A second wind


I was the stereotypical kid from Harlem. I was a good student until 4th grade, but then I started going down the wrong path. My friends started making fun of me for raising my hand too much, so I stopped participating in class. Instead of playing on the playground, I followed my friends and went to steal bikes. I had no direction by the time I finished high school. So I decided joined the army. To my surprise, I placed in the 96th percentile on the entrance exam. My superior officer recommended that I stay late and study for advancement, so I did. Then he recommended that I go to City College, so I did. I just finished twenty years of service, and now I want to go to law school. Sometimes I look back and think that the army took the young years of my life. But I was going nowhere. If the army hadn’t taken my youth, I wouldn’t have these older years.

Courtesy of: Humans of New York


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.

I wish I knew… the value of time

Claudia McGarva

By Claudia McGarva

I had a baby seven months ago and recently returned to work. The first thing I noticed about re-entering practice was that the whole industry – court, networking events, clients, continuing legal education, strategic planning meetings – does not care that you have to pick your child up from day-care, or you will be charged $40 for each minute after 6:00pm. Luckily, my partner and I are sharing the load but each day is an evaluation and negotiation of one’s priorities over the other’s. I am not going to bemoan the legal industry and discuss the tired term ‘work–life balance’. No, this is about not wasting time when time is a luxury.

When I was a junior lawyer, I would go to any work social events, seminar or committee meeting that was on. This was partly motivated by the university mentality that if an event offered free food and booze, you should take advantage. Also, it was a way to meet other professionals, learn something new and not feel so isolated in the industry. Young engineers networking social lawn bowls? Why not. Intensive weekend advocacy workshop? Bring it on. Alternative Dispute Resolution Committee for feminist vegan socialists? Of course. I had time to fully commit myself to my career and was willing to do so.

After a couple of years of practice, I stopped challenging myself and went through the motions.  It was not burn out; it was laziness. I think about the time I wasted watching bad TV, reading books that I didn’t like, thinking about going to the gym, and pretending to like crafts. In pregnancy, I stopped going to networking drinks as I felt like a diabetic in a chocolate factory and my feet hurt. I was still on cruise control.

However, since returning to work, I realised that I can’t always go to that interesting seminar interstate, or attend that committee meeting that runs until 8:30pm. I try to attend some events however at the moment, I do not have the luxury of being able to solely focus on one thing. I’m sure there will be a time when I can commit myself fully to the industry (yet ironically this will be when I am ready for retirement). However, there are some things I wish I did before bubs came along – further study, apply for that higher position, meet more people and be grateful for the level of control you have over your time. I think about how that time could have been used to learn something that would inspire me, meet interesting people and work towards a challenging goal.

I’m grateful for the time I now have with my son, and professionally, feel more productive than ever before. Unfortunately, there are so many things I want to do now to reinvigorate my interest in the law yet cannot do at the moment. There are only twenty-four hours in a day, and my son sleeps for about six of them. I wish I knew the value of time when I had it in spades. However, I have learnt from my regret. I no longer waste time doing things I think I ought to, but really do not want to. If this means that I never finish reading Bleak House after the third attempt or learn how to knit, then perhaps that time was not wasted after all.

All I want for Xmas Is…


by Bernadette Healy

Wish list for families at Christmas

Christmas is a time for connection and joy but it can also be a pretty tough time for some of us. Whether you are someone for whom Christmas is a bit of a non-event or someone for whom Christmas triggers strong emotion, it is a time for all of us to reflect about how we want to be in relation to others. Here are some tips that might be helpful:
• Allow each other to be just how they are – and let go of yearning for them to be how you (or others) would prefer them to be
• Let yourself define your own experience and throw out any feeling or sense of having a template which has been given to you by other family members
• Be aware that labels and expectations are handed out to most of us during our childhood but we can each decide as adults what we regard as important values to live by now and learn to resist the pressure to satisfy the outdated expectations others have of us
• Don’t punish others by excluding them for not interacting in the manner you prefer or regard as the way to be
• Try and foster the opportunity to discuss differences of opinion and make it a conversation in which feelings are shared and in which each individual takes responsibility for their own reactions and resists the temptation to blame others
• Reflect on any no-go family dynamic conversation zones and live to tell the tale
• Share a conversation without employing your inner critic to yourself
• Actively try and show tolerance by listening, by showing interest in others such as by asking questions about them, by not interrupting even when you are bored or have a great point to make and by reciprocation through volunteering something about yourself
• Treat in-laws and new partners and ex-partners and step-family members and anyone else equally
• Question and resist any pressure to choose a side
• Allow yourself to enjoy the company of whoever you choose to at your family functions without succumbing to the influence of others as to the status and merit of various individuals
• Avoid being a party to bullying
• Laugh together but not at the expense of another
• Be kind

Meet Katha, the burnt out publicist


‘Switched on, driven and burnt out’

Eleanor Morrison plays the role of Katha in this year’s production of Maple & Vine.

Eleanor is a lawyer in the Disputes Team at Ashurst.

We’ve asked Eleanor a few questions to gain some greater insight into her background, reason for performing and what excites her about her role as Katha.

Is this your first BottledSnail production?

I was a member of the cast for BottledSnail’s production of Parade and a member of the production team for BottledSnail’s 12 Angry Men.

What drew you towards the BottledSnail community?

At first I thought the BottledSnail community might be a sort of sub-community of the legal industry where I could devote some time to an activity that was creative, but quite separate from my professional life in the law.  To the contrary, being involved with BottledSnail has shown me that there is a real depth of support in the legal community for people who want to be creative or try something new.  I’ve found that investing in an activity outside my normal work routine has actually made me feel more engaged with my existing “work world”.

Why did you choose to perform?

I like assisting in telling a story.  I was drawn to the story of Maple & Vine and wanted to be a part of telling the story to people in the legal community and provoking discussion.

As you are playing the role of Katha, if you could describe her in one word what would it be?

Relatable.  I don’t think Katha is always likeable but I think parts of her story will strike a chord with the audience.

What excites you about this role and what challenges does it bring?

The role excites me because I think Katha’s story is a vehicle for addressing some broader issues facing my generation and my generation in the legal industry.  I feel challenged by the material though.  Because it’s an important story to tell, there’s a bit riding on the execution!

The play explores a number of themes, what is the most important one for you?

Freedom and the idea that choice can be crippling.  If you grow up being told that you are special and you can do anything you want with your life, how can you be sure that you’ve chosen the best path?

Tickets can be found here: http://mapleandvine.bottledsnail.com/ and the details are: 2-5 December 2015 at 8:00pm, with a matinee on the 5 December 2015 at 2:00pm.

Katie Miller


What are your passions outside of the law?

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

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

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

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

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

What would you say are the hazards of this profession?

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

How do you balance life and work?

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

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

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

How can one distinguish themselves as a legal professional?

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

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

What Kind of Professional Do You Want to Be?

Professional Meditating

by Bernadette Healy

Being a professional new to their career – exciting and nerve-wracking!

Congratulations on being a practitioner in your new career (or if you are a law student on getting as far as you have to date!).   You have probably been so busy getting to this point that you may not have given thought to the question: how do I want to be in this career? 

That is, what kind of lawyer do you want to be, not just in terms of executing your professional obligations as a lawyer but what sort of professional do you want to be?

It may be helpful to think of your new career as a marathon you are about to start rather than a sprint.  For some of you sprinting will be a particular strength and this is definitely the kind of skill required for some of your work.

However treating this career in general as a sprint or a series of sprints may inadvertently lead you to experience burnout.

Although it is common, particularly when a new professional, to view your new career in terms of discrete projects, from a long-term well-being perspective, it will help to keep stepping back and asking yourself about how you are going in terms of an ongoing professional journey.

This means regularly setting aside time to yourself, relaxing and reflecting – asking yourself questions about how you are compared with how you want to be. This will help to avoid your putting too much emphasis on any one outcome – a protective practice in terms of stress and helpful if you tend towards frequent feelings of anxiety and / or tending towards being overly responsible.

Anxiety and responsibility are two of the most common issues that young lawyers face as they are finding their way in their new profession.

Anxiety is a non-specific kind of feeling which is associated with symptoms such as excessive worrying, negative thoughts often including concerns about failure and approval of others and feelings of agitation.

Troubling feelings related to responsibility generally oscillate between taking on too much responsibility and taking on too little with associated feelings of shame and self-criticism

Are these feelings relevant to you or perhaps to a colleague?

It may be a little challenging to be asked to reflect on your feelings when you are most likely highly rational people about to begin your career within a profession where rationality is so greatly prized.  However, feelings are a great source of information – about how we are going relative to our deeply held sense of ourselves – ignore them at your own peril down the track!

You need to be careful not to prematurely judge your own performance as a lawyer (in worse case, deciding to leave when the issue is just the natural one of being new to a professional role).

Perhaps for a very small number it may not turn out to be your career – if so remember that it is not possible to find that out without putting yourself in a position to try; hopefully if this turns out to be the case, you can avoid self-recrimination and any urge to inaccurately conclude that you are a failure when actually you have merely done a necessary bit of career self-correction.

Judging everything in terms of achievement, winning and needing to avoid making mistakes is very common within the legal profession.  The use of judgement and judging while a necessary skill can also be very limiting if it means you are not as engaged in your life as you could be due to a fear of failure.  That is, people who focus only on success tend to avoid putting themselves in the position of being a beginner.  This leads to their ending up with a much reduced repertoire of skills and abilities and experiences than those who are less concerned with trying out something for fear of looking like an idiot or not getting it right the first time.  Ongoing self-criticism and judgement is predictive of both stress and even, poor performance, particularly in terms of a rigidity in problem-solving.

 Staying true to yourself

Try and keep a gentle and warm interest in yourself and who you are; your values and priorities and feelings and how to remain true to that while in your professional role.

Put some rituals in place to ensure that you make a point of separating out work from non-work, for example:

  • Listing questions arising from current work day and leaving them at work ready to be re-visited at the beginning of the next work day.
  • Cycling home.
  • Getting off the tram or train one stop early and walking.
  • Sitting in a park for 5 mins before going home.
  • Doing a 3 min breathing practice on the train home.
  • Asking your partner and family to leave you alone for the first 10-15 mins after you get home.

Do some regular self-reflection.  You could start with the identification of your personal triggers – this could be people, situations or events which cause you to react in a manner which is out of proportion with the situation.

For example you may find yourself being very annoyed with the approach of a colleague and find yourself ruminating on them, their approach, your reaction, the situations you have shared etc.  What may actually be happening is that your colleague has triggered a potential threat to a core belief such as that you must be liked and approved of; that you must be in control; or that you must be included.  If you are not aware of these potential triggers, you are likely to automatically and unthinkingly respond to the situation in an inappropriate and reactionary manner and to attribute to the other that which is really to do with you.

Learning to identify and control personal triggers is vital to ensuring that you know where you and your ‘stuff’ ends and that of others around you begins.  It doesn’t change the situations you face but it will give you a sense of security that you will be ok.

Self-reflective practice can guard against the kind of existential desert that is commonly experienced  by those who have been so busy doing, fixing, controlling and generally just getting on with things that they have omitted to build in regular time for being, reflecting and asking themselves some non-task-focused questions.

Focusing in on your inner life can help to modify the down side of your skill set.  That is, just as it is necessary to know your strengths and build on them and maximize their use, it is also necessary to understand the likely down sides of these strengths.  E.g. the strong individualistic drive and focus that can motivate someone to become a skilled practitioner may also be associated with low tolerance for others’ weaknesses and perhaps even make them a poor team player.  A person with great organizational ability and project management ability may also be associated with an inability to see the role of lateral thinking in problem-solving or perhaps even a reluctance to give time to the use of non-standard problem-solving methods.

So think about the kind of professional you want to be, make a bit of effort to allow yourself space for your own feelings and ideas to bubble up, watch out for your personal triggers and the other side of your strengths and most importantly, do all this with a sense of fun, curiosity and kindness.