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.

 

Christmas wish list: that more people will enjoy the experience of listening and being listened to

decwithinsight

By Bernadette Healy

What is it like to be with the other when you truly focus on listening to them and their story?  Embarking on this kind of journey – if only for 10 mins – is a little like going to a foreign land as we cannot really know how it is for the other no matter how well we know them or think we know them.  If we want to truly be with the other we must let go of our preconceptions and our petty needs such as the use of conversation with another to gather data; compare ourselves; or make ourselves feel better etc.  Paradoxically if we approach it with the openness and curiosity that we typically bring to travelling, we will find that the other can help us, like a travel guide, to see their world through the eyes of the local expert: – them – as, after all, we are each the expert in our own lives.  There you will discover the other in a new and wondrous way and find yourself in the midst of connection.

The following is offered as a representation of being with the other:

 The red ribbon sits between us

silken light

A floating promise

If I or you tug too hard it falls from the other’s hand

If I let go it drops into the space beneath,

out of reach,

not ours anymore.

Holding, not grasping

Keeping it untangled and free.

Holding so you know I am there but not calling for you unbidden

We can leave it still and sit connected.

We can place it down and take it up again at another time.

We can take turns offering and leaving it resting.

My rabbit holds it at times – but I must not allow him to run off too far afield.

I am there with you

My ribbon will sometimes meander as I try to stay with your twists and turns

Remind me if I am falling behind or have strayed too far ahead or away from you

The ribbon connecting you to me to you to we

Safely softly huge

Holds contains encircles

Allowing

Allowing

Allowing

I wish I knew… about the Trump slump

Claudia McGarva

By Claudia McGarva

I have been surprisingly affected by Trump winning the US election. I had never been a political obsessive or knowledgeable about international elections. My secret fear is being stopped in the street by the Italian equivalent of John Oliver, and being asked who is the Italian Prime Minister (and then feature on some Youtube video that goes viral in Italy about ignorant Australians). Unfortunately, the perception of ignorance is more motivating to learn about this stuff than the dangers of ignorance itself.

However, Trump’s victory had me feeling … bummed. I had an extra glass of wine or two that night. I felt the need to talk about the election with anyone who would listen. I went to work the next day in a slightly off mood, my thoughts becoming nihilist in nature as the day went on.

I was in the Trump slump.

Sure, I had followed the election as closely as your standard observer. I was hurt, yet not shocked, by his comments about grabbing women’s pussies, denying women access to abortions, building walls, and calling for a temporary ban on Muslims entering the US.

Like so many people, I thought he couldn’t win. Stupidly, I thought the video of him and Billy Bush talking about sexually assaulting women was the nail in the coffin. In 2016, surely your average voter wouldn’t rely on the “boys will be boys” rhetoric and recognise this person is not fit for the job? Surely, the majority would listen to his absurd policies and discount him as a narcissistic reality TV star and not a serious politician?

Unfortunately, Trump’s win clarified for me what I’ve learnt during my legal career: that you can be the most prepared, the most qualified, the most conscientious, the most earnest, the most respectful practitioner and still lose out to incompetence, vindictiveness and showmanship.

I think about the matters that unnecessarily dragged on because someone didn’t file a document on time, didn’t turn up to a court appearance, refused to produce material, and made irrelevant and rude statements to fan the flames. Sure, you may get a cost order here and there, but enforcing those orders is a whole other issue. I think about the matters that have settled because the other party and/or their representative were obstructionist, aggressive or crazy. The idea of battling on, dealing with the cost and stress of litigation, was too much for some clients and understandably, didn’t want to continue to a final hearing to be proven right.

Yet in most of these matters, whilst the poor behaviour may have been called out and ‘tut-tutted’ by the judge, or by the law society, it didn’t change the ultimate outcome. My clients still had to pay their legal bill, which had blown out through no fault of their own. The disgruntled self-represented litigant still filed new applications and appeals, dragging the other party back to court under the guise of procedural fairness. The obstructionist lawyer still found more clients and mismanaged their matters, clients who were non the wiser, thinking they could trust their lawyer to act in their best interests.

It is an uncomfortable truth that incompetence is a strategy to get what you want. According to the commentary, Trump was the ‘anti- establishment’ candidate (yet I don’t know how someone who had clearly benefited from the establishment to generate enormous wealth could be deemed against it). Apparently, his political ineptitude was a drawcard for many and Clinton’s experience was a major deterrent. They didn’t want the same old, same old. However, as Tom Friedman from The New York Times observed:

“As much as I knew that it was a possibility, the stark fact that a majority of Americans wanted radical, disruptive change so badly and simply did not care who the change agent was, what sort of role model he could be for our children, whether he really had any ability to execute on his plan — or even really had a plan to execute on — is profoundly disturbing”.

We can call Trump a misogynist and racist, and the American people stupid. Yet what does this achieve? Merely ascribing labels laden with value judgments to shut down conversation is not enough. We need to listen, engage, analyse and debate to truly understand and challenge the structures that reward incompetence and the people that are allowed to successfully operate within them, however infuriating that may be.

I’m not going to become a rogue solicitor because I might be able to get away with it. I want to be an ethical practitioner. I will, however, wallow in my Trump slump for a little bit longer, just until I finish the bottle, and try and ward off the dangers of ignorance by googling the Italian Prime Minister.

 

 

 

 

 

There is Only One Version of Your Story

oneversion

By Bernadette Healy

It is entirely possible that even amidst your busy work life – while trying to make an impression on those that matter – striving to stand out, and hoping to be chosen for greater things – that you could also be wondering about where you find yourself now, in the world of work.  You might be wondering about the purpose of your role; the meaningfulness of your assigned tasks; the degree to which the project is worthwhile and even the merits of the company,  workplace or even industry sector within which you find yourself.

You might ask your younger self, for example your 18 or 19 year old self, what do you think of where I am now?  Have I sold out my ideals?  Is this worth all the hype that was created back then around the possibility of securing one of these coveted roles?  Have I missed out on a time of just trying different things? Of working only to enable travel to the next place? Of experiencing my days largely unaware of the time?  Ought I to be pursuing that other idea that used to occupy me?

Yes it is quite possible and even probable that you can be working in an effective and committed way while actively wondering about all those other options. Yes you can even be being celebrated by others for the way you are doing your job while internally experiencing profound questioning of that very same role.  You may even be wondering more generally about what larger purpose your work should be addressing.

A sense of purposefulness is not static.  A sense of purposefulness can at times elude us.  The clear purposefulness that we felt just a few short months ago in the very same place can start to shift and morph into an in-between place, a place of not where we once were, but clearly not the next thing either.  This can be both unexpected and quite confusing.  Also it can sometimes be a bit sad as we long for the time when either we were so busy getting to that job, that we didn’t think about the what of it, or we might be longing for the time when we were so thrilled to get that job and then so preoccupied learning how to be in it, that there was no room for anything else.  The sadness can be for the loss of innocence; the shift in your way of experiencing yourself in relation to the world of work compared to an earlier, less conscious time.

Unless you are overdue for a major life review (e.g. 20+ years of a working life with little or no active reflection to date), the good and bad news is that you don’t have to change anything just because you are having doubts and questions and ‘what if’ kinds of thoughts.

You have a number of options.

  • You can keep doing what you are doing
  • You can keep doing what you are doing and resolve to notice but not act upon questioning thoughts
  • You can keep doing what you are doing, notice your questioning thoughts and resolve to pay regular attention to them
  • You can keep doing what you are doing, notice and note the questioning thoughts and then review, for example, 3 months from now with a view to identifying recurring themes and ideas
  • You can start acting in your head as if you are going to make a change and think through all the possible options, do some research, make lists of pros and cons – (this needs to be done seriously for it to be useful)
  • You can do the above and then leave it for a few months – trusting that after you have spent appropriate time, energy and conscious thought on this complex cognitive task that factoring in an incubation period will generate a number of novel solutions (please see this earlier post for discussion and reference for non-conscious cognitions)
  • You can gather information from people who know about the options you are considering[i]
  • You can be on the lookout for projects or opportunities to experience more about other interests and ideas (perhaps at work but also including in your own time; volunteering; classes; workshops; going to different places; creating opportunities for new experiences)
  • You can keep doing your job and your life and reflecting and weighing up options while being aware of the fact that you have many unanswered questions – the next ‘just right for this moment’ thing will become clear if you can be patient and open to hearing yourself above the noise of everything else.

 

[i] but always weigh up others’ judgements carefully.  The most important source of information about your future direction is you and your felt sense of what is and is not a good fit with the person you know yourself to be.

I wish I knew… no one’s looking at you (kid)

Claudia McGarva

By Claudia McGarva

I recently attended a week long legal conference – one of those conferences where you get excited about scamming a free mousepad that you will never use, have dessert at lunch time because it’s there, and desperately try to make friends at the afternoon tea break because you feel you should “network”.

After four days of eating, schmoozing and talking shop, I was exhausted. I was also a little bitter. I have recently started a new role in a legal sector that is foreign to me. It has been a welcome change, and I have no regrets. However, I have never felt like such an outsider as I did during this conference. Most of the people who attended have been working in that sector for decades. They attended the conference with at least one other person from their organisation. I was on my own. It was clear most people already knew each other, and use the conference as a catch up once a year. I didn’t know anyone.

As I said, I was a little bitter. I was making all the effort – inching my way into people’s conversations at the breaks, always having to approach people and never the other way around, asking permission to sit at their table, and filling in the gaps in awkward conversation. I thought if I were in a group and I saw someone on their own, I would have made an effort to include them. The worst was when I was at the conference dinner, and I felt like I crashed a wedding. Luckily booze and loneliness is such a great combination.

Whilst it was tempting to sit with my phone and pretend I was doing something important, I decided to grow up and make the best of an awkward situation. I knew the conference was the only opportunity for these people to reconnect with colleagues. People have limited time, and may not want to make new friends if it means not being able to connect with old ones. I would have been a fly in their face. In my younger years, I would have stressed about not being likeable and wallowed in loneliness. Now, after my initial bitterness wore off, I realised I’m too busy and tired to engage in unproductive self-reflection and alone time is to be relished.

The older I get, the less I care what other people think because I realise they probably aren’t thinking about you. I mean this in the context of the crippling self-consciousness I engaged in when I was starting out in law – that everyone is judging your every move, the fear of doing anything wrong, the fear of getting fired and looking like an idiot if you asked a question at a seminar.  People don’t care and have their own insecurities to deal with before entertaining yours.

So I survived. There was even a silver lining to my obscurity – if no one knows who you are, they can’t send you the dry cleaning bill when you accidentally spill champagne on their jacket when they turn their back on you mid-conversation.

No, I’m not bitter at all.

A letter to you as a parent

45325721 - child with parents hand holding young tree in soil together for prepare plant on ground,save world concept

By Bernadette Healy

Dear parent,

I wonder what is going on for you as you worry about your child.  Perhaps the following is of interest (although it may not be!).

It seems to me that you have come to a point in your life where you are trying to make sense of who you are as a parent (as well as a person), and this includes exploring the ways that you yourself were parented.  This of course brings up old hurts and lots of complicated feelings towards your parents.  Possibly, as well as wanting to distinguish yourself as a mother/father from your own mother or father, you will also find yourself understanding more of what her or his life structure was like – this is hard because you might find yourself being sympathetic at the same time as being angry at some of the ways she or he was, for example, with regard to a sibling.  You seem to be feeling a mixture of being trapped (in a situation that you did not expect to be in with regard to your own child) and being afraid that if you cannot find a way of keeping it all together; that everything will collapse into chaos.  It is as if you are alone in all this difficulty – but perhaps that is how you felt in the past when you were too young to have much influence?  You are not that little girl or boy anymore; you have life experience, skills and attributes to bring to this situation; and you do not have to be alone in it all. But perhaps you have not yet found satisfactory ways of letting people in to share the emotional load  (and perhaps others are not as available as they could be)?

It seems as if you have to solve all the problems, but perhaps that too is a leftover from the past, and the role you were expected to play in your family of origin.  Perhaps you have been in the habit of carrying more than just your anxiety in your determination to keep the chaos at bay?  But now maybe you are ready to find some new ways which are not so heavy, and hopefully you will have more moments enjoying yourself being with your family.  It seems to me that you could be a little kinder to yourself and trust the part of you that, at times, wants to seek help.  When you are ready, the parts of you that haven’t had a chance to come out into the light for a while will bubble through, and offer easier ways of being. Be gentle and patient with yourself, and allow your child to help guide you into becoming their parent (they only want you and ‘ok’ is the gold standard).

Bernadette

 

Judicial Bullying: a (brief) Beginner’s Guide

13617994 - stern judge

I have been coaching new lawyers for many years now, either in group workshops, or privately as an individual, and the one conversation that I can always count on having is the conversation about judicial bullying. Whilst not every new lawyer has experienced judicial bullying, most have, and the ones that have not experienced it directly have seen it happen to colleagues and live in fear of it happening to them.

Alarmingly, those that report having been bullied by judicial officers, describe their experience in terms that are almost identical to how victims of verbal and psychological violence in a domestic setting describe their experience. For instance, they talk of being frozen in the moment, unable to respond for fear of exacerbating the bullying, being unable to flee (as a practitioner cannot leave the Bar table without permission) and feeling sick to their stomach, distressed, and sometimes unspeakably angry, but at the same time feeling completely unable to defend themselves adequately due to the power imbalance between them and the judicial officer. They speak of being so thoroughly humiliated that they have sometimes resorted to taking days off after the event. They speak of having a sleepless night or two where they mentally run through everything they have done – should I have said this? Maybe I shouldn’t have said that. They think if they can identify what it is they have done to deserve the bullying, they can make sure they don’t do it again and they will therefore not be bullied in the future. Usually they then speak to me of plans they have come up with to try and stave off the next bullying attack. Finally, they ask me hopefully if I have any tips for them. I never enjoy the look of fear and disappointment that crosses their faces when I advise that actually there is nothing they can do to stave off the next attack. Absolutely nothing.

Relying on the lived experience of new lawyers that confide in me, judicial bullying often includes (but is not limited to):
– Shouting at them;
– Deliberately saying things to embarrass or humiliate them;
– Asking them to justify themselves in circumstances that are unfair;
– Calling them names;
– Calling into question their professionalism in circumstances that are unfair;
– Accusing them of incompetence in circumstances that are unfair;
– Using various facial expressions to demean or intimidate them;
– Setting unrealistic time frames;
– Making them work through lunch breaks;
– Refusing to give them time to formulate an argument or response in circumstances where it is unfair to do so.

Apart from being obviously degrading and damaging to lawyers, judicial bullying can be disruptive to the court process itself (it can sometimes take an awful long time to pontificate), and it can also be damaging to lawyer/client relations. The client is unlikely to be able to objectively assess the judicial officer’s words or looks and can sometimes take their words, for instance, as statements of fact from a higher authority. The client then leaves court feeling that the lawyer has not done their job properly or has otherwise failed them and that, therefore, they have not had a fair hearing. Likewise, other lay people sitting in the body of the court would be forgiven for watching a judicial bully in full flight and wondering whether it is even possible for justice to be done in such a chaotic courtroom.

Of course, we are not talking here about justifiable complaints made by judicial officers. I have never had a new lawyer complain about a justifiable complaint made with grace and tact. I have received many complaints about judicial officers using the inexperience of a new lawyer as an excuse to vent some of their own inner stresses.

And this is where it gets interesting. I think we can all agree that psychologically healthy people do not bully others. The same goes for judicial officers. Psychologically healthy judicial officers do not bully others. If they do feel that the advocate has not performed to their expectations, they may say so tactfully and gracefully. Healthy judicial officers do not resort to name-calling, shouting, or facial expressions designed to humiliate or intimidate the advocate. Judicial bullying, seen in this context, stems from a mental health crisis in the judiciary which impacts, in turn, on the wider profession and the community as a whole.

So what is to be done? How do we make judges healthy so we can work in a healthy workplace?

Happily, this question has already been asked and answered in part by the Judicial College of Victoria who recently launched Australia’s first online wellness resource for judicial officers aimed at assisting “judicial officers to respond optimally to stress in themselves and others.” http://www.judicialcollege.vic.edu.au/judicial-wellbeing. Naturally, the idea behind the resource is to promote wellness among judicial officers who are renowned for suffering from stress, anxiety and even vicarious trauma associated with their unrelenting work schedules and the nature of the proceedings that play out before them.

At the same time, the government is also taking steps to bring about some much needed accountability. In 2015 the Andrews Labor Government announced that they would establish a new commission to investigate complaints into the conduct of judicial officers in Victoria. The commission will not only be able to investigate complaints, it will also have a process for especially serious cases whereby it can refer judicial officers to a special panel with coercive powers. In some circumstances the panel could recommend removal from office. The Judicial Commission of Victoria Act 2016 comes into operation 1 July 2017. Under s5 and s6 of this Act an individual or, a professional body on the individual’s behalf can make a complaint into the conduct or capacity of a judicial officer or a non-judicial member of VCAT. This is important, as many individuals may be reluctant to report poor judicial behaviour if it may mean jeopardising their career. The Heads of Jurisdiction, the AG and the IBAC can also make referrals. The Act provides the commission with coercive powers. Judicial officers can be made to produce documents, appear at hearings, undergo a medical procedure and the Commission even has the power to issue search warrants.

Unfortunately, the legislation does not identify what type of conduct is reportable. Likewise, it does not refer specifically to judicial bullying and it does not provide a definition of it. For a long time conversations about judicial bullying have been complicated by the lack of any universally accepted definition of what judicial bullying is. We do, however, currently have two definitions of ‘workplace bullying’ within the legal profession that we can draw from. For instance, under Rule 123(c) of the Legal Profession Uniform Conduct (Barristers) Rules 2015 – a barrister must not in the course of practice, engage in conduct which constitutes workplace bullying defined as: “unreasonable behaviour that could reasonably be expected to intimidate, degrade, humiliate, isolate, alienate, or cause serious offence to a person working in a workplace”. The Legal Profession Uniform Law Australian Solicitor’s Conduct Rules 2015 has a similar provision but its definition of workplace bullying is, arguably, broader. It defines bullying, as “bullying that is unlawful under the applicable state or territory anti discrimination or human rights legislation If no legislative definition exists, it is conduct within the definition relied upon by the Australian Human Rights Commission to mean workplace bullying. In general terms in includes the repeated less favourable treatment of a person by another or others in the workplace, which may be considered unreasonable and inappropriate workplace practice. It includes behaviour that could be expected to intimated, offend, degrade or humiliate.”

Putting definitions aside, the twin approach of assisting judicial officers to be psychologically healthy as well as making them potentially accountable for their stress-related behaviours has to be a recipe for success.

While we are patiently waiting for the effects of these latest innovations in the legal landscape to trickle down here are some tips to assist the new lawyer to manage their experience of judicial bullying.

• Place the behaviour in context. It helps to understand judicial bullying as a reflection of the psychological status of the judicial officer, rather than being attributable to something you have done or haven’t done.
• Don’t show fear. Be firm with the judicial officer, particular if they are resorting to name-calling, shouting, or accusations of unprofessional conduct. You are entitled to defend yourself. You might say for example: “Your Honour’s accusations are unfair. They are unfair because…”. It is not a sign of impertinence to defend yourself against unfair statements.
• If you have made a mistake and the judicial officer has taken delight into causing you to feel even more humiliation about it than you already do, please go easy on yourself. The judicial officer is suffering from what the writer calls SSMS, or, Sudden Short Memory Syndrome, where they suddenly cannot recall any of their early career mistakes and hold all lawyers to the same standard whether the lawyer has been admitted to practice for one week or twenty years. You don’t have to allow their SSMS to bring you down.
• De-brief with colleagues. It always helps to talk about the experience and your colleagues will no doubt have stories of their own to share.
• Do not go over and over the incident in your mind and wonder what you could have done to change it. You are never responsible for the behaviour of a judicial officer. Never!
• If it is a very serious case of judicial bullying, report the matter to the LIV or Vic Bar (whichever is your professional association) – they are able to take the matter on your behalf to the Heads of Jurisdiction.
• After work, go home and be extra kind to yourself. You have just been through an ordeal. Don’t just sweep it under the carpet. Process it by talking, writing or meditating but at the same time tell yourself quite explicitly that you are going to look after yourself now as you have been treated poorly and you deserve better.

Good luck!

I wish I knew… when to hang up

Claudia McGarva

By Claudia McGarva

When I started practising law, everyone refused to speak with a particular lawyer over the phone. This lawyer was known in the legal community as ‘the Pterodactyl’ due to her screeching at other lawyers. If she called the firm, all the assistants knew not to bother putting the call through to the lawyer responsible for that matter. They would politely say, “It is our policy that all communications are to be in writing”, and hang up.

I was shocked when I met this lawyer at court one day. She was pleasant enough. I think she even complimented my shoes. I didn’t understand why my firm had a ‘policy’ to deal with her. That was, until I had a matter against her.

She wasn’t just rude; she was abusive. She called my client a liar. She called me a liar. She said my correspondence was “bordering on unethical” because I had asked for some documents and included a deadline. She made continual threats. These ranged from making a complaint to the law society to seeking numerous personal cost orders against me. As a baby lawyer, I would be lying if I said I had Teflon skin. I was terrified of this woman. When I saw an email waiting for me the next morning from her, I would sweat. I would make sure every email and letter was immaculate and I wrote a transcript for every conversation I had with her. I would lie in bed thinking about the threats I had received from her that day, thinking I would lose my practising certificate before the ink was even dry. Whatever confidence I did have when I started practising was quickly evaporating.

That was, until I realised the threats stemmed from her insecurity. She was a generalist practitioner, did not specialise in that particular area of law and had only been practising in that field for about a year. She was also a sole practitioner. I was exclusively practising in that area of law and had access to experienced lawyers to advise and mentor along the way. The aggression was a mechanism to prove to her client that she was advocating strongly on their behalf and deafen her ineptitude. I am all for ‘faking it till you make it’; however, I had never seen a senior lawyer act this way. There is no need to. It doesn’t help your client and it doesn’t help you. It puts other lawyers off side and makes you feel more isolated in, what can be, a lonely industry.

Now, I do not engage with these practitioners when they carry on. Sometimes, I remind them of the legal profession rules (and very rarely, threaten to make my own justified complaint to the law society).  However, most of the time I now say “put it in writing” and hang up.

Authenticity: A power equally available to all

original

By Bernadette Healy

I have just finished a little book written by Oliver Sacks, entitled Gratitude.  The book contains four very short essays written in the last two years of the author’s life; three of them were written in the knowledge that he was dying, and the last piece was published in The New York Times only two weeks before his death.

I wouldn’t characterise the essays as amazing in a literary sense, nor ground-breaking in the way of his famous medical narrative books: Awakenings and The man who mistook his wife for a hat.  The essays are not particularly intellectually challenging either, although the essay My periodic table certainly gives a wonderful insight into both Sacks’ long-standing and favourite academic areas, and his intellectual capacity more generally.

I did however, find them extraordinary in the sense that they are an exquisite representation of the power of conscious authenticity.  (There is also a deceptive simplicity and quiet beauty to them, and most definitely a spirituality.)

What do I mean by conscious authenticity?  I think that this is almost a developmental concept; that is, it is something which will unfold over time. It can be fostered but not compelled, and it is subject to individual variation – for some never achieved.  Conscious authenticity incorporates two important parts.  Firstly, there is a sort of hurdle requirement related to an advanced knowing and acceptance of one’s self. Secondly it is the ability to consciously interact in the world and make decisions about potential actions therein by constantly referring back to that knowledge base of what really constitutes the genuine, non-contrived, ‘I’.  This to-ing and fro-ing of experiencing and deciding is done with the awareness that there is always a choice, and that each chosen action or direction is more or less consistent with that something of which we have a sense, as being truly us.  When we consult with ourselves and act accordingly, we feel a formidable power both within ourselves, and, I believe, by others. This power of enacted authenticity is equally available to all.

Unfortunately, many people become so caught up in living the life they think they ought to be leading – rather than the life that is uniquely theirs to be led – that a dilution of their personal potential results. Even when absolutely driven by one of the myriad forces that can motivate individuals, if such a force is not really yours – such as when your motivation is primarily to become what your parents would have you become or what your partner thinks you should do – then eventually a depletion of the self may occur, leaving one feeling a sense of loss and even a sense of betrayal of the self.  Even worse perhaps, is a pervasive sense of there being an unknown something else which is felt as beyond one’s grasp.   This is a difficult – though common – transition to experience and work through.  It can be achieved by honest reflection and review combined with a preparedness to make different decisions than previously – those which are about leading the life that is uniquely yours.

This of course is a long process.  Sacks shares quite personal material about some of the important decision points in his life’s journey, but what makes the book extraordinary is that we come to know the importance that writing and sharing his story held for him, and of his clear sense of what he wished to impart in this, his final work.

This becomes a work in itself; of the power of choosing to be authentic.

 

The Passion is Everything – Everything

 

2016 04 22

By Julian Summerhayes

“We have the choice of two identities: the external mask which seems to be real…and the hidden, inner person who seems to us to be nothing, but who can give himself eternally to the truth in whom he subsists. (295)” ― Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation

I’m acutely aware of the plethora of material espousing passion. You might say there’s a whole industry around follow your passion.

But really, do you need anyone (including me) to tell you to do something that you’re passionate about? (You may want to hold fire with your response until you’ve read the rest of this post.)

Yes and no.

First, the no.

You’re not an idiot, and whatever your stage of life, I’d like to think you’ve figured out what floats your boat. Of course, in a leisure setting this is easy to articulate: “I’m passionate about [insert].” And if you’ve got any sense you work to live and make sure you carve out as much time as possible to follow your passion(s), not at all cost but certainly in a way where you manage to find a space to be you.

What about work?

What do you?

Do you follow your passion?

Do you?

Be honest, please.

In answering the question, please don’t subconsciously give me the blithe aphorism “Because I want to help others.” Who doesn’t? No, I need you to go much deeper. What is it about the practice of law that truthfully brings you to full expression?

Arguing with your opponent? (*Sighs*)

Settling a mega, mega case? (*Double sighs*)

Making law firm partner? (*Feints*)

Nope, I don’t buy any of these. Why? Because having been around law for over 20 years, I’ve rarely met a lawyer who was passionate about any of these. In fact, the truth is I’ve rarely met a lawyer who can articulate a sensible answer to the passion question because they’ve lost touch with their inner, true self. You know the person whose skin you feel most comfortable in, where you don’t have to shapeshift to fit in.

I know, I might be so wide of the mark as to make this post dismissible in a nanosecond, but unless you know the answer to your core, all you’re doing is contriving one boring day after another…and living for retirement. Harsh? Yes possibly, but given you only get one crack at life (isn’t it amazing?), I wouldn’t try to pretend that’s it all hunky dory when it’s not. To be clear, I’m not asking you to trip out on some happiness lark, rather I want you to think very carefully why you practice law.

And now for the yes.

Yes, I do need to tell you.

Well, I’ve already touched on it: life is special; but I want to go a bit further. It may well be by the time you’ve investigated your current role and considered if there’s any chance of realising your passion, you draw a blank or manoeuvre yourself into a deep, dark place.

In fact, this was me back in 2010.

I’d done everything in my power to avoid asking what brought me to full realisation. To keep the backstory super short, I worked so hard that I didn’t leave any space for the self-doubt to creep in. It took a period of hospitalisation for me to be brought to my senses. And of course, during my convalescence, when I had oodles of time to think, you guessed it, I drew a big fat blank. I didn’t have an answer beyond the money, and given my age (43), I took the view that if I didn’t go off and follow my true passion I would live with one massive regret. Worse still, I’d go to my grave with my song still inside me.

Jump forward the present day. I’m still invested in law but now I run a small law firm. I wouldn’t say it’s completely resolved the passion question but it sure as hell doesn’t leave me denuded of soul as I walk through the front door every evening, as years of private practice did.

Does this mean I’m asking you to leap? No, not at all. In fact, it probably doesn’t mean you have to do a great deal to change your job save in one fundamental respect; namely, you have find time for you. To be more specific, you have to apply a new discipline to your life where you deliberately carve out time to see if you can do something, preferably following your commercial as well as your artistic muse.

In my case, I wish now that as well the day job I’d written poetry, practiced calligraphy and read more widely. I know it doesn’t sound revelatory, but it would have detuned me in a contemplative way from all the high-octane stress that proliferates in law. (At the time mindful colouring books weren’t around but they might have sufficed – ha ha.) You might go further and reconnect with your childhood passion and that might lead on to a new way of living, i.e. work is no more than a platform for you to do the things you really want to do.

Again, if this has a familiar ring then that’s not a bad thing but the ‘trick’ is to ACTUALLY DO SOMETHING – duh! You see, if there’s one thing I’ve learned on my own journey is that work is insidious and if you’re not hard as nails with your time, you’ll find all of this nice stuff being squeezed out by the inner voice that always says: “You haven’t got time for this right now.” Oh yes you have. Even 10 mins every day is enough. (Forget what you know about habits and that old chestnut of 21 days. Habits always take a lot longer — easily over 100.)

And, as I always say to those I work with, all of this is a choice. It’s not my job to persuade you to my point of view. You either want to do it or you don’t, but please don’t make the same mistake as me and leave the passion question alone because you know no different. The landscape is there not just to support your passion but to make it real.

Now, go make it a reality!

– Julian Summerhayes’ personal website is found at http://juliansummerhayes.com.