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


By Bernadette Healy

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

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

 The red ribbon sits between us

silken light

A floating promise

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

If I let go it drops into the space beneath,

out of reach,

not ours anymore.

Holding, not grasping

Keeping it untangled and free.

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

We can leave it still and sit connected.

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

We can take turns offering and leaving it resting.

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

I am there with you

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

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

The ribbon connecting you to me to you to we

Safely softly huge

Holds contains encircles




There is Only One Version of Your Story


By Bernadette Healy

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

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

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

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

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

You have a number of options.

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


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

Judicial Bullying: a (brief) Beginner’s Guide

13617994 - stern judge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good luck!

Authenticity: A power equally available to all


By Bernadette Healy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Critical Lawyer

by Phoebe Churches



By this I don’t mean the senior partner you had during articles or clerkship or the Magistrate looking at you through semi-closed eyes during your very first appearance.*

I am talking about Critical Legal Theory in practice.

I came to the law after a lengthy stint in social work, working with some of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged in the community. Accordingly at law school – I was a bit of a fish out of water as a left, feminist, progressive type – and I really dreaded the impending requirement to complete core subjects such as Company Law.

When the first seminar of Company Law rolled around, I sat listlessly contemplating the weeks of boredom stretching out into eternity before me. The lecturer lost no time discussing the first piece of assessment. Ho hum. How would I wade through this miasma of…wait, what? A surprise. It was an essay, no, that’s not at all surprising – but the focus of the assignment was like a bolt literally out of LEFT field. The topic of that essay was: ‘It is often said the law is politics. This statement is applicable in corporate law as well. Explain and discuss this statement with particular reference to Australian case law and legislation’.

My paper read something along the lines of: it is an absolute legal fiction that the law is blind and it certainly does not operate in a social vacuum; on the contrary – the law works to preserve and entrench social and political inequality. So, one award winning Marxist analysis of the theory of the corporation and the doctrines of separate legal personality and limited liability later – my faith in the potential for the practice of law to be a tool for social change was restored. I was encouraged that I could perhaps become a happy lawyer, ducking the angst and depression so endemic in the field by making a meaningful contribution towards social justice.

So, how can working for social change make you happy? The practice of gratitude has been championed by the mindfulness movement for some time as a way to help bring happiness and balance into our lives. If you are looking for ways to keep perspective and feel gratitude, I recommend spending time with people who have had it much harder then you. Critical Legal Theory looks at strategies for getting the law to work towards social change and more socially just ends.

My journey was not a long one. I came from the community sector so I didn’t have a Road to Damascus moment. However my journey did go via the Critical Lawyers Handbook which must be a roundabout to Damascus St for many. In any event, regardless of what else I may do, I cannot foresee a time when my life will not be anchored by work in Community Legal Centres or not for profit services for the most vulnerable in our community such as the ASRC.

What will you do?

[*] The one who scratched red marks and annotations over every single word in your letter of advice or contract clause.

[†] I really did win the Company Law prize that year.

[‡] If you find this notion challenging or resonant and would like to explore further – here is a select reading list to get started: Hugh Collins, Marxism and Law (1984) and R.W. Connell, Ruling Class Ruling Culture – Studies of Conflict, Power and Hegemony in Australia Life (1977).

Listening to your body

By Bernadette Healy


Do you want to learn a strategy to help you take charge during moments of stress?

As you are no doubt aware, people differ in the extent to which they are in tune with their bodies.  Some are routinely able to take good physical care of themselves and are practised in attending to, and understanding the information that the body can provide about being in the world. This includes recognising the particular physical discomfort that they experience when facing a challenging situation at work or at home.

For others, however, the body is a forgotten vessel – known mostly in a secondary sort of way as that which carries around the parts of themselves of which they are more aware – such as their rational, thinking selves or their feeling selves. (NB. This does not necessarily equate to living unhealthily).  During a stressful time many in this group may still think about their stress and try and work it out rationally, or they may be aware of feeling stressed, such as feeling more easily angered, or emotional, or more intolerant than usual.  They are less likely to stop and focus on their physical sensations.

Even when very aware of being stressed, it is common to automatically engage in reactionary avoidance behaviours rather than stopping and paying attention to the body.  This is often due to a fear that focusing on the physical experience of stress will make things worse[1].  (Individuals may or may not be aware of this fear).

Learning how to pay attention to the information held in the body is a very important part of working through stressful times, including breaking patterns of avoidance behaviours.  Common avoidance behaviours include – but are not limited to: outbursts of anger, blaming others, withdrawal from people, drinking alcohol or using illicit substances, over-eating and fleeing.

So how can you begin to pay more attention to your body in a way that will assist you to cope with stressful situations while reducing the likelihood of engaging in the behaviours listed above?[2]

Start with a few minutes of focusing on your breath.[3]

Then still with eyes closed, focus on the sensations in your body, pay attention to whichever area of the body is calling out for your attention.  Try and take your awareness to that part of the body and observe the sensations. (Imagine that you are describing the sensations to someone without any knowledge of human anatomy and its terms – instead seeking to describe the sensations in a fresh, non-technical way).  It may help to ask yourself questions about the sensations such as:

  • Is the sensation hot or cold?[4]
  • Is the sensation in one distinct area or spread out?
  • Is the sensation heavy or light?
  • Is it coming and going or staying the same?

Once you have noticed and described the sensation, move on to the next sensation that you notice or if you feel that is enough, open your eyes.

Sit for a while and ask yourself how long that sensation has been around?

If it makes sense for you, try describing the sensation visually, for example: a ball in the chest, a large rubber band around the head, a metal weight on the back, a bobbing cork in the throat etc.  (You might even like to try making a primary-school level drawing of this and then just look at your picture and notice any thoughts that occur to you about the picture)

Make a point of trying to notice the coming and going of the sensations in the future, and see if you notice any patterns about when it is strongest and weakest.

Pay attention to how you are feeling now.  It is highly likely that the simple exercise of focusing on physical sensations of discomfort has resulted in a lessening of them.  Of course they may well return, but you will know from direct experience that they can also diminish, and that you now have a strategy to assist in this process.




[1] In cases of severe anxiety there is a need for professional help in sorting out when to focus on physical discomfort and when to actively choose other strategies at least until the anxiety has moved out of the severe zone

[2]If at any point you feel too uncomfortable (say an 8 or above on a scale of 1 to 10 where 1 is little discomfort and 10 is maximum discomfort), discontinue and engage in a healthy distracting behaviour such as a brisk walk, watching a loved movie, looking up information about a favourite topic, reading a novel etc and consider seeking professional help if you would like to understand about your discomfort and learn some appropriate techniques.

[3] Sit with back and neck straight.

  • Close eyes gently.
  • Become aware of your breath.
  • Don’t try and change your breath, just observe it as it comes and goes.
  • Try and let go of any thoughts as they arise
    • Remind yourself that they are just thoughts, choose to let them go as if the thoughts are on a train which you see whizzing past but do not get on.
    • As thoughts arise, don’t blame yourself for becoming distracted but instead bring your attention back to the breath as soon as you are able without judgement or criticism.
  • Observe the breath coming and going.
    • Don’t count the breaths or think about the process of breathing, but just experience the sensations of breathing and observe the breath in the moment of breathing.
  • Notice whatever there is to be noticed
    • g. the temperature of the breath as it enters and leaves the nostrils; the feeling of air on the skin just under the nose or at the tip of the nose; a feeling of movement within the chest etc.
  • Continue for 3-5 mins.

[4] For more information see Cayoun, B. A. (2011).  Mindfulness-integrated CGT: Principles and practice.  West Sussex, UK.: John Wiley and Sons.


Law as a Healing Practice


By Joel Orenstein

Buddhist imagery refers to compassion as being like one wing of a bird. She needs the other wing of wisdom in order to fly.

When I first decided to study an undergraduate law degree, I had made a very conscious decision, at the age of 26, to use law to strive to work for the benefit of others. At that time I had been working in refugee advocacy, and was in the fortunate position to be able to dedicate my energies to the study of a discipline that could be of assistance, on a very practical level, to those most in need.

After finishing my studies, whilst I saw others go down the traditional pathway in the law to the big firms, I never had any interest in such work. Instead I actively sort work in “poverty law” – entering the Community Legal Centre world by undertaking my articles year at Fitzroy legal Service before moving across to Victorian Aboriginal Legal Services and working in indigenous advocacy.

This was a time in my life defined by a very clear delineation in my mind between those worthy of fighting for, and the dominant power structures that needed fighting against. This dichotomy between good and evil was at the forefront of my world, and was also the backdrop of my values-based approach to lawyering that in some ways has stayed with me throughout.

During this time I sort to define myself by the type of work I did and the clients I worked for. I called myself an “activist lawyer” to distinguish myself from the self-serving and money-motivated lawyers that dominated popular culture. I identified myself with my peers working in the community sector and Legal Aid – underpaid, overworked, but righteous and proud, working for good.

You would think that working with the motivation to be of benefit to others would sustain a healthy and long career in the law. Unfortunately in my experience this is not the case, as I have witnessed many of my colleagues who have either dropped out, are miserable in their work or live with a high degree of conflict or dysfunction.

Why is it that so many of us, motivated to assist others, as not travelling so well? I know from my own case I nearly did not make it. Although perhaps outwardly my actions could have seemed compassionate and caring to others, inwardly I was terribly conflicted by righteous indignation, anger, burnout and an inflated sense of self. I would invest so much of myself in positive outcomes for clients and would suffer terribly with each tragedy or injustice that presented before me. The suffering seemed so cruel and unjustified, caused by fear and greed. I became angry with the world and those who did not share my view of it, and despairing of my inability to change it.

A decade on, and although I continue working for the same client groups dealing with much the same issues, coming up against the same power structures, somehow I have come to find peace in myself and in my work. Don’t get me wrong, I certainly have my off days, but generally I am able to find equanimity and joy in what I do. And I seem to be doing good work.

So what has changed? Over the years, with a developing wisdom, I have changed emphasis in the way that I work. Now I practice law consciously in a therapeutic way. Although I still have a certain legal outcome that I am working towards, there is an awareness of focus on the moment-to-moment process of working with clients and others within the judicial system. This involves an emphasis on mindful communication and presence, and at the same time recognising and acknowledging my own suffering and reactivity as they arise.

The result for me has been that I now work with greater balance. My prejudices have softened, relationships improved and I have much greater understanding of a positive way to facilitate change. I do not avoid conflict, and am much better able to judge when to stand strong or when to be conciliatory. Emotional awareness means that I recognise when I am heightened, angry, anxious or upset, and my emotional state does not have the same heaviness to direct my experience.

Generally therapeutic jurisprudence has looked at changing legal systems to facilitate therapeutic outcomes, as opposed to the looking at the way to work as a therapeutic lawyer within the system. My experience, however, has been that unless legal practitioners practice consciously in a therapeutic way, the prospect of therapeutic outcomes is greatly lessened.

Practicing law with motivation to work for others and instigate change without wisdom is like trying to fly with one wing. We must develop and practice insight and wisdom in the way we work, as otherwise we are bound to crash and burn.

This is moment to moment, and with practice, inevitably impacts in a positive way not only the outcomes of legal problems, but is also the source of great healing, both for others and oneself.

Sarah Rey


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

I am generally aware of some of the shortcomings of the legal profession in terms of its lack of progress in changing the balance of women leaders in firms, at the bar and on the bench over the last thirty years; the slow response to the problem of burgeoning numbers of young law students not being able to be provided with experience and training within firms; and the poor cultural practices in some firms and legal institutions. However I have been fortunate to have worked with a range of eclectic and feisty lawyers in two firms (medium sized and the large), and followed this with 11 rewarding years establishing my own award-winning firm, Justitia, with my colleague, Mary-Jane Ierodiaconou (who has recently been appointed an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court). With the blue sky opportunities and flexibility that running your firm enables, we have been able to create opportunities for law students to be an intrinsic part of our law firm model, and created a positive workplace culture that aspires to be innovative and different. So when I fell into the study law, little did I know that I was commencing a journey that would allow me to learn many new skills beyond just an understanding of legal principles. Through my legal training I have been able to explore entrepreneurialism and deepen my understanding of how business works and lead an organisation. So no, it has not been anything like what I might have imagined.

What are your passions outside the law?

I am interested in girls’ education, the difference it can make to them and their place in the world and how that can change the world. In the past 15 years I have been involved in the educational governance structures of seven Australian schools for girls established by an international order of sisters whose inspirational founder, Mary Ward, lived 400 years ago.
In my down time, I like traveling to foreign countries with my family so we can learn about life, culture and religions beyond our world in Melbourne. We have been fortunate to have experienced a wide array of countries and cultures and met many diverse people. I would like my children to feel part of a wider world, that extends beyond our Australian borders.
When I have more time, I would like to write up some family history involving a Jewish relative during the second world war, and do something with a treasure trove of taped interviews with student politicians which I conducted in the 1980s.

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

If you have a passion to practice a particular type of law, or work in a particular part of the profession, do not be deterred if you do not get there on the first attempt. There are many ways to create opportunities and make oneself attractive to a prospective employer. Sometimes it pays to think outside the box. Industry knowledge and skills can be obtained through other related, and even non-legal, roles, and then you can knock on the door again of the organisation which previously declined your application, and say, this is what I now have to offer. Importantly it can help to show passion and that you will go to great lengths to obtain the desired job. If you aren’t feeling any passion for your job, perhaps you should ask if it is right for you.

What makes a lawyer a great lawyer?

I think a great lawyer is someone who sets their own emotions to one side, providing dispassionate, logical, reasoned advice to their client. The great lawyer has excellent people skills, and high emotional intelligence, and can communicate effectively, clearly and compassionately with their client, reading the landscape and taking into account all the elements that bear on their advice. The great lawyer is ready to do battle on behalf of their client where necessary. The great lawyer can find a cost effective and lasting solution.

What at the hazards of this profession?

One hazard is staying in a job because you are paid well, but you feel no passion for or connection with either the subject matter or the people with whom you work. We can sometimes be sucked in to thinking that life is all about money and status. But it may not be the right place to be, and the cost of sustained unhappiness and non-fulfilment, or remaining in a dysfunctional workplace, can be high. Instead it is important to ask is this the right place for me, and if not, seek advice from friends and colleagues to ascertain where might be the right fit for one’s skills and priorities. And I would repeat the shortcomings I identified above.

How do you balance life and work?

I cycle to work, which is 10 km from home and helps me keep my stress levels down; I actively pursue my friendships so that I have emotional support in daily life; I remain involved in my children’s lives, though sometimes it is worth checking in with them to find out if they think you are actually as present as you think you are; I am involved in organisations outside of law which shows me my legal skills have some value outside of my workplace and this is a confidence boost; and I work in my own business which means I have flexibility and control over my workload to lead a balanced life and pursue diverse interests.

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

Don’t sweat the small things. Nothing lasts forever. As Heraklitus, the Greek philosopher said: we step into the same river, and yet it is not the same river, as you never step twice into the same river. Nothing rests, everything passes, nothing lasts, cold becomes warm, warm becomes cold, wet dries, and dryness becomes wet…. Everything has its day. Things change, and we need to be adaptive and be able to move along with that change.

Sarah is the managing partner of Justitia, an established workplace relations law firm in Melbourne and serving clients nationally. Justitia has won multiple awards from bodies such as the LIV’s “Law Firm of the Year” and AHRI’s “Sir Ken Robinson Award for Workforce Flexibility”, recognising its unique work culture and excellent client service. @SarahMRrey

Trigger warnings and compassion at Law School


Dear peers

You might have missed a discussion of trigger warnings in the introductory lecture to your law unit. This is understandable as the cautionary statement is usually delivered somewhere between your lecturer’s office hours and announcing the upcoming welcome BBQ. In all likeliness it was a blanket statement on the unit’s content, warning against graphic themes and acknowledging that any student is welcome to leave the lectures if they feel they must. While trigger warnings are incorporated into the general administration of law school, they do not guarantee that potentially triggering topics will be treated with caution or respect. Sadly, compassion cannot be mandated by the law faculty.

Arguably more important than the inclusion or improvement of trigger warnings is a change to attitudes among teaching staff and students. Contrary to the exhibited taste of many law students and even staff: violence, sexual offences and hate crimes are actually not funny. If you are privileged enough not to have been affected by these crimes, empathy should dictate that you appreciate the gravity of them. Nothing, and especially not a trigger warning, can validate treating a serious topic with callousness.

The general justification for a lack of compassion at law school is that your studies are a gateway into the ‘real world’ where a lawyer is supposedly exposed to the worst of humanity and expected to grin and bear it. Putting aside the fact that not every student takes a law degree to work in the legal industry, this line of thinking is problematic. Though you might have chosen law as a career to ‘make money’, chances are that wherever you end up working, a little compassion won’t go to waste. Whether it means you understand your client, colleagues or even yourself a little better, consideration and empathy will set you in good stead for a future in the law.



On the benefits of a wandering mind


by Bernadette Healy

Where do you go to my lovely when you’re alone with your head?[1]

Have you had one of those lovely, just-post-return-from-holiday moments when you find your mind wandering from thought to thought: such as on the bike, just getting to the top of that climb, at a major gradient over a grueling number of kilometres; or that morning reading that crime novel without interruption for 2.25 hours; perhaps the walk along the coast; or watching the Making a Murderer series (and in record time!); maybe mastering the creation of your favourite Adam Liaw dish; or enjoying your traditional post-Christmas get-together with the people of your choice; watching one of the glorious early 2016 sunsets; dancing to the last song of a great evening; or just allowing yourself to aimlessly move from one thought to the next without intention or deliberate focus on anything in particular.

Allowing this process  of ‘mind wandering’  (whereas day dreaming, by contrast, may involve quite deliberate focused thought[2]) at the least may provide you with a sufficient level of distraction to provide a restorative break from your task. However research suggests that during such moments your brain is involved in complex and sophisticated cognitive processes. During mind wandering, the brain is highly active across many regions including those involved in executive function[3].  Those moments which you probably describe as not thinking, are actually moments when you are using large parts of your brain.  You are thinking when you don’t think you are thinking – an under-rated human skill[4].

Data from ECG, MRI and alpha brain wave measurement indicate that, even when you think you are not thinking, your brain is occupied in carrying out non-conscious cognition or structurally sophisticated, multi-dimensional integrative neural processes.  Non-conscious cognition involves neural processes that integrate knowledge into understanding by processing knowledge, making connections and identifying complex patterns, all of which are involved in creative problem solving – including assisting you in the long-term generation of solutions for issues being faced in your life[5].  Research suggests that purposefully allowing yourself the time and space for your mind to wander can be an effective method of facilitating the type of creative or insightful thinking which leads to the experienced of  ‘aha’ moments. Creative thinking has long been recognised as enhancing the production of both quality and quantity of new ideas, however new technologies have provided evidence to suggest that such creative thinking may also be actively facilitated by allowing specific incubation time for the non-conscious cognition to occur[6].  Some research even suggests that the brain prepares in distinctive ways for problem solving – even before the problem is presented – and that this preparation type modulates the problem solving strategy.[7]

Phenomenological and inferential processes are an essential part of these research areas as the actual processes cannot be observed directly and are interrupted as soon as thoughts are directed.  It is a new and exciting area and not surprisingly full of controversy and discussion including questioning the previously unquestioned centrality of conscious awareness as a precondition for thinking.

I think it would be accurate to say that mostly people try to keep a low profile about times when they allow themselves to mind-wander – particularly at work. In future however it may be that booths for glass-eyed staring are purposefully created along the window side of corporate offices as the benefits of utilizing the brains natural ability to maximize its own flexibility and responsiveness become better understood. In the mean time you might like to be a trail-blazer in this area by regularly and blatantly submitting to this wondrous natural facility.  At the very least, keep a ten-minute non-focused doodling sojourn in mind next time you find yourself at the impasse stage of a complex problem looking for new ways forward.




[1] If this phrase triggers a musical memory, you are either an oldie like myself and/or one of those Rock Wiz types… or offspring of either of the above subjected at an early age to recordings such as

[2] Claire M. Zedelius and Jonathon W. Schooler,  ‘Mind wandering ‘Ahas’ versus mindful reasoning: alternative routes to creating solutions’, Cognition, Frontiers in Psychology, June 2015.


[4] Dr Caitlin Street Joining our own dots  Lecture in Diamond Series: Education conversations in the community, Malthouse Theatre 26th November 2015 (and see Dr Street’s PhD thesis available on line and including description of the unique technology developed and utilized as a way of presenting her thesis findings in visual and interactive form).

[5] Street ibid.

[6] Ut Na Sio and Thomas C Ormerod, Does incubation Enhance Problem Solving? A Meta Analytic Review Psychological Bulletin 2009, Vol. 135, No.1, 94-120

[7] Kounios ibid.