Peter Szabo

Peter Szabo

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

I only decided to do law in my final year at school. Before then, my career choices were a chicken farmer (until I was 8) then a maths and physical education teacher. My cousin, who always knew he wanted to do law, was then my hero. (I have been enlightened since). So – I did law. I wanted to be a tax lawyer, like my cousin. I did my articles in Echuca (for one year, 3 days 2 hours and 10 seconds). 3 hours into my articles I was told to interview a client who wanted a divorce. It was 7 March 1976, 2 months after the Family Law Act came into effect. My journey had begun.

What are your passions outside of the law?

The Essendon Football Club, Gardening (I have been blessed with two rounds of Garden Leave over the last 3 years, moving between firms). My hobbies include computers and office automation systems. From 1982 until January 2015, I have been a partner in large firms with interstate and national connections, which gave me a bigger playground to bring efficiencies to. The passion was often dampened or even dashed by office managers whose focus was more on counting beans than catering for the bean producers. Now my own boss, for the first time in 30 years I can do what I like, when I like.  I try to keep fit – boxing once a week, cycling, and “hit and giggle tennis” (I Hit, they giggle).

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

The High Court Case of Ascot Investments and Harper was the defining case of my career. It was my first and only High Court case. There I was, in the instructor’s chair, in the Full High Court. It was my 27th birthday, 5 November 1980.

The hearing took 2 and a quarter hours. Then it was back to Melbourne. It was the first time I had ever flown in a plane.

The case involved third party rights and the Family Court’s powers in that regard. We lost. 6:1, Murphy J (the author of the Family Law Act) dissenting.  The decision made front page news.

The lead up to the High Court  resulted from the wife’s application to enforce a property order made in 1976. Mr Harper decided he would not comply. His only asset was his shareholding in a private company.  The other directors were 2 of 7 of their adult children. The wife wanted to force the directors to exercise their discretion to register a share transfer from Mr Harper to her.

Having failed in the High Court, the wife took contempt proceedings against Mr Harper. He was sentenced to imprisonment until he paid. He decided he would now transfer his shares to the wife, but still would not pay the wife. So on went the chess game.

After a total of 4 and a half years, he was still happily sitting in Pentridge Prison. The Court decided to let him out “to cooperate with the liquidator”, which he said in the witness box he would not do. Ascot Investments was finally liquidated. Unsurprisingly, the net assets were very modest. I closed my file, after 20 years. Mrs Harper was legally aided at the start, and towards the end,  pro bono.

There were many other interesting twists along the way.  The case was referred to me by then Clerk of the Magistrates Court in Malvern, now Justice Paul Cronin. My wife went to school with one of the Harper children. I was interviewed on a current affairs TV program to talk about this remarkable case. It probably started my career in presenting (now too numerous to recall) papers on Family Law.

The Family Law Act was amended in 2005 (25 years after the High Court decision) to give it the power to make such orders. The case remains the leading authority on third party rights in the Family Court.

What makes a lawyer a great lawyer?

Being a brilliant lawyer is in my view of no use if pragmatic, cost effective solutions are not achieved. This is particularly so in Family Law. Legal costs come out of the joint pool. The parties have to be able to communicate with each other about their children after the event. “winning the peace” is the most important result to achieve,

Too often lawyers do not do a cost benefit analysis. Only the goal of “winning” is seen, without a thought to what the end result will mean, after the file is closed.

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

When I first decided to do law, I had no real idea of what it would be like. All I saw was that my cousin was doing it and it seemed a glamour profession. (little did I know!). I wanted to be a tax lawyer, like my cousin. I fell into Family Law, something I hated at University, and did the subject under sufferance. It was not as bad as doing Administrative Law.

Having found my niche,  I discovered what law was really about. Maths with words. Problem solving. Helping clients get a sensible resolution. Making a difference to people’s lives. I have been lucky enough to have been exposed to all aspects of family law, from modest issues and child matters to highly complex financial cases, as well as International cases.  I love the challenge of each new client. What can I do with this one to make a difference?

How do you balance life and work?

By totally getting away from the law out of hours.   I make a point of not taking work home, including not talking about work. While I had my hair long, I managed not to be recognised as a lawyer. I am passionate about my other interests so it’s easy to turn off.

How can one distinguish themselves as a legal professional?

Wear your hair long.

‘An Accredited Specialist in Family Law, Peter was the  founding Chairman of the Advisory Committee to the Accreditation Board for Family Law Specialists in Victoria. He is also a trained Collaborative lawyer and Mediator.

Peter is an Author of the Family Law Practice Manual which is now in its 6th Edition online at www.smokeball.com.au and Tax Issues in Family Law- the difference between Hacking and Carving which is now in its 8th Edition.

Peter has recently commenced practice as a sole practitioner at Level 13 , 200 Queen Street, Melbourne. His main focus is Family Law, although he is becoming involved in Estate Planning generally and particularly for blended families.

Specialties: Accredited Specialist Family Lawyer- Victorian Law Institute, Fellow of the International Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (www.iaml.org), Director, Family Business Consultants network (www.fbcn.com.au)

Ashley Halphen

Ashley Halphen

When did you know you wanted to be a lawyer?

At age 9. Watching Antony Petrocelli swoon a courtroom, left me with a hazy dream about a future path that now, almost four decades later, is paved. I studied law with the sole view of practicing in criminal law. An area of practice that compels a deep insight into the human condition and requires strong skill in communication.

The boundaries of human behavior never cease to amaze. The challenges of communication from the ground up…to the heights of addressing twelve impartial members of our community from all walks of life is an art – the art of advocacy. Like all art forms, it is a skill that can never be perfected, rather it forever evolves with the experience of the advocate. The key is versatility – knowing and appealing to your audience. As Dale Carnegie once wrote, ‘you can’t catch fish using strawberries as bait.’

What attracts you most to the law?

The practice of law has taken me to some of the most remote locations on the planet: death row jurisdictions in America’s Deep South; remote indigenous communities in the far Northern parts of Australia; impoverished African provinces where the rule of law has not effectively reached; and even the frozen streets of Mongolia where the rule of law is being transplanted from more established legal-democratic systems.

The practice of law has exposed me to some of the most brutal acts one person can do to another, and also to extreme examples of grace, courage and dignity. This dichotomy of exposure has profoundly enriched my character as a member of society.

What makes an advocate a great advocate?

The process that envelopes a trial to verdict is like the manufacturing of a product on a factory assembly line: Raw instructions are infused with legal principle and life experience along the procedural timeline to finally produce considered and persuasive arguments.

What makes an advocate great, is the ability to communicate…effectively! Argument that is executed with precision and economy; fashioned in a manner that befits the personality style of the audience; and delivered with self-belief and empathy.

The great can go to any part of an argument at any given moment; the great can swiftly and effortlessly deal with any anticipated response or rebuttal; and the great hold their audience in the palm of their hand from beginning to end.

The great immediately command attention and are simply breathtaking.

What is it that defines you as a lawyer?

To empower a client with a complete ‘grip’ of all procedural, legal and evidential aspects to a case; to dignify a client with realistic expectations; to prepare a case upside down and inside out; to run a case with courage and tenacity; and to finally walk away from a courtroom knowing fairness has dictated and justice has prevailed, makes me proud to be a member of the Victorian Bar.

A tip for maintaining sanity in the law

Find your tribe, your people. A beauty in the profession is the number of like minded others. Find them and share time with them, exchanging ideas, issues and work pressures. Most of all enjoy the unique company of those who share your unique career and have fun. Real happiness is shared!

What are your hopes for the profession?

It has been a privilege to step outside the box and conduct the pro bono work I have to date. I would urge any aspiring lawyer to pro bono commit, for whatever period of time to whatever agency, in a manner or context that is outside the comfort zone. So enlightening and enriching is the experience, the experience to give, I would be thrilled to see the profession mandate and support work of this nature as a requirement of admission and/or part of continuing professional development.

Advice to new lawyers

  • Be humble.
  • Be yourself.
  • Be true to yourself.
  • Believe in yourself.
  • Knowledge is a bit about learning but a lot about understanding. As Oscar Wilde once said, ‘education is an admirable thing, but it is well to remember from time to time that some things worth knowing can never be taught.’

Ash Halphen was admitted to practice in 1992 and signed the bar roll in 1999. He is a jury trial, criminal defense advocate. In addition to his pro bono work, he has conducted advocacy courses in Nauru, the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea and assisted the training of readers at the Victorian Bar Readers Course.

 

The Honourable Justice Shane Marshall

Justice Marshal

When did you know you wanted to become a lawyer?

In primary school, when watching Raymond Burr star as Perry Mason on black and white television.

What attracts you most to the profession of law?

It enables people to work in a range of jobs, including positions in which they can make a real difference in the lives of ordinary people.

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

See yourself through yourself – don t judge yourself based on the criticism or praise of others.

What would you say are the hazards of this profession?

The major hazard of the profession is its tendency to adversely affect the mental health of those involved in it. The statistics concerning lawyers who are afflicted by depression are alarming:  at least one in two lawyers suffer from mental illness at some stage of their careers.  As lawyers we need to look out for each other and be alert for signs of depression and anxiety in our colleagues – and treat each other courteously and with respect.

How do you balance life and work?

I am currently on long service leave and perform voluntary work – including giving talks in various legal forums and presiding over moot courts.  Work-Life balance is achieved because I now have more time for life.  Work-Life balance can only be achieved if quality time is present in interests outside the law and at least one day a week is sacrosanct and not to be affected by work.

What are your passions outside the law?

I am passionate about addressing the stigma about mental health in the legal profession and the community in general.  To this end I enjoy my roles as an ambassador for the Wellbeing and the Law Foundation and as an accredited speaker with Beyond Blue.  I am also passionate about addressing violence against woman through my white ribbon day ambassadorship. On the sporting front, I am a passionate Collingwood supporter and eagerly follow the fortunes of the Australian cricket team. I also enjoy horse racing and have a five per cent share in a future Melbourne Cup winner.

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

Yes. I would but I would not have taken a judicial appointment at such a young age. I would have stayed at the Bar a bit longer.  If I had not chosen the law,  I would have liked to have become a journalist.

Justice Marshall was appointed to the Federal Court of Australia and the Industrial Relations Court of Australia in July 1995 after a career at the Victorian bar, spanning almost 14 years, almost exclusively in the industrial relations and employment areas.

In 2003, Justice Marshall received a centenary medal for services to industrial relations.

From January 2004 until September 2013 Justice Marshall was an additional non-resident judge of the Supreme Court of the Australian Capital Territory, sitting in the trial and appellate divisions of that court.

Justice Marshall served on the Board of the Law Faculty of Monash University from April 2008 to October 2013 and currently sits on its replacement, the External Persons Advisory Committee for the Monash Law Faculty.

In September 2013, Justice Marshall became one of the inaugural ambassadors for the Wellbeing and the Law Foundation (WATL) – a joint initiative of the Law Institute of Victoria and the Victorian Bar.

In October 2014, Justice Marshall  became Deputy Chair of the Advisory Board to the Australian Intercultural Society – an inter-faith dialogue body.

On 1 February 2015 he became an Adjunct Professor in the School of Law at the University of Western Sydney and a Director of the LUCRF Community Partnership Trust.

Monica van Reyk

Monica van Reyk

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

When I was in Year Twelve and we had to work out our choices for future study. My parents and teachers had other ideas and I wanted my future to be my decision. So I went through various career books until I came across Law.

What attracts you most to the profession of law?

I think it was in my blood. My Father was a lawyer and my Grandfather was too. They both started off as barristers. I think for me it’s about helping people and solving problems.

What are your passions outside of the law?

I love music and art. I love listening to music in the car and when I am at home. I have eclectic tastes; so I am happy to be introduced to someone new. I enjoy going to art galleries and exhibitions and I do paint and enjoy craft activities. I know I have a strong creative drive and so I aim to make time to do something creative when I can.

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

In the past year I have worked with volunteers and law students and I have said to them “Learn to say YES.” By this I mean, don’t be afraid if you don’t know something or feel you haven’t got enough knowledge. You can say YES and you can say you would like to learn more about X or Y. Then you really give it a seriously good go and see where it leads you. I think you will find it truly rewarding.

What makes a lawyer a great lawyer?

I think the first thing is being able to create TRUST very quickly with your client. Your client must feel that their case is the most important and that you are really listening and are committed to assisting them.

Keep learning; not just for keeping up CPD points, but study or learn something not related to your particular area of interest. It is also important to learn from your Teachers/those Senior Personnel you work with and find some Mentors who are happy to support you in your career goals. Don’t be afraid to ask; just do it!

 How do you balance life and work?

I think the balancing act is tricky for most people. In my case I was a single parent and what I did was I learnt to delegate both at work and at home. I also learned to be very organised; both at home and at work. Don’t be too hard on yourself and don’t be concerned by what others say. It’s your life, so live it your way. If that means you have a cleaner to clean your home or you have a nanny to look after your children, do it.

What do I love about being a lawyer?

I do love what I do.  I enjoy working with and helping others. I love learning and I also enjoy ‘the thrill of the chase’; doing new things learning new things.

As I say to people “I love the law and for the most part I have enjoyed all my roles. I haven’t always enjoyed working with the people I have had to work with.” This is not unusual and sometimes it has been very difficult. Ultimately, it’s what we take away from those situations. So I ask myself – “What did you learn?” and “How can you do things differently?” This is the gift of these situations.

 

Monica has developed a strong career providing policy and legal advice in both the public (local, state and national) and private (corporate and private practice) sector. Currently, Monica is the Chief Executive Officer of Social Security Rights Victoria (SSRV), a Specialist Community Legal Centre that assists the most disadvantaged and socially excluded members of the community with their social security issues.

Monica has managed the ‘jobvoice’ project for SSRV. JobVoice is an online technological portal to provide jobseekers with a space to provide stories of their experiences with job service providers and also obtain information on which provider may be the best match. The project will be officially launched on Monday 2 March 2015. Visit: https://jobvoice.org.au/

Dr Kylie Weston-Scheuber

Kylie Weston-Scheuber

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

Like many lawyers of my generation, I probably first decided that I wanted to be a lawyer while watching an episode of LA Law during my formative years (who could forget Victor Sifuentes?) I then promptly forgot about it and studied a Bachelor of Music instead. Given the limited career options available to concert pianists, I subsequently found myself studying Law. Although I can’t pinpoint the exact moment, it was probably a fairly certain thing that I would become a lawyer when I found myself enjoying trips to the library to read cases about contract law in first year. Certified law nerd, case closed.

What are your passions outside of the law?

I have a number of them. I usually like to have some sort of “project” on the go, which is often something in a creative vein. At times it has been music-related, and for a while it was writing “performance poetry” (I have two self-published anthologies, available in an obscure-book store near you). At present it is directing, specifically a re-enactment of one of the trials arising out of the Eureka Stockade, being performed in the Supreme Court, for BottledSnail Productions. I’m not particularly good at doing nothing as a form of relaxation, so I find the best form of “down-time” is something that allows me to focus completely on something non work-related.

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

Back yourself. I have had experiences when more senior (and more aggressive) practitioners tried to shout me down (out of court) or rolled their eyes and scoffed while I was making an argument in court, only to work out later while debriefing with colleagues that everything I had said was completely reasonable and had a solid basis in law. But as a junior practitioner, it’s easy to doubt yourself and assume that your opponents would only do those things if they had a real basis for doing so. Not so. Some people (thankfully not most) like to play games, and after a while, you learn that’s all it is.

What would you say are the hazards of this profession?

See answer to the last question! I think that law can be more combative than most professions. Some people would say that is a function of having an adversarial system, but I think there is a certain amount of unnecessary aggression in the law. You should certainly advance your client’s case robustly, but there is no need for that robustness to morph into rudeness in court or out of it. Sadly, I think that bullying and harassment does exist in the legal profession, and it’s a real problem for those who experience it. Thankfully, I think that is increasingly being recognised and steps are being taken to address it.

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

Maintain solid friendships within the legal profession and outside of it, and do things you love. Law can be all-consuming, and that can be enjoyable for a while, but I don’t believe it’s healthy in the long term. I had a role in 12 Angry Men in my first year at the Bar, when I had just moved to Melbourne, and it was a fabulous opportunity to meet other people in the legal profession who Imay never have come across otherwise.

Warning – shameless plug ahead: from 23-28 February, BottledSnail’s production of the musical Parade will be showing at the Coopers Malthouse Theatre. The show is amazing, and you can tell from talking to members of the cast and crew how proud they are of what they have put together and how much enjoyment they are having from their experience.

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

Same, same, but different. I think there are probably aspects of lawyering that will never change, and I think that lawyers can be a pretty conservative crowd! But sometimes you see change happening that is really heartening. For example, last week there was a vote on whether to alter the Bar’s Constitution so that the head of the Bar Council is referred to as “President” rather than “Chairman”. I am thrilled to say that the vote passed. Until last Wednesday, Victoria was the only remaining independent Bar in Australia to retain the gendered term “Chairman” as a title, and it means a lot to many of us that the change was voted in.

I think it would be great if the legal profession adopted more flexible working practices, so that practitioners could more easily combine work and family, as well as taking on interesting pursuits outside of work. I believe that many talented lawyers become disillusioned with law due to the long hours and high levels of stress. I also hope that over the next twenty-five years we will see a big increase in the numbers of women in the upper echelons of the profession, at the Bar and on the Bench, but that is a hope rather than a certainty.

How can one distinguish oneself as a legal professional?

I believe that people distinguish themselves as legal professionals by what they contribute to the legal community and society more broadly. It is all very well to be a “legal genius” and we all know people who live and breathe law, and can cite case law like they’re quoting Shakespeare. But I think the people who really distinguish themselves are those who improve the lives of others, lawyers and non-lawyers, by their broader involvement in the law, be that through membership of a committee, participation in pro bono work, or mentoring law students and young professionals. It’s easy to do things that will advance your own career and reputation; it takes more time and effort to involve yourself in work that will help others.

Dr Kylie Weston-Scheuber is a Melbourne barrister practising primarily in commercial and administrative law. She has a PhD in law from the ANU and completed a Bachelor of Music before embarking upon the path that would lead her to the law. She is the President of BottledSnail Productions Inc, the production company for the legal profession. She admires those who choose the path less trodden, and those who stand up for what they think is right, even when it’s a whole lot easier to keep their traps shut. http://www.greenslist.com.au/kylie-weston-scheuber.html

Dr Leon Terrill

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

I come from a large, country family, in which I was the second of seven kids. I spent most of my childhood pretty convinced that I was being treated unjustly and arguing accordingly. I think that is where my interest in the law began. For example, while I wasn’t allowed to own a watch until I turned 12 one of my younger brothers got his when he was 11. How is that fair? From there I developed an interest in seeking justice through law. I am not the first person to find similarities between children pleading with parents and lawyers before a court.

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

When I was at the Central Land Council I was asked to do a brief job for a group of Warlpiri men. Normally I worked to the south, so they hadn’t met me before. I recall that when I walked into a meeting with them, one of the senior men grabbed my hand, lifted it in the air and announced: ‘the lawyer is here!’ He was beaming with satisfaction as he said it and I was pretty chuffed myself. Of course, he didn’t know me from Adam. All he knew was that I was a lawyer. His reaction tells something about the role that lawyers have played in the struggle for land rights. The status that I was accorded had been earned by others years earlier. But it also captures something that has always struck me about the job. True, not every client is as happy to see you! But you are often given this privileged access to people’s lives, to their stories, to helping them with their problems, even when they have never met you before.

What attracts you most to the profession of law?

It has changed a lot. When I was a teenager, I think I was attracted to the suits, the income and the status (I was poorly informed). In my twenties I came to think of it as a way of trying to attain social justice. Now there is something else again. The best way to put it is that I like the competition of ideas, the ongoing project of practitioners trying to work out what the law should do and be in the multitude of situations in which it is invoked. One area of interest for me is native title law. During my lifetime it has been assumed impossible, recognised, codified, hemmed in, worked around and to some extent resurrected. It has caused irreversible change and widespread disappointment, the result of so many lawyers trying to reconcile the righting of an historical wrong with a myriad of competing interests. The outcome can disappoint, but the competition of ideas is compelling.

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

For me it was always a toss up between law and engineering. There are four engineers in my family and I used to think that perhaps there should be five. This was particularly the case when I was studying. The laws of physics are tricky but they don’t depend on precedent and are unlikely to be rendered uncertain by a few rogue judges on the New South Wales Court of Appeal. I can still remember my disdain upon discovering that not only did one have to learn the common law, there was also this thing called equity. Who devised such a convoluted system? Whoever they were, they were certainly no Galileo. I’ve since reconciled myself to law’s greater ambiguity, and delight in introducing it to my students.

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

If these things are at all cyclical, then there will have been a shift away from plain English drafting. That won’t be all bad. I have never quite got used to corporate contracts addressing me in the second person (e.g. ‘If something happens to You while You are insured with Us then We will do all we can to avoid speaking with You until You go away’). It seems incongruous, like they are trying to personalise their depersonalisation of you. And it can lead to odd drafting that comes back to baffle the courts.

What would you say are the hazards of this profession?

The most obvious hazard is that friends and family members have never heard of the concept of ‘specialization’. I’ve been asked for advice on everything – employment law, crime, product liability, intellectual property, planning and overhanging trees just to name a few. My resume makes it pretty clear that outside of private law and land rights I am probably less accurate than google, yet people keep trying. Two weeks ago, I received a call asking for advice on appealing a murder sentence. True story! It is a hazard of the profession that you will often be asked for free advice on topics you know little about.

The other great risk – and I’ve seen this in the most down-to-earth, considered and even cynical people – is that you might at some stage find yourself explaining how you ‘love the law’. It’s a thing, and it happens all the time.

What makes a lawyer a great lawyer?

That’s easy. They have to love the law.

 

Dr Leon Terrill is a lecturer in the UNSW Law School and a Fellow of the Indigenous Law Centre.

Mark Holden

holden

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

In 2007 I was fired from my job as a judge on Australian Idol. I was 55 at the time and after a year of introspection I decided to do my articles at Leo Cussen Institute in Melbourne. Quite by accident I met a barrister William Lye who introduced me to the idea of becoming a barrister. In 2009 I was admitted to practice and then completed the Bar Readers’ course and signed the Bar Roll in November of 2009.

Having begun my legal training in Adelaide in 1971, dropping out in 1974, starting again at Monash and graduating in 2001 before finally signing the Bar Roll in 2009  it took 38 years from start to finish. That must be some kind of record.

What attracts you most to the profession of law?

I am at a stage of life where its very rewarding being able to help people in their hour of need. It’s a profession in which I can contribute to society even as I get older so long as I have my health .

What are your passions outside of the law?

Music. I have just released 5 short films on ITunes and by mail order on Sanity.com.au about my family circus – The Holden Brothers Travelling Circus. The soundtrack is also available – it was made by my family – my son and daughter, wife, brother, cousins and my ex even plays bass!

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

Walking out of the Childrens’ Court with my client an Indigenous grandmother and her grandson in her permanent custody after a 2 year battle with the Department. It was a sublime moment.

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

You must love the profession or find another career.

How do you balance life and work?

I’ve just turned 60 this year and don’t stress over work anymore. If I have nothing to do I do nothing. In an earlier time that would have made me anxious but now I enjoy the down time. That’s the fab thing about being a barrister – its not a 9-5 office bound existence.

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

1 out of 2 people will be lawyers if the current trend continues.

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

Join in the community aspects of the profession. I am a member of the Bar Choir and its really enjoyable interacting with colleagues in a non legal environment .

Better known as a rockstar and former judge on the popular entertainment show “Australian Idol”, Mark Holden, is also a Victorian Barrister, having signed the Roll of Counsel in 2009. He practices in the criminal and civil jurisdictions with a strong focus on social justice.

http://www.foleys.com.au/Profile.aspx?area=Barristers&id=4264

Elizabeth Shearer

shearer

What makes a lawyer a great lawyer?

My definition of a great lawyer is probably a bit different to many. For me, it’s not about doing the high profile cases in complex areas of law. I think a great lawyer is someone:

  • who “gets” that the relationship with the client is a fiduciary one as well as a commercial one
  • who ultimately uses their skills for good in some way (even if they learnt some of those skills working in another context – speaking as someone who, as an articled clerk was very efficient at getting orders to have people evicted for non-payment of their mortgage and who now practises in consumer credit for borrowers)
  • who always treats everyone they deal with with courtesy and respect (despite the many provocations to do otherwise that arise in any day in legal practice)
  •  
    What would you say are the hazards of the profession?

    I think we can define success too narrowly, and this leaves a lot of our number feeling vaguely unsatisfied with what they have achieved in their professional career.

    What attracts you most to the profession of law?

    I still cling to the romantic notion that it can be a noble profession where every day you get to strive to bring a little bit more access to a little bit more justice for someone.

    Although people might think it is an odd thing to say about the practice of law, I also think it requires a lot of creativity because if we are doing our job well we are combining intellectual problem solving with crafting practical solutions that address serious problems.

    I also think that we often don’t value enough the skill we have of sifting through a whole lot of material and distilling it to a few relevant points that perfectly states a client’s issue. I really enjoy being able to do this for people – it makes such a difference for people to feel their perspective is understood and to know that there is a way to work through an issue that was overwhelming them.

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

    When I was a new lawyer, I changed jobs every 2 years and did lots of different things (city & suburban, large & small law firms, policy in government, university teaching, legal aid, community legal centre) until I found the niche I liked. So my advice is to resist the pressure to get too specialised too quickly.

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

    It is a lot better than I imagined it. If, when I was a law student, someone had described to me the things that I have been able to do in the law, I would have been very excited. A lot of what I have done just didn’t exist back then. I think it will be the same for people starting their legal careers now.

    How do you balance life and work?

    If you persist until you find a job you enjoy, it is a lot easier to balance life and work because work doesn’t weigh so heavily on the scale. I also think realistic expectations are an important part of feeling satisfied with your work life balance. Having said that, probably the most important part of my work life balance is always having a holiday to look forward to.

    What are your hopes for our profession?

    I hope that we are able to seize the opportunities offered by technology while retaining our core professional values.

    Elizabeth Shearer is a Brisbane lawyer who established Affording Justice in 2011 to bridge the access to justice gap for people who can’t get free legal help but who can’t afford the traditional model of legal representation. She has been a lawyer since 1986 working in private legal practices of many shapes and sizes as well as spending a number of years at Legal Aid Queensland where she was director of Client Information and Advice Services and Civil Justice services. She also consults to government and other agencies in the access to justice sector with a focus on innovative service delivery models and using data to demonstrate effectiveness.

    Sharon Carr

    SAGONA PHOTOGRAPHY

    SAGONA PHOTOGRAPHY


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

    I had always felt that the law disadvantaged women in a multitude of ways. The 1996 Victorian Supreme Court trial of Heather Osland disturbed me so greatly that I applied to university to study law immediately.

    Heather was convicted of the murder of her husband and sentenced to 14 years jail. She had been subjected to a decade and a half of repeated rapes and brutal violence. Her defences of provocation and self-defence failed. The court did not recognise the defence of ‘battered wife syndrome’ as it was unfortunately known then (as if a woman was a piece of fish). Nor did the High Court recognise the doctrine on appeal. Heather served nine and half years and her situation prompted more than one state government to attempt to reform the law. Unfortunately those changes, to date, have largely failed women.

    At that time, I felt compelled to do whatever I could to assist women and children to access justice. I still feel that way every day.

    What are your passions outside of the law?

    The splashes of paint on my clothing give me away. There’s no place to hide when every wall in your house (and those of your family and friends) is covered with canvases of shall-we-say varying quality. I can’t resist a blank wall. I would not go so far as to call them art, but they’re original, and I guess unique. When I have a brush in my hand I’m focused on the colour and form, and therefore not worrying about my clients, which is a wonderful thing.

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

    Two pieces (in the same vein). Volunteer in a Community Legal Centre. And not just for a short placement. The experience, contacts and rewards you’ll gain will be immense. What goes around comes around.

    Don’t discount positions in remote regions. Working in a big city firm is not the only way to gain respect. A year in an Aboriginal Legal Service in the Kimberley would be just as impressive on your CV, if not more so. There’ll be plenty of time for that big city job later.

    What makes a lawyer a great lawyer?

    Humility. Empathy. And an excellent grounding in reality.

    What would you say are the hazards of this profession?

    Email. Cloud storage. Remote access. You are always on-call and it is so difficult to get away from work. But as a colleague very dryly pointed out ‘I presume the device does have an off-switch’.

    What are your hopes for our profession?

    It’s shocking to think that an individual’s ability to access justice might be dependent on the depth of her pockets. However many women report to me that this is their reality. I hope for a future where no disadvantage or inequality goes unidentified, or unaddressed. I celebrate lawyers who run cases pro bono, volunteer in CLCs, or give their time in other ways. Today’s young lawyers are tomorrow’s High Court judges, I wish them the best for their careers and hope they remain mindful that not everyone is so fortunate.

    Sharon Carr is a lawyer at St Kilda Legal Service, advocating for family violence survivors (mostly women and children) at Moorabbin Magistrates Court. Sharon has a decade’s experience as a community lawyer, and this semester will teach Legal Practice and Ethics at Deakin University, something she’s been looking forward to greatly (but not without some trepidation).

    Marie Jepson

    Marie-Jepson

    What strikes you most about lawyers? 

    Their fear and learned helplessness.

    If you could change one thing about lawyers what would it be?

    Their narrow perception of their own worth  or value as human beings- that they are defined by their job and unless they ‘succeed’ they are a failure. This ‘success’ is defined by others’ opinion.

    Would you advise people to go into the legal profession?

    You need to follow your passion- if it is the law, go in with your eyes open and a supportive network.

    In the period of time that you have been advocating for the health and wellbeing of lawyers have there been significant changes?

    Certainly. Some of the changes are listed below:

    • Initially there was denial of the problem within the profession and universities
    • Courting the Blues provided the first Australian research which established the fact that 1 in 3 lawyers and 1 in 5 barristers suffered depression to the point of disability and distress, and law students’ mental health plummeted shortly after entering law school.
    • Individuals feel they have been given permission to acknowledge and talk about their mental illness
    • Curricula within universities have changed to include competence requirements one of which is self management.  Resilience and mental health are now part of ethics, and practical legal training.
    • Australian research into student wellbeing is being recognised world wide
    • Firms have introduced a variety of programs including EAP, Resilience@law, Mental Health First Aid Training for HR, physical wellbeing programs
    • Law societies have developed LAP programs, establishment WaTL Foundation, champions from all areas of the law, who have the courage and are willing to talk  honestly about their ongoing struggles within the profession.
    • There is a recognition within the profession that this is a major issue that needs to be addressed in their firm, law school etc
    • However at the moment it is extremely exciting to see that since the release of the TJMF Psychological Wellbeing: Best Practice Guidelines about 5 weeks ago, 40 legal organisations across Australia, representing most sectors of the profession, have become signatories. This is truly fantastic and very encouraging for the Foundation.

    Will you always undertake this work or is there a second career for you?

    This is already my third career after being a mother and teacher for over 25 years.

    Progress has certainly been made since TJMF was established: awareness raised and mental health, resilience and wellness activities implemented across legal organisations, but feedback told us that no real change had occurred in the workplace.  The TJMF Psychological Wellbeing: Best Practice Guidelines for the Legal Profession focus on changing culture. They identify the workplace psychosocial or organisational and work relationship factors which in combination contribute to workplace stress. The sustained  demonstrated commitment of organisational leaders to the process of cultural change has been shown to reduce workplace stress through an ongoing process of improvement.

    This is what makes the Guidelines very different to current initiatives. They are proactive (they put the fence at the top of the cliff) rather than reactive (putting the ambulance at the bottom). They are solution focused- a visible, measurable, long term sustained reduction in workplace stress which will  make a  practical difference in the the lives of all individuals in the  workplace.  I believe the Guidelines provide an opportunity to create a profession in which individuals can thrive and not merely survive. They are about engaging staff, not simply talking about change but about demonstrating value based behaviour change and this needs to be modeled by organisational leaders. The Guidelines are good for people and good for business.  Engaged staff are more creative, efficient, productive, loyal and self motivated and that is good for the bottom line. They are also have greater psychological health and safety. However, the Guidelines are not an instant fix. Becoming a signatory is the first step in a long journey to change the legal workplace through a sustained ongoing improvement process.

    In the words of my father-  “I think this will see me out”. There is still much to be done.

    What other developments would you like to see in the legal profession?

    I would like to get feedback from early career lawyers telling me how supported they feel in  the workplace, that they feel safe enough to to ask for help when needed and that they feel valued for the contribution that they make to their organisation. Wouldn’t that be something? It would tell me that the culture is definitely changing. Yes, it is aspirational but you know, when I started on this journey I was told we would never make a difference in the legal profession…. Today, despite the law being the most conservative, traditional, risk averse profession, we have 40 legal organisations around Australia who have chosen to lead the way, to be pioneers, stepping out of their comfort zone and participating in a world first by signing up to a radically new set of Guidelines to promote a psychologically healthy workplace. Incredible!!!

    In three words describe yourself and why you- a non-lawyer- have been able to achieve on behalf of lawyers in this country what no single lawyer has managed to achieve yet.

    The three words would be: passion, empathy and commitment.

    Despite having given my three words, I need to add TEAM. TJMF is honoured and privileged to have an amazing very small group of highly skilled, extremely professional, hardworking, passionate  and committed supporters who after demanding fulltime careers generously donate  their personal time and energy to support the Foundation’s initiatives.  Without their ongoing efforts we would not have had the smooth launch of the Guidelines nor the quality and professional organisational logistics of the annual Tristan Jepson Memorial Lecture, which will be held in the Federal Court Sydney on 23 October and streamed via webinar to Federal Courts in other states. This year we are extremely honoured to have as our keynote speaker, Justice Virginia Bell. Please check our website for lecture details – www.tjmf.org.au

    Marie Jepson is Director and co-founder of the Tristan Jepson Memorial Foundation, an independent volunteer, charitable organisation which aims to decrease work related psychological ill-health amongst members of the legal profession by promoting psychologically healthy workplaces for lawyers. Whilst not a lawyer herself, newlawyerlanguage has made Marie “an honorary lawyer” for the purposes of the NLL interviews in recognition of the substantial change she has already made to the legal profession and will no doubt continue to make.