.

Under the guidance of directors Bridgette Burton and Marissa Bennett, we spent six weeks or so adapting parts of the script, coming up with creative euphemisms for the body part that dare not speak its name, and rehearsing our lines.

For one hour, we strutted the boards, armed variously with feather boas and mirrors, covering a range of topics with the vagina at their core – childbirth, pubic hair, sexual experiences and sexual assault. We laughed, we cried, we tried to locate our clitorises.

A highlight was Moira Rayner’s monologue on the theme of ‘Cunt’, engaging in a poetic exploration of this most taboo of words. Another was Hilary Bonney and Jennifer Kanis raging about the horrors of pap smear exams in ‘My Angry Vagina’.

My own personal climax (pun intended) was to simulate 20 different orgasmic moans. Personal favourites included the ‘diva’ moan (cue high, operatic note), the machine gun moan (self-explanatory) and the surprise, triple orgasm moan (say no more).

TVM was written in 1996 and is based on a series of interviews conducted with women about their vaginas and sexuality. The mood of the monologues ranges from wacky (If your vagina could talk, what would it say?) to awkward (women in a ‘vagina workshop’) to heartbreaking (experience of pack rape in Bosnia).

Although the subject-matter of the play is confronting to some, TVM is a great initiative, not only for the money it raises for two great causes, but also for the opportunity to speak in public about a topic that is still taboo in many social circles.

For me, the decision to be involved was not something I needed to mull over for long. While the idea of engaging in my own ‘When Harry Met Sally’ moment on stage was a little daunting, the opportunity to meet and work alongside such fantastic women was one I simply could not pass up.

And if we made a few people think differently about vaginas in the process, even better.
 

Dr Kylie Weston-Scheuber is a barrister at the Victorian Bar, specialising in commercial and administrative law. Prior to coming to the Bar, she was employed with Allens Arthur Robinson and subsequently with the public service in Canberra. She has a PhD from the Australian National University. She occasionally indulges her passion for the theatrical and last year starred in Bottled Snail’s production of 12 Angry Men. Her next extra-curial endeavour is in Bottled Snail’s upcoming legal cabaret show, Life of a Lawyer, playing at the Paris Cat Jazz Club on 16 and 17 July.

Movie Review: Legally Blonde

by Phoebe Churches

legally blonde

Legally Blonde (2001. 96 MINUTES)
Phoebs’ rating: 6/10
Director: Robert Luketic
Lead Actors: Reese Witherspoon, Luke Wilson, Selma Blair
Genre: Comedy/Romance

 

This could have been a very economical review. My brother very pithily provided the following analysis:

Dispelling the blonde=ditzy myth, by playing a ditzy blonde who triumphs anyway by getting into Harvard Law School using videos of herself in a wet bikini, motivated solely by the desire to marry her horrible boyfriend and have his children. I suppose that’s a typical feminist narrative these days.

Yes, really. Spring semester at the University of California sees the Delta Nu college sorority certain that their president, Elle Woods, will soon be engaged to her boyfriend, the apparently adorable Warner Huntington the Third.

Sadly, a wedding is not on the cards. Elle is summarily dumped by Warner and left broken hearted, moping in her dorm room scoffing chocolates. In an insulin-fuelled epiphany (and haven’t we all had them) she realises she can win back her man by the following simple plan.

1) Be admitted to Harvard Law School;

2) Show the ex that she’s a serious intellectual;

3) Get married (the end).

The first step is achieved on the strength of a brilliant 179 LSAT score, a GPA of 4.0 in fashion merchandising and a glittery bikini clad video essay (in lieu of the usual paper version).

OK – so we’re not talking hyper-realism here folks.

This movie is an escape. More importantly, while it is hardly the epitome of a politically correct right on feminist film – it does actually raise a few thought-provoking issues.

Firstly it passes the Bechdel Test: – there are at least two named women in it, they talk to each other and about something besides a man. This is interesting because, the premise of the film at the outset is that Elle implausibly gets into and attends Harvard Law School purely to get back her man. However the story arc fairly rapidly morphs the goal into matters more weighty: – being taken seriously as a woman and issues of class and elitism.

Does it have something serious to say about the law and the legal field?

Yes it does. Despite the protagonist being a woman, a number of female law students and also one female law professor (played by the wonderful Holland Taylor) – the Law School, and even more so the law firm in which Elle finds herself an intern – is steeped in the ethos of male dominance and privilege. She is sexually harassed by Professor Callahan during her internship. She is hated by the ‘lesbian feminist’ for being too girly and by the other women because they presume she is using her sexuality to get to the top.

Of course the film shows Elle does a little of both. She happily gets into Harvard on the strength of the all-male selection committee’s interest in her bikini, yet she won’t sleep with the senior partner in her internship to get a job. Hard choices…

The bind Elle is in is very palpable and for many women, very familiar.

Class and privilege is ‘explored’ through a couple of amusing devises.

Elle is (somewhat hilariously) admitted to Harvard in the “diversity” equity group category.

Actually she is a child of Hollywood ‘new money’ who collides with East Coast ‘old money’ snobbery. Her Harvard peers see her as Malibu Barbie incarnate and her lecturers are simply painted as snobby bullies.

You will learn nothing about the actual law in this movie – however it does provide some interesting commentary on being a woman in the legal profession. Oh come on – whom am I fooling? If you are looking for legal gravitas – this is not your film. If you want a light movie that is alternately entertaining and irritating – this is your film.

Legally Blonde image from IMDB