Interview: Clarissa Rayward

Clarissa Rayward is a family lawyer, wife and mum who is passionate about relationships, people and family. Clarissa is the Director of Brisbane Family Law Centre, a boutique Family Law practice.

Clarissa uses her industry knowledge and skill to change the way Australian families experience divorce and separation.  She is known as ‘The Happy Family Lawyer’ as she believes that your divorce can be a part of your marriage you can look back on with pride. She is the author of the successful ‘Happy Family Lawyer’ blog, providing weekly commentary and tips on issues relating to divorce and the book ‘Splitsville- How to separate stay out of Court and stay friends’.

During 2016 Clarissa has published her second book- ‘Happy Lawyer Happy Life- How to be happy in law and in life’ for lawyers looking for better ways to practice law after launching a successful podcast by the same name.  Clarissa has now turned her attention to addressing the high rates of depression and anxiety amongst lawyers by opening a positive dialogue on how lawyers can find happiness in their careers.

When did you know that you wanted to be a lawyer?

I was a year or so into an interior design degree and was not enjoying it- I wanted to study something that was far removed from the ‘creative’ world as I felt a career in the creative arts was going to be hard work and I wanted to just enjoy my passion for creativity in my own time and not make it a job or a chore.  I took some time out from University and started doing a lot of reading- that led me to a few books about lawyers and I became more and more interested in the role of a lawyer so headed back to University the following year to do my law degree.

What attracts you most to the profession of law?

The capacity to help others through what is often one of the most difficult moments in their lives- I am a divorce lawyer and feel very privileged to have the chance to work with people at such challenging and personal moments.

What are your passions outside of the law?

Hanging out with my family, dancing, coffee and chocolate!  I love anything creative so I tend to do a lot of writing now but still find myself with a paint brush in hand every once in a while.

If you had your time again, would you choose to practice in law? If not, what else would you choose to do?

I ask myself this question a lot and the answer does depend on the type of day I am having!  Honestly I am not sure knowing what I know now that I would practice law in the traditional sense if I had my time again, but I do think a law degree is such a helpful ‘in’ to so many great career pathways.  I do love business and running a law firm so I sense I would still find myself running a business of some sort whether I had completed my law degree or not.

If you could only give one bit of advice to new lawyers, what would it be?

You are a person first and a lawyer second- never forget that.  A career in the law can at times become all consuming and the ‘higher’ you go in the law ladder the more your career will pull you away from the things that perhaps truly matter in life- family, friends and relationships.  Remembering that being a lawyer is just one part of you and being clear about what really matters will make those hard decisions easier.  And my second tip (because 1 is never enough) would be that this career is a marathon not a sprint and to remember to slow down and enjoy the ride as you just never really know what great opportunities tomorrow will bring.

What makes a lawyer a great lawyer?

A great lawyer in my mind is intelligent and has a solid grasp on legal concepts but more importantly has empathy and understanding.  I think a great lawyer is also naturally curious and not judgmental.

How do you balance life and work?

I don’t think of ‘balance’ anymore but have adopted the phrase ‘integration’ that a lawyer friend of mind coined.  Working for myself offers advantages and disadvantages.   I have found it better to just let work and life flow into each other without being too worried about having a clear structure.  However I am very careful to be focused on home when I am with my family and friends or work if that is what I am doing- I find it most difficult when I am trying to do both at the same time.

What is your best tip for maintaining sanity in the law?

Be honest and real with yourself.  We need to look for the positives, not the challenges and there are so many wonderful positives of being part of such a privileged profession.  Any career will have its challenges.  If you look after your health, find a positive workplace and enjoy your life and passions outside of your work I think you really can be a mostly happy lawyer.

What are your hopes for our profession?

That we can find better ways to work together and support each other to ensure longevity of our profession.  Here in Australia the statistics around mental health challenges for lawyers are very high (1 in 3 lawyers likely to experience depression or anxiety in their careers) and so I think we as a group of colleagues can do more for each other to minimise the drivers of ill health and unhappiness.

 

Interview: Patrick Street

There are many fantastic people out there connected with the law and all their stories are unique and interesting. Recently I had the pleasure of interviewing Mr. Patrick Street who, I believe, fits well into the above category. His legal career stretches over 40 years starting as a young man working as a Clerk in the Victorian Magistrates Court working, striving and finally achieving the other role on that side of the bench… Deputy Chief Magistrate.

Patrick became a Victorian Clerk of Courts in 1958. “I was in Courts throughout the Melbourne area until 1981 when I was appointed as a Magistrate.” In 1995 he was appointed a Deputy Chief Magistrate of Victoria where he remained until he retired from the bench in 1999.  “In 1999 I thought that’s 40 years in the Court’s branch, that’s enough!”

While being a ‘Clerk of Courts’ Patrick studied law part time at Melbourne University, “I wanted to get onto the bench as a Magistrate.” He graduated from Melbourne University with an LLB in 1976 and a Diploma in Criminology in 1980 and in 1976 was admitted to practise as a Barrister and Solicitor of the Supreme Court of Victoria.

Unlike most of today’s law students, lawyers and even judges, Patrick’s journey was unique as he jumped straight from Clerk to Magistrate. “I didn’t particularly want to leave the job and become a solicitor or a lawyer, I wanted to get on the bench. I’ve been in the courts a lot being a clerk of courts, so it meant I was facing the lawyers and barristers, and I did the same thing when I was on the bench, I faced the lawyers. So I’ve never been in Court where I’ve faced the Magistrate. I can’t really say if I would have enjoyed being a lawyer, because I’ve never done it.”

Alas, for all those whose minds are currently whirring about the possibility of skipping the bar table and going straight to the bench, times have changed. “Clerks aren’t really eligible to be a Magistrate [nowadays]. In the mid 1980’s it changed so that you had to be appointed from either a Barrister or a Solicitor. Back in the day you had a seniority list and once you became eligible to be a Magistrate it was a matter of seniority of when you got on the bench.”

“What happened at the time I got on was that there were 4 vacancies and four Clerks of Courts including me applied for the jobs and we were then interviewed by the relevant authorities and then we were appointed to the bench. So it didn’t really involve any Law Institute or the Bar Council or anything like that.”

Since his retirement Patrick has been involved in quite a few publications, that have allowed a convergence of his passions. “I’ve been doing the monthly crossword for the Law Institute of Victoria, we call it ‘Letters of the Law’. That’s involved a lot of work producing those every month since 2000”.

Patrick was appointed President of the Australian Crossword Club in 1992 (and is still in that position) and since 2000 he has edited and published the Club’s monthly magazine Crozworld. The Club’s website is: http://www.crosswordclub.org/

“I also produced the Victorian Magistrates Court Annual Report for ten years and was the editor of the Magistrates Information Bulletin from 1995-1999 (29 issues). I was the co-author of The Health Act Victoria produced by the Law Book Co in 1983. And from a personal Magistrate’s perspective, I produced the first 12 copies of The Magistrates Journal (1983-86) when I was the Secretary of the Victorian Magistrates Association.” As you can see, Patrick is a very busy and dedicated man!
For the last 12 years Patrick has also been producing the bi-monthly newsletter of the Silver Society of Australia. “So I’ve been interested in collecting sterling silver tableware. So that’s 3 publications. But the time I have spent on the Magistrates Cases that has taken an enormous amount of work.”

Magistrates Cases

For those who have not heard of Magistrates Cases, it is a wonderful website and resource for (particularly Victorian) practitioners, law students and yes, as the name suggests, Magistrates. In essence, the website has access to over 2500 specialised case reports, in electronic format, mainly from the Supreme Court of Victoria in relation to the Magistrates’ Court’s jurisdiction in Victoria. Now THAT is a handy website!

“The Supreme Court of Victoria used to send its judgements down to Magstrates if they thought that the judgement might be relevant. I started doing them in 1983, I’d been on the bench for 2 years and the Chief Magistrate at the time said ‘I want you to start doing that‘. I got these cases and would go through them and ended up putting them in the publications.”

“There’s usually about 4-5 cases that go out in each one of these parts. I still do about 10-12 of these parts every year.  It’s definitely not a summary. I include the whole case and catchwords to give you a bit of an idea of what the case is about. I usually do a few sentences to background the case and then I put my neck on the block and say “this is what the Judge held”. That’s the hard bit, what is this case all about and what did the Judge mean?” Patrick laughs that he’s “only” done it more than 2500 times now. “it must be a world record!”

“About 10 years ago or so, I started my Magistrates Cases website where I’ve uploaded every relevant case to Magistrates Cases (http://www.magistratescases.com.au/) from 1969. Every case that has been published as a Magistrates Cases has been uploaded, there are more than 2500. Even cases before I started doing it.  The ones that were edited by other Magistrates didn’t have the detail I’ve always done and quite often didn’t say what the case stood for, I would fix it and upload it.”

So why did Patrick take over the role and importantly, allow online access? “I want Magistrates to be totally informed and kept up to date with the latest cases from the Supreme Court because if a case in the Magistrates Court is similar to one in the Supreme Court then the Magistrates are bound to follow what the Supreme Court has decided.”

“All Magistrates have access to the cases and I send spare copies of the printed version to the Magistrates Court in the City and the Broadmeadows Court. When I was on the Bench this didn’t happen and I must say, it’s handy that any magistrate or barrister can access the case in court!”

Patrick has also written a large number of articles not only about historical matters of the Court but also for the assistance of the magistrates which can be accessed through the Legal History section of the website. “The article on drink/driving goes more than 300 pages and probably is the most detailed article of decided cases in relation to that topic. The Magistrates Cases covers virtually all cases on drink/driving in Victoria since 1969.”

 

A few Questions for Patrick Street

Do you have any single moment, case or event that has defined your legal career?

“A decision I made in 1994, the Defence Counsel thought I had acted in an improper manner. That case went before one of the Supreme Court judges who completely went along with my decision. So I was very happy with that. It gives you a bit more confidence when you have a Supreme Court judge upholding your decision. So I enjoyed that.”

If you could give one piece of advice to new people in the legal profession, what would it be?

“Well in my opinion a lawyer is the most important person in Court. I loved to have a lawyer appearing for a defendant than a defendant appearing on their own. I’ve always been very impressed with the quality of the submissions that have been made to me over the years. Lawyers are the most important part of the Magistrates Court.”

What makes a good lawyer?

“I always liked the lawyer if they were making relevant and helpful submissions, but if the lawyer got offside with the magistrate or said things that were a bit insulting or unhelpful, to me that never did any good for the decision that was finally made. So for me, if the lawyer can be courteous at all times but be extensive with their knowledge of the law and the case involved, to me that’s the best, the lawyer who was doing the right thing.”

Is the reality of being a judge anything like people imagine it?

“I’m afraid not, it’s hard work! The trouble with the Magistrates Court is that there is so much work there every day and what it means is that you are in a position where you must complete the work that’s been listed today, because it can’t be put on tomorrow, because there’s a heap of cases tomorrow, and in fact there’s a heap of cases every day for the next three months! So if you can’t finish the hearing today, then that’s going to cause a real problem.”

“I felt that I had to make decisions properly and as efficiently as I could to make sure that people weren’t going to be put off for 3 or 6 months. To make sure I finished the particular case on a particular day, it was very difficult to make sure that happened.”

 

At just over 74 years of age, Patrick is still editing Magistrates Cases as well as his many other publications. For access to Magistrates Case, follow this link: http://www.magistratescases.com.au/

Mary Louise Hatch

PHOTO cropped MLH #2

When did you know that you wanted to be a lawyer?

I did law simply because I got the marks to do so (not a good enough reason and something I counsel others against….). However, I realised I was interested in certain aspects of law when doing Professional Legal Practice at Springvale Legal Service with Adrian Evans and Family Law with Dorothy Kovacs at Monash Uni. Doing Professional Legal Practice showed me that I enjoyed interacting with and helping clients. I still feel the same way. Dorothy Kovacs brought family law to life. Again, it is the interpersonal aspect of family law that I find so interesting. Black letter law can make me yawn…

What are your passions outside of the law?

Singing and my family (I guess not in that order?)! I have been singing all my life and as a professional jazz singer for about 20 years. I love that my kids are very musical and into music.

If you had your time again, would you choose to practice in law? If not, what else would you choose to do?

I would have liked to have become a psychologist or an opera singer!

What would you say are the hazards of this profession?

Bullies

How do you balance life and work?

I don’t! I feel like my work is my life and my life my work. I like to think of ‘life balance’ as something that I aspire to daily. I think that working in a way that accords with your values – for me that means working in family law in an ethical non-adversarial manner through mediation and collaborative law – whilst being immersed in all the other aspects of life such as family and music means that there is not such a division between non-work and work. I work from home running my practice in family law mediation and collaborative work. I also lecture at the College of Law and RMIT so I have a lot of flexibility to spend time with my family and pursue my interests. I am also involved in the Wellness for Law Network, which aspires to develop health, well-balanced lawyers, and sang at their recent conference dinner with the “Wellness Band”!

What will the legal profession look like in twenty-five years time?

Hopefully it will have a stronger focus on ethical practice including creative dispute resolution. By that I mean understanding disputes as a symptom of often complex conflict that, where possible, ought to be managed in a non-adversarial, inspired and principled manner.

What are your hopes for our profession?

That it truly becomes a caring profession. This will involve lawyers learning to think outside the square to find non-combative pathways. Too many lawyers are quick to automatically litigate when there are alternative options to assist clients. In family law I have never failed to be astounded by the number of lawyers who over-empathise with their clients, blindly take on their cause and perpetuate the animosity.

Mary Louise practices as a collaboratively trained Family Lawyer, Nationally Accredited Mediator and Family Dispute Resolution Practitioner. She also teaches Family Law, Dispute Resolution and Professional Legal Training at RMIT and the College of Law. Away from her day job, Mary Louise is a professional Jazz singer. Contact Mary Louise at: marylouise@spectrumlaw.com.au or see her website at: www.spectrummediations.com.au  

Sarah Rey

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Is the reality of being a lawyer anything like how you imagined it?

I am generally aware of some of the shortcomings of the legal profession in terms of its lack of progress in changing the balance of women leaders in firms, at the bar and on the bench over the last thirty years; the slow response to the problem of burgeoning numbers of young law students not being able to be provided with experience and training within firms; and the poor cultural practices in some firms and legal institutions. However I have been fortunate to have worked with a range of eclectic and feisty lawyers in two firms (medium sized and the large), and followed this with 11 rewarding years establishing my own award-winning firm, Justitia, with my colleague, Mary-Jane Ierodiaconou (who has recently been appointed an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court). With the blue sky opportunities and flexibility that running your firm enables, we have been able to create opportunities for law students to be an intrinsic part of our law firm model, and created a positive workplace culture that aspires to be innovative and different. So when I fell into the study law, little did I know that I was commencing a journey that would allow me to learn many new skills beyond just an understanding of legal principles. Through my legal training I have been able to explore entrepreneurialism and deepen my understanding of how business works and lead an organisation. So no, it has not been anything like what I might have imagined.

What are your passions outside the law?

I am interested in girls’ education, the difference it can make to them and their place in the world and how that can change the world. In the past 15 years I have been involved in the educational governance structures of seven Australian schools for girls established by an international order of sisters whose inspirational founder, Mary Ward, lived 400 years ago.
In my down time, I like traveling to foreign countries with my family so we can learn about life, culture and religions beyond our world in Melbourne. We have been fortunate to have experienced a wide array of countries and cultures and met many diverse people. I would like my children to feel part of a wider world, that extends beyond our Australian borders.
When I have more time, I would like to write up some family history involving a Jewish relative during the second world war, and do something with a treasure trove of taped interviews with student politicians which I conducted in the 1980s.

If you could give one bit of advice to new lawyers, what would it be?

If you have a passion to practice a particular type of law, or work in a particular part of the profession, do not be deterred if you do not get there on the first attempt. There are many ways to create opportunities and make oneself attractive to a prospective employer. Sometimes it pays to think outside the box. Industry knowledge and skills can be obtained through other related, and even non-legal, roles, and then you can knock on the door again of the organisation which previously declined your application, and say, this is what I now have to offer. Importantly it can help to show passion and that you will go to great lengths to obtain the desired job. If you aren’t feeling any passion for your job, perhaps you should ask if it is right for you.

What makes a lawyer a great lawyer?

I think a great lawyer is someone who sets their own emotions to one side, providing dispassionate, logical, reasoned advice to their client. The great lawyer has excellent people skills, and high emotional intelligence, and can communicate effectively, clearly and compassionately with their client, reading the landscape and taking into account all the elements that bear on their advice. The great lawyer is ready to do battle on behalf of their client where necessary. The great lawyer can find a cost effective and lasting solution.

What at the hazards of this profession?

One hazard is staying in a job because you are paid well, but you feel no passion for or connection with either the subject matter or the people with whom you work. We can sometimes be sucked in to thinking that life is all about money and status. But it may not be the right place to be, and the cost of sustained unhappiness and non-fulfilment, or remaining in a dysfunctional workplace, can be high. Instead it is important to ask is this the right place for me, and if not, seek advice from friends and colleagues to ascertain where might be the right fit for one’s skills and priorities. And I would repeat the shortcomings I identified above.

How do you balance life and work?

I cycle to work, which is 10 km from home and helps me keep my stress levels down; I actively pursue my friendships so that I have emotional support in daily life; I remain involved in my children’s lives, though sometimes it is worth checking in with them to find out if they think you are actually as present as you think you are; I am involved in organisations outside of law which shows me my legal skills have some value outside of my workplace and this is a confidence boost; and I work in my own business which means I have flexibility and control over my workload to lead a balanced life and pursue diverse interests.

What is your best tip for maintaining sanity in the law?

Don’t sweat the small things. Nothing lasts forever. As Heraklitus, the Greek philosopher said: we step into the same river, and yet it is not the same river, as you never step twice into the same river. Nothing rests, everything passes, nothing lasts, cold becomes warm, warm becomes cold, wet dries, and dryness becomes wet…. Everything has its day. Things change, and we need to be adaptive and be able to move along with that change.

Bio
Sarah is the managing partner of Justitia, an established workplace relations law firm in Melbourne and serving clients nationally. Justitia has won multiple awards from bodies such as the LIV’s “Law Firm of the Year” and AHRI’s “Sir Ken Robinson Award for Workforce Flexibility”, recognising its unique work culture and excellent client service. www.justitia.com.au @SarahMRrey

Her Honour, Magistrate Pauline Spencer

dandenong-magistrates-court

When did you know that you wanted to be a lawyer?

I actually didn’t really know I wanted to a lawyer until I started working in a law firm. When I was finishing school I wanted to be a vet or a physiotherapist. It was the 80s (the time of power suits and the glamour of “LA Law”) and a stint of work experience with a vet confirmed I did not like blood, so I enrolled in Commerce/Law degree. Given the way law was taught back then, law school seemed so unconnected with real life. It was not until I got a part time job in a law firm doing personal injuries cases and started to meet with injured workers and their families that I realised the law could assist people. It was then that I decided I wanted to be a lawyer.

What attracts you most to the profession of law?
So at first it was helping individual people, then I worked on a few cases that had broader social implications and I was attracted to the law as a tool for broader systemic change. It was important though to build my skills as a lawyer. I think it was Justice Kirby who once said that if you want to use the law to make change then you have to be a good lawyer first and foremost.

If you had your time again, would you choose to practice in law? If not, what else would you choose to do?
I think I would be a lawyer again. I would love to go to law school now with the new focus on teaching social context and therapeutic jurisprudence. I do worry about the graduates coming out of law school now given how hard it is to find graduate positions and sustain a living in the industry.

What was the single moment, case or event that you feel defined you as a lawyer?
I can’t think of a single moment and I wonder whether this idea of the heroic lawyer with THE big case is healthy for lawyers. For me the types of moments that defined me as a lawyer were when I was able to show compassion to someone who needed my assistance. Maybe it’s these little moments that lawyers should celebrate more. They can happen every day if you choose to practice in that way.

If you could only give one bit of advice to new lawyers, what would it be?
Try to expose yourself to as a many experiences as possible before you decide which area of the law you want to focus on. The law is so diverse and it takes a while to find out what will excite and sustain you.

What is your best tip for maintaining sanity in the law?
It might be hard but try to find a job that you love where you feel you can make a difference. If you can’t find that job then try to make a difference outside of your day job e.g. volunteering at a community legal centre advice night.

What will the legal profession look like in twenty five years time?
Lawyers in all areas of the law will work in multi-disciplinary teams where the lawyer will work with social workers, financial counsellors, drug counsellors to deal not only with the legal problem but with the impacts of the law on the individual and the broader community. Their work will be informed by the law but also other disciplines like addiction medicine and behavioural science. Therapeutic jurisprudence, the maximisation of the therapeutic impacts of the design of the law, legal process and the roles of legal actors, will become part and parcel of how lawyers work.

Her Honour was appointed as a Magistrate with the Magistrates’ Court of Victoria in 2006. She currently sits at Dandenong Magistrates’ Court one of Victoria’s busiest mainstream courts. Her Honour previously worked in as a lawyer in private practice and in the community legal centre movement. Prior to her appointment, she was the Executive Officer of the Federation of Community Legal Centres, the peak body for over 50 community legal centres in Victoria. Her Honour has an interest in therapeutic jurisprudence; improved responses to family violence; and improving connections between the court and the community. She is a member of the Advisory Group for the International Therapeutic Jurisprudence in the Mainstream Project: www.mainstreamtj.wordpress.com

 

Michael McGarvie

Image - Michael McGarvie

What are your passions outside of the law?
Gardening, plant propagation, landscape design, cycling and renewable energy. I have just had 16 storage batteries and solar panels fitted to my home so the day’s sun comes out of the batteries at night.

If you had your time again, would you choose to practice in law? If not, what else would you choose to do?
Yes, definitely. I was talked out of Archaeology as a career by a wise Professor of Archaeology at Melbourne University when I wanted to switch after 2nd year Law. He said, Archaeology would not support a married life and a mortgage in the same way Law would! I stuck it out and loved every minute of being a solicitor for 23 years, and then a public sector CEO in courts and legal regulation for the last 9 years. Law offers so much human contact and community influence, allowing you to advise and assist people by generally knowing how to get things done.

What was the single moment, case or event that you feel defined you as a lawyer?
Winning a hard fought, impossibly difficult, but truly deserving case against the Commonwealth for a client. It was called the Australia Post case. My client was shot by the deranged gunman, Frank Vitkovic, during what became known as the Queen Street massacre in 1987. John Dyrac survived being shot in the neck and shoulder at point blank range by an M1 Carbine when he opened the door for the gunman. The floor was bullet-proof because Australia Post held $250,000 of collectable (and steal-able) stamps, but had ceased using the security equipment properly. It was a hard case to win because the law was ill-defined about whether an employer was liable for the movements of a madman with a gun, even if the employer planned for gun invasion in their workplace. The Supreme Court jury upheld the negligence action against the employer after a two week, highly publicised trial. This defined me because it involved me and my firm taking a big risk in a controversial case for a client who could never have personally afforded to bring it to court, and involved success in a case many people thought would fail.

If you could only give one bit of advice to new lawyers, what would it be?
Accept that whatever your experience, clients will give a lawyer a free gift of trust when first appointing them. That gift is yours to lose by a number of simple means: lying, misleading, fudging, over-promising, under-performing and the super-human complex. The super-human complex is feeling your client expects you to know and do everything for them. You need to reduce or change your client’s expectations about what you can and can’t do for them at the outset of the relationship. Don’t do legal work for clients that is beyond your knowledge and understanding. Refer or get help. Your client will respect you for doing this because they will see you are acting to protect their interests.

What makes a lawyer a great lawyer?
Knowing the importance of servicing and communicating with your client. Great “bedside manner” is valuable. Remaining humble and conscious of the community role every lawyer plays as an officer appointed by the Court, with a primary duty to the Court, but then to represent the interests of their client to the best of their training and ability.

What would you say are the hazards of this profession?
Conflicts of interest between clients’ interests and fee budgets. Stress and anxiety in the working life of a lawyer causing performance, conduct and health issues.

What are your hopes for our profession?
That it continues to meet its own very high standards of ethical conduct, trustworthiness and fairness. Also, that it shifts to a fully national uniform regulatory scheme.

Michael was appointed as the Commissioner and Board CEO in December 2009. Prior to this Michael was the CEO of the Supreme Court of Victoria for three years. He practised as a solicitor at Holding Redlich for 23 years where he specialised in personal injuries, civil litigation and dispute resolution. Michael is a Graduate of the Australian Institute of Company Directors and is also a graduate in strategic management of regulatory and enforcement agencies from the John Kennedy School of Government, Harvard.

Katie Miller

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What are your passions outside of the law?

Footy and having an opinion. I’m a tragic Western Bulldogs supporter and attend as many games as I can, including interstate games. Footy is a fantastic contrast to the law. As a lawyer, I need to be rational, logical and aware of how I am perceived by clients, the judiciary and my peers. At the footy, I can be loud and completely irrational – I firmly believe that what I wear and where I sit can influence the outcome of the game! I have an opinion about everything – from daylight savings to the state of transport planning in Australia to the appropriateness of buying cherries out of season.

If you had your time again, would you choose to practice in law? If not, what else would you choose to do?

I would still practise law, but I would do it a little bit differently. I like to think I would take a more proactive approach to planning my career. I would have started expanding my non-legal skills sooner – things like mediation, marketing and technology. But I can’t imagine another profession or role which would combine as well as law does my need for intellectual stimulation, my desire to work in the public interest and my enjoyment in working as part of a profession with shared values and common interests.

If you could only give one bit of advice to new lawyers, what would it be?

Only you are responsible for your career but there is lots of help along the way! Identify what sort of lawyer you want to be and then figure out what you need to do to get there. Ask for help along the way and recognise that what you want and who can help you will change as you develop and grow as a lawyer. Don’t wait until you are unhappy to make changes in your career.

What would you say are the hazards of this profession?

The risks to your mental health from being a lawyer are well known. Every lawyer needs to treat it as an occupational health and safety risk inherent to the job. We can manage and mitigate the risk, but we shouldn’t ignore it.
When I feel myself getting ‘the mental sniffles’, I do something about it before it becomes a big problem. Mental sniffles takes different forms in different people – for me, the symptoms are being overly tired for days at a time; snapping at my family at home; and limiting my focus to the things I absolutely have to do just to get through the day. Like a cold, sometimes the mental sniffles will fix itself with some early nights or a quiet weekend. But sometimes I do need to take a day off and rest – just like I do with a cold or a case of ‘debilitating man flu’. Taking a day off for mental health doesn’t mean you have a ‘mental condition’ – just like having a day off for a cold or the flu doesn’t mean you are going to die or need to be hospitalised. It’s just about looking after yourself and letting your body recover.

How do you balance life and work?

As President of the LIV this year, I’m not! But there are still things I do to ensure that I have ‘me’ time. Scheduling ‘me’ time in my diary ensures that it has the same priority as other immoveable appointments, like a client meeting or a court hearing. For example, I have a regular gym class and try to exercise each morning; the footy fixture is sacrosanct; and Sunday night is family roast night. I also try to avoid social media use in bed (mornings and nights) – being on social media 16 hours a day should be enough for any person!

What will the legal profession look like in twenty five years time?

The pace of change in the legal profession is going to be so fast over the next few decades that I don’t have a good picture of what the legal profession will look like in 25 years.
I do have a clear picture of what I think it will be like in 10 years. The legal profession will be dominated by the very big and the very small – large, global firms providing wrap-around services (legal and non-legal) for clients at one end of the spectrum; niche, specialised, flexible sole practitioners at the other end of the spectrum. Lawyers will have harnessed technology to do more of the work we don’t like (I’ve never met a lawyer who actually likes discovery), leaving us with more time to focus on lawyering as a creative endeavour – things like problem solving, strategising and business advice. Technology will also allow lawyers to make money while we sleep, i.e. clients will be able to access legal services using software designed by lawyers, so lawyers will no longer be limited by the billable hour.

How can one distinguish themselves as a legal professional?

Identify what you do that no one else does as well as you and do it to the best of your ability. It might be a legal skill, like advocacy or writing contracts. Or it could be a non-legal skill – you might be an engaging presenter, a plain English communicator or have incredibly high emotional intelligence. The trick is to find a way of using those skills in a way that enhances how you deliver legal services to clients.

Katie Miller is the 2015 President of the Law Institute of Victoria and is the first government lawyer to be president. Katie is an LIV Accredited Specialisation in Administrative Law. As president, Katie is supporting lawyers to evolve their practices so they can survive and thrive into the future.

The Honourable Judge Irene Lawson

Photo Biennial conference

When did you know that you wanted to be a lawyer?

My life in the law started serendipitously. I was in the foundation year of a new senior secondary college located in Broadmeadows. Legal Studies was offered as a subject for the first time and I thought it may interest me. This was during the Whitlam years and was at a time of great social change. Legal aid had been introduced as a national scheme and I wanted to find out more about the legal system. I loved the subject and it was the start of a long, interesting and varied career.

If you could only give one bit of advice to new lawyers, what would it be?

Don’t be afraid to take on new challenges. Whenever I have been “stretched” as a lawyer has resulted in gaining greater experience and expertise. Don’t be afraid to ask questions no matter how basic they may be. Legal professionals are generally very supportive of new comers.

What makes a lawyer a great lawyer?

Being honest and reliable. Your integrity is your best asset. It is important to always be frank and honest in your dealings.

What would you say are the hazards of this profession?

Ignoring your life outside the law. It is very easy to get caught up in your work especially when you are involved in trials or long running disputes. Always take time out to pause. Walk, ride a bike, go bush, see a movie, swim or do whatever you can to have a break.

What is your best tip for maintaining sanity in the law?

See above.

What will the legal profession look like in twenty five years time?

There will always be the necessity for people to advocate on behalf of those who do not have the life skills to negotiate life’s complexities. I see the ongoing need for professional advocates who are responsive and clear communicators.

How can one distinguish themselves as a legal professional?

By being open to exploring new challenges and continually developing your skills. This is an area where you never stop learning. Enjoy the ride.

Her Honour was appointed to the County Court in 2002. Prior to her appointment she was a Partner at Slater & Gordon where she specialised in civil litigation primarily medical negligence litigation. In 1999 she became an Accredited Specialist in Personal Injury Law of the Law Institute of Victoria. Her practice covered the breadth of litigation involved in medical negligence from birth trauma litigation to nervous shock claims. She was actively involved in responding to various public inquiries relating to the provision of professional indemnity insurance and medical negligence issues.

Her past Directorship roles include the University of Melbourne Council (2001-2012), the Global Learning Village Advisory Board (2003-2012), Melbourne University Law School Foundation and a number of community based organisations.

Her Honour is pictured here with her husband of 35 years, Crown Prosecutor, Brendan Kissane QC.

James Farrell

James farrell

Can you describe the different types of roles that you have had?

I volunteered at community legal centres while I was studying, and was drawn to using the law to achieve social change. When I finished law school, I joined a large national commercial firm, where I had great opportunities to develop, working with great mentors and teachers. I was seconded to a large corporate client for over six months, which was a great insight into inhouse practice, which allows a lawyer to develop more commercial skills and really strong internal relationships with people with a range of experiences and strengths. I was the principal lawyer at a homeless persons’ legal clinic, where I worked with passionate and intelligent people – peers, clients and supporters. I also worked as an academic in a law school, and was really drawn to the way that research could influence public policy. So I’ve experienced a range of legal roles, but I keep coming back to community legal centres; they’re the places where the law is most real and raw, where laws and institutions have a powerful impact on powerless people, and where you can see real improvements in people’s lives, including your own.

When did you know that you wanted to be a lawyer?

I wanted to be a lawyer when I was at high school; like many high-achieving students who didn’t enjoy maths, it seemed like a good option. I also grew up in a family that was really involved in the community and talked about ideas like equality and justice, so it seemed like a good fit. I didn’t get the marks I wanted at high school, so took a circuitous route, working in hospitality for a few years before starting uni at age 22. I haven’t looked back!

A lawyer, a priest and a classicist walk into a bar. What does the lawyer say and why?

‘Get me a beer.’ Because sometimes, you just need a drink.

If you could only give one bit of advice to new lawyers, what would it be?

Get involved in pro bono or volunteer at a community legal centre, or in another cause. You’ve been blessed with skills and an education that can make a real difference to the community, so don’t waste it. As a new lawyer, you’ll have great opportunities and experiences when you work for free for people who really benefit from your help.

What makes a lawyer a great lawyer?

An ability to connect with people. I’ve seen a lot of people who understood the legal rules, remembered the cases, and could draft great legal documents. But the great lawyers can all connect with the people around them – colleagues, clients, court officers, baristas and barristers.

What would you say are the hazards of this profession?

The legal profession attracts people who are bright, committed and ambitious, and that’s part of what makes lawyers such interesting people to work with. Those same characteristics make it difficult for us to accept anything less than perfect, and to focus too much on our work, at the expense of some of the other important things in our lives. We shouldn’t ever lose sight of those important things – and people – in our lives.

How do you balance life and work?

It’s hard. I love my work, and probably work more than I should. My kids (Jack, aged 6, and Georgie, aged 5) keep me pretty grounded. When Georgie was about 3, she asked me if I was sleeping at my work during a particularly busy stage – that was a rude awakening!

 

James Farrell OAM is the director of QAILS (Queensland Association of Independent Legal Services), the peak organisation for community legal centres. 

Arna Delle-Vergini

Arna

When did you know that you wanted to be a lawyer?

A long, long time after I became one. I was young and restless and no matter where I was in my life, or what I had achieved, I was always searching for the next Troy to burn. At first I thought this was because I had potentially chosen the wrong career, but eventually I realised it was actually a pattern throughout my life, and what I really needed was to learn the simple art of contentment. It sounds easy, but it is one of the hardest disciplines I have ever tried to master and I am a long way from achieving it. The best I can say is that I am committed to trying.

What attracts you most to the profession of law?

I am one of those people who loves through acts of service. Even when I was a teenager I was volunteering in social justice projects.  I believe it is incumbent upon all of us to contribute to our community, and the more skilled you are, the greater your commitment should be. To be able to do this as a means of earning a living is an incredible privilege. People might say that makes me an idealist. I don’t believe I am. I just have an overwhelming sense of gratitude for the rare opportunities that I have had and a strong feeling that if you are given a gift (which is essentially what our privileged existence is), you really must share it.

What was the single moment, case or event that you feel defined you as a lawyer?

The defining moment of my career was, oddly enough, not even related to my practice. I undertook a subject in my Masters of Laws because the times of the class suited me. The subject was called ‘Dealing with High Conflict People in Legal Disputes’ and it advocated a completely different style of lawyering to the adversarial style that I was trained in. To say that this subject annoyed me would be putting it mildly. In fact, I wrote a 10,000 word, fairly defensive, paper on how adversarialism was a necessary prophylactic for lawyers. I actually received top marks for the paper but it was a Pyrrhic victory because by the time I had finished writing, I didn’t even believe in my own thesis. By the time I finished writing the paper, I was a convert to therapeutic jurisprudence and I haven’t looked back since.

What would you say are the hazards of this profession?

In my view, the hazards of this profession relate solely to the personal cost of practice. Most of us in the profession know by now that lawyers are disproportionately overrepresented in the professions for depression, anxiety, drug and alcohol addiction and marital breakdown. There are a lot of theories as to why this might be and trying to work out the answer to this puzzle keeps a lot of us in the ‘health and well-being for lawyers space’ gainfully occupied. I don’t have the answers. If I had the answers, I wouldn’t have started a website to promote dialogue about the meaning behind being a lawyer with a strong emphasis on health and well-being. Essentially, being a professional should not cost you your health or your well-being, or, indeed, your life. It’s pretty simple really.

If you could only give one bit of advice to new lawyers, what would it be?

There is a quote that I love: ”The first forty years of childhood are the hardest”.  I mentor many law graduates and they always shift a little uncomfortably in their seats when I share this with them because they’re often still in their twenties.  I deliberately share that quote with them though because they need to understand that it’s okay not to have all of the answers now. They’re not supposed to. Nor will they ever have all the answers for that matter. I don’t have them. Neither do our (legal) heroes, the judges and justices of the higher courts. New lawyers need to take the pressure off if they want longevity in their career. They expect to have ‘arrived’ the moment they get their practicing certificate. Unfortunately, that’s effectively where their journey starts. The process of becoming a good lawyer is a long one. This is why I ultimately focus so much on self-care and how you conduct yourself as a lawyer. I’m sorry but knowing and applying the law is the easy part. Being a ‘good lawyer’ though is a real challenge and one that is likely to be a life-long career journey. This is the next level of lawyering and it is arguably more of a challenge because lawyers are only trained in what the law is and/or how to apply the law, but not how to be an actual lawyer.

If you had your time again, would you choose to practice in law? If not, what else would you choose to do?

I did a Law/Arts degree at Melbourne University. My focus in Arts was Classics. In fact, Classics has been a life long passion. I traveled to Italy in my twenties to get my copy of Roberto Calasso’s “The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony” signed by the author himself. He was a little surprised, but mostly delighted, that his novel had so much appeal to a lawyer as his father was a Law Professor. I still occasionally dream about being a classicist and spending a life attending archaeological digs all around the world but I daresay, if I had my time again, I’d make the same choice. Firstly, I dislike heat. Secondly, I am afraid of snakes, spiders and scorpions. That rules out probably 99% of all digs. I think this is why sometimes I like to toy with the idea that there are parallel universes. It makes me happy to think of myself somewhere in another Universe living the life of Indiana Jones, but I would never go so far as to give up my comfortable little patch of green on Earth for it.

How can one distinguish himself or herself as a legal professional?

Be yourself. After all, as Oscar Wilde so aptly puts it, everyone else is taken.

Arna Delle-Vergini is a Victorian Barrister, accredited mediator and a legal coach. A therapeutic jurisprudence convert late in her career, Arna has developed a particular interest in practitioner health and wellbeing. In 2013 Arna convened www.newlawyerlanguage.com – a website she hoped would promote dialogue amongst lawyers about the meaning of their professional role in a dynamic legal climate. She also explores her interest in practitioner health and wellbeing through her Masters, her role as a member of the Victorian Bar Health & Wellbeing Committee, and by regularly facilitating training and workshops with new and emerging lawyers.