Mind over Matters

by Dean R P Edwards

dean blog 1

In the otherwise forgettable Wachowskis film Jupiter Ascending, one of the characters quipped in a perceptive moment, “Time is the single most precious commodity in the Universe”.

It was a fleeting moment of philosophical insight that the film failed to draw out, but I’d like to consider the
proposition in respect of the legal profession.

Time never seems to be in adequate supply for lawyers. We are constantly pressing up against deadlines and staying ahead of the increscent avalanche of emails and telephone calls.

Yet there is a qualitative difference between time being a rare commodity and its being a precious commodity.

In the age of instantaneous electronic communication, it’s fashionable to be “tech savvy”, checking emails as they arrive, pouncing on a new task or client’s question as soon as the phone rings or beeps or, according to modern tastes, barks like a rabid dog.

Instead of complaining that we haven’t enough time to attend to a task or perform it well, we should ask whether we have made the right priorities.

The Internet is replete with advice as to the downsides of multitasking and the one-stop shop that is the smartphone. The Age addressed the latter – replacing our smartphones with “dumb” phones – over the weekend.

Lawyers should take heed: stress is not just the consequence of a highly intellectual job. It results as much from making time scarce by biting off more than one can chew.

Our priority then ought to be quality. Quality takes time. We wouldn’t expect judges to provide poorly reasoned decisions churned out hastily. Likewise, we shouldn’t expect any less from ourselves and our colleagues in attending to tasks with a focus as to quality, not quantity.

If that’s not enough to cause the modern lawyer concern, don’t forget that your digital multi-tasking can literally overload your brain.

Some simple advice: put down the phone, pick up a pen and paper, and spend some time reasoning rather than reacting. If we grant that time is the most precious commodity in the Universe, then surely reason is stiff competition for the top billing.

The unbearable lightness of being a (female) lawyer

by Arna Delle-Vergini

female lawyer pic

One of the frustrations of being a blawyer (lawyer/blogger) is that, more often than not, one cannot blog about one’s own clients. And yet, that is where all the best stories happen: in and around court. How to get around this? Well, this is this blawgers attempt. To protect my real identity, in this blog I’m going to call myself “Andy”. Oh, and I’ve made up a whole different country too. Just for added protection. 🙂

Once upon a time, there was a land called “Mysonia”.  It was a strange, half-forgotten land, where the quality of people’s lives was predetermined from birth essentially, according to the colour of their hair.  Basically, in this land, if you were born a brunette, you were considered to be a second-class citizen, blondes were first-class citizens and redheads were the ultimate rulers. Gender was irrelevant. In any event, there were rules and regulations about whom one could marry and have children with (as there are in our own country of course) but, since there were so many more brunettes than blondes or redheads, exceptions were allowed. These were rarely happy marriages though, as the brunettes would be routinely treated awfully by their partners and whilst there were laws that protected second-class citizens from being victimized, in practice, it happened all too often and little was done about it. Anyway, a great war broke out in this country and many people, of all different coloured hair, fled. Some fled to the US. Some to the UK. Some to France. Some to Sweden. And some saw fit to flee to Australia.

Our story picks up in Australia where “Andy” a lawyer is briefed to appear in a bail application on behalf of “Felicity” a blonde Mysonian who recently arrived in this country. Felicity had been charged (again) with breaching an intervention order. This was her third breach. She had a history outlining multiple assaults against her partner, Phillipe, who was; you guessed it, very much a brunette. On this occasion, Felicity bashed Phillipe so hard that he had to be hospitalized. After her arrest she made it very clear to the police that she had nothing but contempt for laws that protected brunettes from violent assaults and made it clear that she would repeat her behaviour the minute she was released. This was unhelpful for a bail application but Andy had been doing this for a while and was quite sure he could manage it.

It was 9.15am when Andy first met Felicity in the cells down in the Melbourne Remand Centre. He said a cheery “hello” and began to take Felicity through the remand brief. At one point he noticed Felicity looking at him strangely, but he decided to just continue. Eventually, he realized that the “strange” look was one of anger, possibly even contempt, so he asked Felicity if everything was all right.

“No, it’s not!” she said, with some anger. “They have sent me a prostitute”.

Andy looked around him quickly to see if anyone else had slipped into the interview room. Nope, just him.

“A prostitute?”

“In Mysonia, married brunettes do not work. The only brunettes who work are prostitutes. You are not married.”

Andy looked at his ring finger. “Oh, of course, I’m not married and I’m a brunette so you think I must be a prostitute”.

“You are a prostitute”.

Andy felt that, perhaps, reason might assist in this circumstance and explained: “Oh, no, you see, in this country, brunettes are allowed to work doing all sorts of work and it doesn’t matter whether they are married or not.”

Felicity did not seem at all pleased with this answer. In fact, she became angrier and demanded to know again why they had sent a prostitute in to act as her lawyer. Furthermore, Felicity didn’t believe, even in Australia, that Andy actually could have been a qualified lawyer, rather than a student, so she demanded to see Andy’s ID. Andy produced his ID but Felicity just became more and more enraged. She was starting to yell at this point and white flecks of foam were spurting out of her mouth. Eventually she started banging on the glass: “I want a proper lawyer. I want a redhead”.

Since Andy got paid either way, he was happy to leave Felicity foaming at the mouth in the cells while he organized a lawyer with different coloured hair to come and represent Felicity.  As luck would have it, there was a perfectly capable blonde idling about in chambers, so he flicked the brief to her and then casually made his way home.

As he was driving home he thought about two things. The first was how he might spend the rest of his day. (He favoured sitting at a café reading a book only slightly over sitting in a warm bath reading a book.). The second thought he had was: “what must it feel like to be born into a world that thinks you are superior by nature of your hair colour?” He had some idea of this because, in truth, even in Australia – the lucky country – there was a little of this caper going on. He had had some experience of people who were raised to see themselves as superior. These were people who were treated as smarter and funnier, even if they weren’t. These people were paid more to do the very same work as anyone else; consequently, they were typically wealthier. These people were given more airtime, as if everything that fell out of their mouths was golden when, really they talked as much rubbish as anyone else. These people often believed that they had no advantage whatsoever, but the moment someone tried to challenge them about their advantage, they instantly became very defensive and angry. They would say things like “just exactly who do you think you are?” Because Andy liked himself a lot, he didn’t spend a lot of time with these people but he had spent enough time with them to know that they existed and that, underneath it all, their greatest fear – greater than any other fear – was of being exposed. Their greatest fear was that one day, someone would discover that they were not actually superior after all. Andy couldn’t think of anything worse than living with a fear like this. It made him feel very sorry for them.

Postscript: Felicity was not satisfied with the blonde lawyer either and promptly sacked her. Felicity had come to feel a deep distrust of all Australian lawyers after having met Andy; after all, what kind of country allows brunettes to practice as lawyers anyway? No one will be surprised to hear that Felicity was not granted bail on this particular occasion. 

Gone Girl

By Arna Delle-Vergini

Gone Girl

GONE GIRL (2014, 149 mins)

Loosely described, Gone Girl is a film about a wife who goes missing, a husband whose innocence is increasingly called into question, and a police investigation that is oh so right but which ultimately gets it oh so wrong. Like pregnancy, murder won’t save a bad marriage, but this film somehow does in fact manage to make murder seem like an agreeable option. Or, if not murder, at least death. And yet, for the accused husband, Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck), this is not terribly apparent at first. A good deal of the film is spent watching Nick trying to hopelessly worm his way out of the murder investigation. He doesn’t do a very good job. The film is narrated by missing wife, “Amazing Amy“ (Rosamund Pike). Her calm narrative, juxtaposed with Nick’s complete mismanagement of his own behavior whilst under investigation (his cheesy smile; his selfie with a local housewife, and his difficult to conceal for very long affair with one of his young students) leaves little doubt about Nick’s innocence.

Enter Tanner Bolt (Tyler Perry) – attorney extraordinaire. Tanner Bolt, said to be based on the famous Johnnie Cochran (O.J. Simpson’s Attorney) is known as the “Patron Saint of Wife Killers”. There is no such thing as an unwinnable case, providing you pay his $100,000 retainer. And you will. Because you don’t want to go down for killing your wife, particularly in Missouri where the death penalty applies.

Tanner Bolt’s role is limited in the movie but the part he does play is lawyer gold. He knows that image is everything – the details of the case can wait until later. He counsels Nick on how to make a plea to the American people via popular news shows using the unforgettable “gummy bear” method – whereby every time Nick comes across as smug or disingenuous in practice, Bolt gets to throw a gummy bear at his face. He attends the police interview with Nick and gives him the standard excellent legal advice pre-interview, (“give them nothing”), all of which Nick blithely ignores and yet he still manages to get him out on bail after his arrest – much to the chagrin of the Watchhouse officer: “Dunne, you’ve got one hell of a lawyer!”

 But what I really love about Tanner Bolt, is not his legal prowess but his humanism. When Nick gives his instructions to his lawyer – and they are weird as hell instructions – Bolt doesn’t bat an eyelid. It’s not his job to question his client, it’s his job to advocate for his client and he backs him, laughing all the way. Bolt – who deals with “fucked up people” doesn’t mind telling his client that as far as fucked up people go, Nick’s right up there. But all of this is done in good humour and with the confidence of an attorney who knows that after this alleged killer, there will be another and then another and then another. Same shit. Different smell. What remains the same is this lawyer’s unshakeable belief in the importance of his role and his ability to do it better than anyone else.

Lawyers are often treated negatively in film. This is not one of those films. As a lawyer you finish watching the film with a little inner glow you reserve for times when you feel you have made a difference or when you see other lawyers make a difference. It’s gold.

I’d give this movie 4 stars out of 5 for what it is.

Image from IMDB

Mark Holden


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

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

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

What attracts you most to the profession of law?

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

What are your passions outside of the law?

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

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

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

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

You must love the profession or find another career.

How do you balance life and work?

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

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

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

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

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

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


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 – http://www.kunaurra.com.au/

*** 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: admin.hopeforlife@aue.salvationarmy.org

On the use of magic with difficult clients

by Bernadette Healy


Provide a person with a genuine opportunity to tell their story without judgement or criticism and many of your ‘difficult client’ issues will magically disappear!

Most people want the chance to tell their story. When in the midst of a challenging time – which will be the case for most people in the midst of a legal dispute- the need to tell one’s story may feel quite urgent. Under duress, however, some people react with aggressiveness or intense frustration or even withdrawal and this behaviour is likely to impede the very kind of interaction that will enable them to tell their story – thereby denying themselves (and you!) the related stress-reduction benefits. In addition to turning you off – either by distancing you, or frightening you or annoying you by their seeming inability to listen – they are likely to be participating in a self-fulfilling prophecy kind of cycle which triggers long-held unhelpful core beliefs. Examples of such beliefs include: that they are not worth being listened to; that they cannot cope with frustration; or that all people in authority will hurt them. Core beliefs are developed early in life and are typically reinforced in complicated patterns of intensely felt uncomfortable feelings, triggered reactions, avoidance behaviours and further cementing of the core beliefs.

It is also quite likely that your clients have experienced many people before you who actually did not listen to them often enough (or even at all!) and may therefore enter new (and stressful ) situations with the expectation that this will continue. The type of behaviours which lead to someone being described as a ‘difficult client’ may have developed over a lifetime. You of course cannot impact this history but you can become an exception to their previous experience – and that is the kind of moment that can lead to personal change.

Do not discount the value of the interaction – a situation can be more or less traumatic regardless of the actual outcome, purely due to the nature of the interpersonal interactions along the way. That is, even in the non-winnable situation (sigh), you can make a long-lasting and positive impact which will actually reduce the recovery time for the client (and probably yourself also!).

Prepare for the conversation including reminding yourself that you may be about to go into a potentially difficult situation but also allowing for the possibility that you may not. Don’t take your lead from a secondary source. That is, pay the individual the respect of meeting them freshly rather than forming a judgement based on what someone else has told you.

Be aware of the kinds of situations that may trigger a reaction in you regardless of the individual. That is, reflect on times of difficulty in your own life, and consider the possible work cases that could pull you in to a reaction that is not about the client, but actually about your own stuff.

Put aside your agenda, at least temporarily, take a deep breath, sit in an open manner and invite them to tell you how they are going and what they would particularly like you to know. Remember you are not responsible for their problems. You are responsible however for listening effectively and for promoting a good working relationship. Try and ensure their privacy for conversation. If they are so aggressive that you are nervous of your physical safety, ensure that you remain in an area where you have access to others but try and move to one side of the area to provide a sense of concern for their right to confidentiality.

Treat each client equally (and positively!) regardless of their status. You will be amazed at how soon people will modify their behaviour when they are treated as if they truly matter. And a bit of equalizing behaviour never goes astray for those apt to think that they are above the unruly hoard either!

Be prepared to admit when you don’t know something. Acknowledge their frustration / anger / distress. This does not equate to agreeing with them. Also this does not mean that you have to put up with ongoing dis-respectful behaviour. Inform the person of your expectations and the consequences. For example wait for them to calm down and then tell them what will happen if they become abusive again – for example – that you will leave the room / the meeting will have to be postponed / you will have less time to attend to the issues of the case / have to hold all conversation in public area etc.

Don’t promise anything that you cannot deliver and do not promise something which another person is responsible for delivering, unless you have ensured that that is the case. Aim to be the one whose behaviour de-bunks their negative expectations.

Remember that ‘difficult people’ – for often tragic reasons – may try and make the difficulty about you. You need to ‘hold the line’ – that is, stay calm, allow the ‘white noise’ comments to float past and wait. (If feeling vulnerable, remind yourself internally of your strengths, your experience, your right to be there in that professional capacity.) Eventually the emotional reactivity will subside and a comment will be made to which you can honestly and professionally respond. This may take some practice and patience but it will be worth the effort.

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.


The alternative entry-level lawyer

by Charlie du Bois


So I’m sitting in the middle of my admission at the Supreme Court, thinking of the series of announced congratulatory sentiments, both past and impending. I’m looking at my principal lawyer knowing exactly what he’s going to say to attest to my good character to the honourable judges of the bench, and there is a grand spark of absolute pride that must go through all imminently-admitted attendees. We all nostalgically recall the boundless anxieties and full-blown emotional and mental straining sourced from us and that was sustained by those who know them dearly, and remembering the ball of irritable and twitchy obscenity we all experienced, that at times required the keenest of eyes to discern the studious, odorous and wretched shell before them from the personable and warm person they knew previous.

These incredible hurdles surpassed, and a long seven years behind me (I dawdled to admission, to be quite frank) I did however feel conflicted. I already had a job, I was heavily involved and integrated into one of the more recognisable national firms, albeit, a “TodayTonight-appearing” type of firm, and the position actually allowed for quite a bit of travel to conferences and capital cities around our grand country. And through the slightest of clicks, I would be allowed leave whimsically, just like the ludicrous 4-day weekend I attended in Byron Bay for a basketball tournament this past weekend.

But I’m not a lawyer. Admitted as I may be, practising I am not. I’ve been sent magically into uncharted territory for my firm for a particular area of injury law to pick up business where others have failed before me, contracted as a law clerk to first prove myself as an asset.

I tried my hand at the traineeship gig previously, but like any good broken-hearted scumbag, firm and I “mutually” decided we weren’t right for each other.. …

Alas, I threatened departure!! Yes dear reader!! Your rugged protagonist asserted his youthful and brutal boldness, and in his mightiest of man-vocal (see: Whimper) indicated his desire to leave the city to which he called home for the past 7 years, escaping failure of career and relationship alike (the latter is another story you can read on another blog: “The Beautiful women of Charlie du Bois”).

What resulted was an offer I couldn’t refuse. Different role, different city, with a promise within my contract to cover my admission, practice certification, and employ me as a lawyer on the basis of my performance in this new area.

NOW! “Performance?” I hear you mumble. Yes, a good question, and one that is still present within my vocabulary unfortunately. While I entered into this contract full of vim and vigour, excited to get out of the last capital and into another, a raise and moving costs and pretty little clauses and gym-membership and the rest of it, the Smith v Hughes intention of both parties about what “performance” actually involved has been lost in translation through the turnover of superiors and redefinitions by interested parties, which is many considering the interstate nature of my role. Interesting at this point to also note that while I’m pushing for a career-progression from law clerk, that my work goes largely unchecked as I deal with matters, only calling on my interstate supervisor for matters which are immediately overly complex or confronting.

Another concern being that the principal lawyer I mention above, being the ultimate decision maker about my employment as a lawyer, has the same amount or focus/concern on my position as I do about the
brand of toilet paper I buy, even though I love him and his style as much as he’ll call some brown-nose expletive out on being a brown-nose expletive (see what I did there?).

So what to do in a position like this?

Take advantage.

I have worked my sweet-little-tucus off to build up a now impressive client base, spread the word of this unique area of personal injury law, and have penetrated a market which seems needed someone like me to do the hard yards and find the gold in ‘dem ‘der hills.

I spent six months pre-admission doing the 8am-7pm shifts during the week, taking advantage of the autonomy to announce myself in the legal community in my new city, and really take big strides for my self and my firm. And on my weekends, I’ve tried to use my new money and new singledom (again, see blog “tBWoCdB”) and explore this amazing country of ours.

But is that simply all I want? Is that what I studied 5, nearly 6 years to accomplish? This great role and opportunity, unfortunately for me, means little if it means that all that I’ve set out to become is kept from me during an argument concerning a contractual term. There is still no timeline on when I will be employed as a lawyer in my current firm. I have my own timeline though, and plans from A-F, and hopefully that youthful boldness to plunge into the undertaking of plans B onwards if need be.

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.

Thinking on your feet – don’t let those ghosts of presentations past get to you!

by Bernadette Healy

ghosts of presentations past

Think back to the times when you have been required to ‘think on your feet’. Note down your experience of these times, as chances are that your experience of the first couple of times when you have had to ‘think on your feet’ in the professional domain, continues to influence your attitude to this inevitable task.

During your reflection consider the who, what, where, and how of the situation. That is, who was there, what was expected, where was it held, and how did you feel and act? Ask yourself has there been any pattern so far, for example, do you tend to handle the situation to a more or less personally satisfying degree depending on the who, the topic, the level of detail required etc. Why might this be?

If you are haunted by a ghost of presentation past, it may be that this is influencing your current behaviour in any situation which is even slightly like that past event. Paradoxically, often the most effective way of overcoming that kind of triggered anxiety response is by allowing oneself to confront the fear.i One of the ways that you can do this is via the use of imaginal exposure through writing.ii This is the telling to yourself of the whole story of that distressing past thinking on your feet experience by repeatedly writing about it in detail until it no longer triggers anxiety, as described below:

  • Describe as vividly as possible, the most distressing aspects of the event.
  • Make it as real as possible.
  • Describe the feelings and thoughts that trouble you the most about this event.
  • Describe the catastrophic results that you worry about.
  • Continue the story. What happens after the negative outcome occurs – how do you cope?
  • Read and re-write your story as often as possible. Read it out aloud, as well as silently.
  • Spend at least 20 minutes a day writing and reading your story, for 5 – 10 sessions (this ‘exposes’ you to the material until eventually its toxic effect is neutralized).
  • You can write about the same material every session, or you can vary it or let your story progress. Write continuously – don’t worry about how it sounds. You are writing only for yourself.
    During your reflections on presentations past, also apply a reality-check to your reactions to the situation – that is, even though you may have concluded that it was inadequate, it is possible that your reaction is not consistent with the view held by those involved. Did you receive any feedback? Did you seek any feedback? For the future resolve where possible, to seek out feedback from trusted sources, in order to help keep a check on any tendency to catastrophise such situations and to collect data about ways of improving performance.

    Thinking on your feet is all about the preparation!

    Often we can predict the times when our day is likely to include a requirement to ‘think on our feet’ and therefore we have the opportunity to prepare. This preparation time may be limited but even 5 minutes is enough time to pause, take a few deep breaths and ask oneself honestly : what is a reasonable expectation of my input in this situation at this stage of my professional life and specifically with regard to the subject of the sought input? This reflection will help to ground you in reality and protect against any exaggerated response to your performance.

    If you have a little more time ask yourself: what background knowledge, expertise and past experience do I bring to this issue right now? What is it reasonable to expect of me in terms of my level of knowledge given the amount of time I have had to prepare? Do I know enough to predict the 3 issues most likely to be raised? Which of these do I know anything about right now? Do I have any time to find out more? Do I know any experts in this area who I am willing to call for an opinion? Do I know a reference to which I could possibly refer?

    Preparation will help as knowing that you have done all that you could- even where the preparation is limited to acknowledging the fact that there was no time to prepare – will free you up to be present in the moment rather than being a slave to your feelings.

    3 minute preparation

    Remind yourself before the meeting what you bring to it in terms of previous experience, training, qualifications, personal attributes and life experience. If you are going through a stage of reduced confidence, consider producing a list of your skills, experience, qualifications and personal attributes which you can read through as a reminder to yourself that it is perfectly reasonable that you are about to go into a situation where your professional input may be sought.

    Prepare mentally for the meeting by checking in with yourself in terms of how you are feeling, particularly whether or not you have any left over negativity from a previous meeting or situation which if not controlled, could cause you to bring a negative bias to the new situation.

    No preparation time

    Be yourself – do not try to emulate someone else. Pause, take a breath. Don’t pretend to know something that you don’t. If you don’t have anything to say but you can see the validity in the question and/or the logic behind your having been invited to input, acknowledge it and ask for time to give it the attention that it deserves. Consider the possibility that you are being asked mainly to give you the chance to practice such a situation, or from politeness and therefore are not really expected to make a significant contribution. In other words don’t overestimate your own importance in the matter.

    If, based on prior experience, you suspect that your input is being sought in this way to serve someone else’s less than positive agenda, again acknowledge the opportunity and thank them for their question etc and firmly say that you will get back to them and specify when you will be in contact. Don’t commit to a timeframe for providing your actual input, if you don’t know enough about the subject to estimate how long it will take. Be prepared to repeat the fact that you will get back to them (in the face of those who may be trying to ‘make you squirm’).

    Ensure you do get back to them!

    i   NB For fear related to serious traumatic events it is advisable to seek professional help, for example, through the Australian Centre for Posttraumatic Mental Health

    ii  Adapted from Sarah Edelman (professional development forum 2013) and material in Thoughts and Feelings McKay, Fanning and Davis. New Harbinger Books, 1997.