Peter Garrett

by Maille Halloran


The résumé of notable Australian Peter Garrett is extensive. The Midnight Oil front man is a rock icon and former Federal politician. Garrett also happens to be a lawyer.

Garrett studied arts at the Australian National University (ANU) and later law at the University of New South Wales. Despite a strong passion for politics and social justice, Garrett realised that a career in the law was not suited to him.

Garrett joined Midnight Oil and the band used their music and performances to publicise issues they felt passionate about: the environment, indigenous land rights, homelessness and nuclear disarmament to name a few.

Garrett began a move into the political arena, co-founding and running as a candidate for the Nuclear Disarmament Party in 1984. His next move was to lead the Australian Conservation Foundation for over a decade in two separate stints as president.

Garrett’s move to the Labor party was met with criticism by many of his former ‘radical’ allies. Garrett, however, defended his commitment to more conservative policies by claiming he saw more benefit in working within the system than agitating from the outside.

Garrett retired from parliament in 2013 after the dramatic events of the second Labor leadership spill.



The Four Things I Learned from Law

by Joseph Kahlil


One of my elusive dreams is to practice law in Australia. I’ve always wanted to take up a litigator’s degree and apprentice at one of the top firms in the Queensland area. I first marveled at law TV series, then started reading about realistic cases of personal injury lawyers and medical negligence experts.

As an advertising-graduate-turned-journalist, I later on found other professions can be equally demanding as that of a litigator’s career. This is true especially when you put passion into what you do. I’ve experienced being sent to seemingly absurd news coverage areas, hoping my pieces would not only satisfy show ratings, but also to send powerful messages to our viewers.

Nights of editing and working with the news team for a piece to air on TV can also take a toll on one’s lifestyle. I was once a morning person, but with the news chasing and shifting schedules, my body clock has become quite erratic.

Law specialisations can also vary and amongst all the literature I’ve read, four values come to mind when practicing law Down Under. You might not need to have lawyering skills, but I found these values are also applicable to any profession. These lessons are handy whether you’re a pastry chef, a gym instructor, a doctor or something else entirely:

  1. Find a mentor

You’ll never know what to expect as you launch out into the challenging world of work. Even the most seasoned practitioners are often unsure about the upcoming trends in their corresponding industries. What’s great about having mentors is they’ve worked longer than you have, which means they’re more experienced to deal with the unpredictable.

Veterans and experts have gone through different scenarios, and the best value you can learn from them is their resilience to face the toughest trials in their jobs. So what makes a good mentor? There are three basic standards you have to include in your checklist:

  • Stellar credentials and track record
  • A match of personalities
  • Shared values

Your mentor should be your Yoda in faring through intergalactic career challenges. Schedule a quarterly, if not a monthly, meet up with him or her and see how listening to seasoned insights can make a difference to your professional path.

  1. Thorough knowledge and research of the company

Not knowing what an organisation stands for is similar to crossing a highway blindfolded. Whether you’re a fresh graduate or an experienced employee who’s looking for greater job opportunities, always make sure to thoroughly research your target organisation.

Lawyers who handle several cases gather as much information as possible before plotting out the main claims they’ll present to win a case. Similarly, you can use the target organisation’s information to your advantage. You’re likely expecting to stay for three to five years with this company and this means the firm will be formative to your professional career in the long run. Its culture will influence the way you work.

Before going to your scheduled appointment, you may want to make a random visit to its vicinity and see how much you like the atmosphere. Don’t hesitate to gather your connections, so you can speak with previous and present employees. See the company’s strengths and weaknesses, then check on how these characteristics align with your professional objectives.

  1. Lawyers need a life outside the court

Getting to the bottom of every case is entails a lot of hard work. Tasks include, but are not limited to, defense sessions, additional consultations with clients, case analysis with associates and drafting out argument strategies.

It puts a lot of pressure on a lawyer knowing the client’s future lies on their hands. This means each and every crevice of a case needs to be gathered to ensure the fullest defense and justice is served.

However, it’s never a good thing if a profession occupies one’s entire life. This can lead to inefficiency, as a litigator gets burnt out in the process. Surely, you have a secondary passion other than your present job. Pursue this on the side. Why not try a sport such as golf or fishing? This can be quite therapeutic and you’ll be more recharged as you resume at court.

  1. Leave the SoAs (Statement of Accounts) to the Billing and Collections Department

At this very moment, take the dollar signs out of your eyes. No client wants to hear you’re just after their money. While it’s true you need to earn a living, you still need to prioritise your client’s welfare above all. After all, this is this is your firm’s  primary purpose. This value should especially be applied to bigger clients, where constant handholding may be required.

As a practitioner of any field, you’ll always aim for the big shots as your top clients. The key to establishing a long term relationship with them is to really know their needs and be ready to address them, even before they’re asked. When all the transactions have been said and done, send your billing department over to separately settle your accounts.

I’m sure every lawyer has his or her share of stories to learn from. Throughout the years of following Court of Appeal cases from the Australian government’s website, news and online releases, these mentioned rules can help you become successful in any industry you choose.

About the Author

Kahlil or Joseph Kahlil was named after Kahlil Gibran – a world-renowned poet and author of “The Prophet.” Following his footsteps, he harnesses his creative juices through poetry, prose, and occasional musings about the “human condition.” As an observer, Kahlil loves to write about technology, legal matters and living green. He’s writing on behalf of MEJ – they have been protecting the rights of injured Canberrans since 1985.

How to save a life

by Arna Delle-Vergini

how to save a life

Step 1

It’s Saturday morning and when the alarm goes off I’ve got one sleeping child draped around my legs, another sleeping child draped around my upper body and I am very much feeling like a python has crept into my room during the night and wrapped me in a deadly serpentine embrace. My first thought is just the word: “caught”. Then I think: “how lovely to be ensnared by two such divine creatures”. And then I think: “what would I ever do without them?” When I say goodbye to them that morning I tell them I love them and they yell back “not as much as we love you”. It’s a game we play – ‘who loves who the most’. It’s the little things.

Step 2

Owen Dixon Chambers East. I am one of six barristers attending ‘Mental Health First Aid’. It’s called ‘Mental Health First Aid’ because we are not allowed to use the word ‘suicide’ when advertising the training. The course is really ‘Suicide Prevention Training’ but the Victorian Bar are nervous about advertising it in that way because seeing the word ‘suicide’ might cause a barrister who is contemplating suicide to take their own life.

The first thing we learn is that it is a complete myth that talking about suicide with someone who is at risk will give them the idea to suicide or increase the chances that they will. In fact, using the “s” word – is a protective factor. We learn that to actually directly talk about suicide will actually save lives. Other myths about suicide get shot down one by one. Did you know that normal people, not just people with mental illnesses, contemplate and commit suicide? It’s also a myth that most suicides occur without warning. In fact, in 80% of cases, there are definite warning signs. Another myth is that people who threaten to commit suicide are just trying to gain attention or are selfish or weak. It turns out it takes a tremendous amount of courage to kill yourself.

Step 3

No training is complete without stats of course so we are told that globally there is one death by suicide every 40 seconds. In Australia, someone takes his or her life every 3.5 hours. Those most at risk of completing suicide are men. People aged over 85+ represent the highest category of completed suicides and… (no one is very surprised by this)… there is a much greater representation of suicide in indigenous communities. In young people suicide is one of the three leading causes of death. The other two are homicide and accidents.

Step 4

Eventually we have to talk about the young Victorian Barrister who took her own life a few months ago. We still have questions. We still don’t understand it. We are told that we never will and the hardest thing of all for people who are touched by the suicide of another is being left with all of the unanswered questions. We are told that to support people touched by suicide we need to learn how to be comfortable sitting with their anxiety around those unanswered questions. We discuss how, as lawyers, we are trained problem solvers and how difficult (read impossible) this feels for us at times. This applies to sitting with other people’s anxiety around unanswered questions as well as our own.

Uncomfortable with the not knowing, we pester the facilitator to give us some kind of definition of suicide. What is suicide, apart from the obvious, being the voluntary taking of our lives?

Fortunately, on this point, there is an answer.

Step 5

Suicide is a solution. The person who chooses to suicide believes that this is their only solution. They reach a stage where their pain is greater than their resources to solve their problem. They usually perceive themselves as being burdensome to others. And they are feeling helpless and hopeless. They choose this solution because they know it will work when nothing else has. And yet, they are deeply ambivalent about their choice. They desperately want an alternative. They just can’t see one. They want to live. They actually want to be rescued.

Step 6

At one point we make a collective decision not to record the training session because one of the participants begins to share a story about being in a ‘dark place’ once. We become very protective of this participant. An observation is made that barristers are very protective of one another and that we came to this training because we want to know how to look after one another. It’s important to us. We just don’t know how to go about it.

First, we are reassured that just to care is the first step.

Then we are taught how to save a life.

Step 7

It’s the little things. Like noticing when something is not right with someone. Being vigilant about people who have experienced a traumatic event that might act as a triggering event or catalyst. Following up on obvious clues that someone is felling suicide like him or her telling you they can’t go on. Or less obvious clues like them withdrawing or giving away their belongings. Being prepared to have a difficult conversation about their health and well being and making sure you have the courage to directly ask the question: are you contemplating suicide? Giving them your full attention. Being warm and supportive and non-judgmental. In a nutshell – acting like an empathic human being.

Did we really need training to learn what should be so obvious?

Step 8

And what about the lives that can’t be saved? What about the 20% of people who show no signs? Or the people who you respond to with love and care whom suicide anyway?

We are back now to the unanswered questions: the mystery of it all.

The facilitator reminds us that often when people suicide, their loved ones are not able to grieve freely. Other loved ones who are also suffering sometimes judge them harshly: surely you could have seen they were suffering and done something. Why didn’t you do something? And worse, they often judge themselves…if only…if only…if only. They float on a sea of unanswered questions and the best they can do is hope that one day they will learn to live with the lack of answers; the closest approximation to peace they are likely to ever experience again.

Step 9

Of course before we leave we must face the fact that despite our training experience, we are still just as terrified. Whilst we know a little more than we did before, no one is completely immune. Any one of us could lose a loved one to suicide. We lost a colleague recently. Next time it could be closer to home. And whilst, we may see the warning signs and save their life, we may not.

And so we re-commit to keeping our eyes open to people’s suffering. We re-commit to really being there for people when we recognise someone is floundering. We commit to having real conversations with people. And we re-commit to loving our family and friends ever so fiercely because we never truly know how long we will have the gift of them in our lives: how long they will be around to ensnare us with their smiling face, their deadly serpentine embrace.


* If you are having thoughts of suicide please call either the Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467 for free telephone counseling, LIFELINE 13 11 14 or Mensline 1300 78 99 78.

** Many thanks to our amazing facilitator – Psychotherapist, Cheryl Taylor –

*** The Salvation Army runs Mental Health Awareness and Suicide Prevention Training all over Australia, free of charge, through its Hope for Life program. For more information email:

Value added volunteering

by Phoebe Churches

phoebe blog 4

Here we are – the last (for now) in this series of posts about building capacity in a small Student Union Community Legal Service. You may recall from previous posts that I have been ruminating on the best possible model to increase the capacity of our tiny legal service to meet its mission as a Community Legal Centre. Law students are asking almost daily if we can take them on and it is impossible to ignore the potential benefits. If we can get the model right, student volunteers could meaningfully contribute to public policy and law reform submissions, develop website content and self-help resources, or write a regular column in Farrago. In terms of case work assistance, student para legal volunteers can conduct intake interviews; do case research and even some basic drafting under supervision.

However, in the context of the preceding posts about ensuring we do not exploit free labour or offer a substandard learning experience to volunteers, the question remains – can we harness the resources of local education providers to deliver an academic context to service delivery and make sure students are well prepared and properly equipped to make the required commitment and observe their ethical duties?

The primary focus of academic clinical programs is the development of practical lawyering skills in a closely supervised environment. The student has the advantage of both practitioner and academic supervision.  According to the Griffith Law School, Clinical Legal Education Programs Strategic Plan 2003 ­2007, the typical model is:

An intensive small group learning experience in which each student takes responsibility for legal and related work for a client (whether real or simulated) in collaboration with a supervisor. The student takes the opportunity to reflect on matters including their interactions with the client, their colleagues and their supervisor as well as the ethical aspects and impact of the law and legal processes.

First and foremost – this model puts the educational experience of students at its core.

When I first started recording my thoughts about this capacity building project I mentioned that the Melbourne Law School (MLS), part of the University in which the tiny legal service is located, did not run a clinical program. Within a few days of that post going live, I was contacted by the (then relatively) new Director of the MLS Public Interest Law Initiative (PILI). She alerted me to the development of a varied and exciting public interest law clinic, through which clinical legal education subjects would be delivered. This could be the answer to our prayer for adequately experienced and well oriented student volunteers who are already inducted into the ways of good legal practice. It may well slot the final piece of the puzzle into place. If the MLS can provide this practical experience to its students with all the attendant educational focus and instruction, perhaps we can draw our volunteers from a pool of students who have successfully completed one or more subjects in the program.

The National Pro Bono Resource Centre defines student pro bono in the following terms:

‘student pro bono’ is where students, without fee, reward or academic credit provide or assist in the provision of services that will provide or enhance access to justice for low income and disadvantaged people or for non­profit organisations that work on behalf of members of the community who are disadvantaged or marginalised, or that work for the public good.

While students at Melbourne University are unlikely as a class to be ‘disadvantaged’, they are nonetheless generally on low or no incomes and will not otherwise have ready access to justice on a fee for service basis. The spread of matters presenting to the service also offer good opportunities for law students to be exposed to real world legal issues in a fairly contained way. There is no shortage of good reasons to have a small but lively group of volunteer law students, but the problem with past ad hoc attempts to recruit and maintain paralegal volunteers was that many simply had no idea of the commitment required and frequently failed to attend rostered shifts or cancelled with very short notice. More troubling, many appeared unaware of the critical ethical and other obligations within a legal practice. These things need to be taught and learned – but our tiny service is just not well enough resourced to do that from first principles. If we are able to recruit students who have completed a clinical subject as part of their studies – we may have solved that problem.

There is considerably more the service could do with greater resources and there is a substantial demand from students for volunteering opportunities. It is difficult in this context to ignore the obvious fit between increasing service capacity and the use of volunteers. The time certainly seems right – the Student Union is currently reviewing the best model for a centrally coordinated volunteer program and this too could inject considerable resources into the establishment of a functional program in the Legal Service.

So where do we begin? Literature on the subject suggests that program establishment is aided by starting small and informally. However a strategy needs to be developed for moving from the informality that enables establishment in uncertain times to the more structured and integrated approaches that are likely to foster longer-term sustainability. At this stage the plan is to establish a small steering group to garner the expertise and experience of others in this area and to get student input into the opportunities they would like to be offered. We will need to develop a suite of policies detailing our obligations with respect to the supervision of students; confidentiality; and conflicts of interest. Finally, a volunteer manual needs to be developed and a set of appropriate precedents generated. Perhaps our inaugural volunteer or intern can work toward this? Any takers?

Is it necessary to become ultra aggressive and ruthless to be successful as a lawyer?



Dear NLL,

I am currently working in a commercial firm in Bangkok where I am obtaining a sign off for the legal practical component of the GDLP and would like any guidance/thoughts you may provide.

Essentially, my boss has an ultra-aggressive style and encourages all of his staff to be proactive and aggressive. He often micromanages and humiliates his staff, sometimes at group meetings and sometimes over mass email, cc’ing nearly the entire office. Since arriving I have found there is a very high turnover rate of staff due to the working conditions.

I had dinner with my boss last night and he said he could size me up: he predicted I was an only child with very supportive parents etc. He then went on to explain that he needs me to be more proactive and aggressive and will ‘toughen me up for the big bad world’.

My question is: is it necessary to become ultra aggressive and ruthless to be successful as a lawyer? Should I really be forced to change my personality – I have succeeded in other workplaces (admittedly many were short term internships) without having to do so. And if this boss can ‘size me up’ so easily, does this mean he could manipulate me down the track? He appears to have a habit of playing good cop/bad cop and has already threatened not to supervise my GDLP sign off. Is this part and parcel of practicing commercial law?

I’m sorry if these questions are a little broad or misdirected, but any guidance or thoughts you might have would be greatly appreciated. I’m at a stage now where I am thinking of whether to stay in this job or take up an offer for a junior position back in Oz.



Dear Nathan,

Firstly, I want to share with you that you will often come across “personalities” in the workplace and, for reasons that I can only guess at, the more difficult ones (read sociopaths) always seem to rise to the top and assume positions of power.

On the little information you have shared with me, it seems that your boss is one of these people. Not only does his style of relating sound off-putting, but he also appears to lack an understanding of what is required of a professional in a workplace setting. His behavior to your colleagues is despicable. It’s also totally unacceptable for him to try to “sum” you up, as if people are not complex creatures that cannot be even guessed at, let alone truly understood, at short and superficial acquaintance.

What this means is that you mustn’t take anything he says as a reflection on you. It is clear as day to me that this man has his own array of problems that are infecting his work and his capacity to manage and mentor in an appropriate and effective way.

Your instincts about him are spot on. You must, therefore, guard against your own personal fears that there may be some truth in what he says about your needing to be more ultra aggressive to be a good lawyer.

I can assure you that you do not need to be aggressive to be a lawyer. Yes, it helps to be able to have an aggressive bent at times if you are planning on being an advocate. Advocates “advocate” – they go in to fight for someone’s rights and by its very nature, the adversarial system will require from advocates a certain demeanour – a fighter’s stance if you like – among many other things. Mind you, generally, I teach advocates to use this very, very sparingly so, in reality, I don’t place too great an importance on it. Advocacy is also a very small part of legal practice. Most matters are dealt with by way of negotiation where your personality type (as you describe it) is in much greater demand.

You have succeeded in other workplaces because you are intelligent and competent. That’s all that you need to be a lawyer. You are probably a great worker to have on board too. I’m betting you work hard, create few ripples and that you’d never be responsible for drama in the workplace. That this particular employer cannot appear to appreciate your unique contributions again says something about him. Not you. The evidence is there – you’ve done just fine before.

Whilst it would not be appropriate for me to advise you to move employment, I make the following points:

  • You have another job – as I understand it – waiting for you in Melbourne. That is a position other graduates would really envy.
  • You have to spend a lot of time in the workplace and if it is a toxic place for you, it will impact on you negatively. It sounds to me like it already has.

Only you can make the decision about whether to stay or go. I would only advise that you ultimately set yourself the goal of seeking employment in a place where you can be your authentic self. Firstly, it’s a gift that other people deserve. Secondly, it’s what you owe yourself anyway.

I hope this assists in some way.


Doctoring the law degree for our times

By Dean R P Edwards


There are many aspects to the legal profession worthy of our scrutiny. Some of the more minor aspects, however, may pass under the radar unless we pay attention to detail.

For instance, what of the Juris Doctor (J.D.)? An invention of Harvard Law School in 1870, the degree is the professional equivalent of the M.D. Yet we don’t refer to our lawyers as doctors. (That is, in Australia or the U.S.: some Europeans, among others, apparently do call their lawyers doctors!).

Given today’s full fee degree goes for the price of a first home mortgage, that oversight, whether purposeful or not, seems to give short shrift to those of us who laboured through three gruelling years of graduate education, on top of three or four years of undergraduate studies.

The Americans, to their credit, allow their lawyers to affix Esquire as a post-nominal title, which seems to flout the traditional privilege of the genteel class. It may also mislead non-lawyers in the belief that their advocates are of gentle birth. But I suppose the American tradition harkens back to the days when lawyers were of the gentlemanly class.

The Melbourne J.D., for example, does incorporate a degree of research work, so what should one make of the doctoral status? Perhaps we should disabuse ourselves of the doctoral status and re-nominate the J.D. to stand for “Degradus Juris”.1 Simply put: the law degree.

And for the sake of plain speech, let’s also tidy up the remaining LL.Bs and their graduate relative, the LL.M.

The “LL” owes to the Latin practice of doubling the abbreviated word to indicate the use of the plural form. Therefore, legum baccalaureus, the Bachelor of Laws, becomes the LL.B. (However, it remains to be explored as to why the Bachelor of Arts, for example, is abbreviated “B.A.” and not “B.AA” or “AA.B”.)

I propose that we dispose of the snobbish, interloping “L”, or instead use the singular “law” in Latin, “legis”, to produce the “L.B.”. Given Latin’s flexibility and, for instance, the custom of putting “B” before “A” for the Bachelor of Arts, we could also refer to the reconstituted undergraduate law degree as the “B.L.”

Some might consider the above proposals as themselves superfluous. However, I highlight only that these proposals are made in the spirit of plain speaking and simplicity that we seek to bring to other, perhaps more important aspects of the law.

Besides, sons could finally placate their anxious mothers: “Look, Ma, I’m a doctor and a lawyer!”

1  Although the new term might call attention to the etymology common to “degree” and “to degrade”: not that one would mean to degrade the profession by simplifying its terminology!

Family laws and sliding doors

by Mike Wells


Hi to all at NLL. Here is another instalment from me!

It has been on my mind lately that we shouldn’t keep doing things if they don’t work: Life is too short.

My thoughts descended on a poem I learnt whilst idly letting my mind wander for a few years at Uni doing an Arts degree. It is called “In a Station of the Metro” by Ezra Pound and is coming up for its 100th year anniversary – but don’t worry, it has only 14 words!:

The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.

So, life is short. And beautiful. And dark. And everything else in between. And we are constantly observing all of this. So why do we keep doing things, seemingly waiting for someone else to take the lead, when we know there might be a better way?

Now you readers who have caught any of my blogs or indeed spoken to me in the last 5 years will know that I am very much focussed on family law situations and particularly situations of high conflict. So perhaps all you commercial litigators may want to tune out about now?

Hopefully not.

This blog is centred on the struggle for us as a society to find more humane ways of responding to abhorrent and otherwise inappropriate behaviours, without necessarily thinking that lawyers and courts and old school litigation is the only pathway through. I think we can learn a lot by looking at what many might think of as more primitive societies, where a communal, tribal response was the norm.

But for some reason we have not generally valued this approach, and as a society when there is a perceived or actual need to respond we have been more inclined to involve complete strangers in peoples’ lives (be it counsellors, police, lawyers, judges, etc). We then set off on a completely new path, to the “search for truth” and “for revenge” and “to vent our anger and hurt” in a forum where (at least in the family court, and certainly in the minds of many lawyers) it is a battle of attrition rather than looking for and valuing the ability of such ‘strangers’ and others who arguably are more invested in fulfilling such roles. What I am saying here is that we as lawyers should be more mindful about caring for the impact of the process that we are subjecting our clients to (and not forgetting we ask them to pay us for the ‘privilege’ of so doing).

Another point is that we as lawyers (and barristers and judges) seem to chronically under-acknowledge the damage that can be inflicted on a family by bringing them within the institution of the traditional legal system. For example, why do we as a society permit 20-something-year-old law graduates to think they know more about a family and what is appropriate and necessary for the members of a family, just because they know the law? It is not the fault of such lawyers (who are not necessarily only the 20-something-year-olds, either!) by the way, because my point is that potentially many family lawyers have not had the insight or life experience of trauma, tragedy, loss, and basically have not (you might say fortunately!) had to learn the life lessons of truly understanding and appreciating the impact of a badly handled family law matter where thousands of dollars, years of peoples’ lives, and the unknown impact of significant and sustained trauma and stress of emotionally charged litigation has ensued – and most tragically – has actually been encouraged and exacerbated by some lawyers.

Now, I acknowledge that this is a fairly inexact science because without the benefit of overlaying a “sliding doors” (I love that movie, btw) technology, we never see the actual difference between a family that has endured the cut and thrust of litigation, compared with, say the same family engaging in an interdisciplinary team collaboration. But I say why should we keep this cycle of potential damage spinning along, when it is arguably easier and more humanistic to (say) reverse the thinking and forcibly direct all family law clients to work with lawyers who have been accredited with skills and abilities to work with other professionals in a co-ordinated framework and structure that is geared toward building foundations for the future, instead of going to war?

Why can’t we take lawyers and courts out of the traditional dynamic and instead respond to family and couples who are experiencing the trauma of a separation by recognising the inherent value of using psychologists; financial advisors; counsellors; child experts AND lawyers (but to name a few) to respond in a holistic family focussed way that is consistent with the notion of cherishing and valuing the beauty of children and of a society that genuinely cares for the individuals within it.

So my message is to be a good lawyer, for sure, but don’t ever forget the bigger picture.

Elizabeth 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.

    What’s legal is not necessarily just

    by Finchley Atticus


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Is it exploitation or value added work experience?

    by Phoebe Churches


    So far my thinking about how to sustainably develop the capacity of a tiny CLC in a constantly contracting funding environment has led me to confront my fears of contributing to the decline of the modern welfare state. My next question in this context, is whether a volunteering model must necessarily further the destabilisation of the Government backed welfare system, or whether there is a legitimate place for ‘free labour’ in capacity building.

    I practiced as a social worker for some 25 years prior to entering the legal world and during that time I did my fair share of supervising social work students on fieldwork placements in various work places. The idea of getting another pair of hands on deck was always exciting in a chronically under-resourced community sector. However over time it became apparent that significant resources are required to deliver the level of supervision and support to enable a proper and positive learning experience for these students. Sometimes it meant that, rather than building capacity, a single vocational placement could consume about the same resources as it provided to the service. How to avoid this zero sum game? How do we get something for nothing without the spectre of exploitation coming into the frame?

    I have come to the conclusion that it is the use of unpaid labour to provide work which would otherwise be undertaken by the same person for money, given the opportunity – which is exploitative. Roemer defines capitalist exploitation as ‘A is exploited by B when B takes unfair advantage of A’s situation which results from a lack of access to resources’. Translated into the legal volunteering scenario we might say that a CLC exploits its unpaid staff when they attract the unpaid labour due to a lack of opportunities or access to entry level paid positions in the same sector.

    Similarly Susan J. Ellis in her book From the Top Down: The Executive Role in Successful Volunteer Involvement – without ever mentioning the ‘exploitation’ word – recommends that an organisation contemplating taking on volunteers must ask itself:

    given such a “utopia” in which your organization could pay for anything needed, would you still involve volunteers in some way and, if so, why?

    This is, of course, not the only definition of exploitation – but it nevertheless serves as a reasonable method of distinguishing those who volunteer altruistically and/or to receive something in return (feels good, experience, education etc) and those who are effectively trapped into free labour.

    So using unpaid workers – either volunteers or interns – who only provide their labour for nix in the hope that they will land a paid gig at some point AND where there is no possibility of that eventuating would seem to be flat out exploitation.

    Accordingly, where students or very new graduates completing their PLT are not in a position to do the same work for remuneration – is it exploitation to use their unpaid labour? Is money the only type of exchange for labour? They get experience and a range of benefits in return for their efforts; however we must take care to ensure that labour and non-salary benefits stay in balance.

    What is needed to make volunteering a positive and value-added experience for the volunteer?

    The University of Melbourne Student Union Advocacy Service runs two very active student volunteer programs. One provides an exam support stall which delivers material support (including stationery, water, chuppa chups and calculators) and advice and referral (for students who turn up late and are denied entrance to the exam or who have been caught with unauthorised materials). This program makes a material difference for students at the remote Royal Exhibition Building examination venue who otherwise would have no access to such resources. The other volunteer program provides peer support for students facing the university’s Course Unsatisfactory Progress Committees (CUPC). These student volunteers undertake training to enhance their understanding of the CUPC system so they can brief students attending the hearings and take meaningful notes in the meetings as well as provide a level of emotional support to the students attending, who are frequently highly anxious and/or distressed. The small Advocacy Service – without a major injection of funding – could never provide these services to this extent without volunteers.

    What’s interesting about both of these volunteer programs is that they attract a very large number of students every semester, notably many international students and also those who may be shy or somewhat socially isolated. These students get both hands on training and direct personal experience of conversing with strangers; communicating sometimes complex information simply and accessibly and empathically dealing with often quite confronting emotions in others. This is a very rare and valuable opportunity for these students, and one they generally grasp with both hands. Additionally, the volunteers work together, in different teams and pairs and many form lasting friendships after the program. For international students wishing to forge cross cultural relationships and socially isolated domestic students who may find it difficult to meet others in day to day student life – this experience is often a turning point.

    Can we offer something to law students in a clinical setting which might offer the same benefits? Or else, what other experiential currency can we trade in to ensure their unpaid efforts are not exploitative?

    Next time: Value added volunteering – Clinical Legal Education; internships or volunteers – what’s the difference and how do they compare as models?