The Passion is Everything – Everything

 

2016 04 22

By Julian Summerhayes

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

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

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

Yes and no.

First, the no.

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

What about work?

What do you?

Do you follow your passion?

Do you?

Be honest, please.

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

Arguing with your opponent? (*Sighs*)

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

Making law firm partner? (*Feints*)

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

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

And now for the yes.

Yes, I do need to tell you.

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

In fact, this was me back in 2010.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now, go make it a reality!

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

The plan is to do the Grad Dip of Legal Practice then, once I get admitted, I’ll be applying for permanent residence.

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The plan is to do the Grad Dip of Legal Practice then, once I get admitted, I’ll be applying for permanent residence. Then I think 3 years after that I can apply for citizenship. It’s not that easy, but that’s the general plan.

My dad is supportive of this now. I think he feels the situation is so bad in Pakistan now. When I went home I was there for three weeks and two out of those three weeks the schools were shut because of security threats. Three years ago there was that big attack at the school and then there was one at a university while I was there, so in that sort of situation you sort of think “things aren’t getting better”, so I think he realises it’s a good idea.

Legends of Law School is a monthly column by Georgia Briggs

I wish I knew that…. It’s not about you.

Claudia McGarva

By Claudia McGarva

In the words of J.K Rowling, “It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default”. ‘Ex Post Facto: the Wisdom of Hindsight’ is a blog celebrating and reflecting upon the awkward moments and failures endured as a solicitor, particularly in the early years of practice. Every solicitor has their horror story – and live to tell the tale.

There’s always one: the client that sends you five emails in the middle of the night all marked with the red flag. The client that calls incessantly to see why you have not returned their call even though you have been out of the office. They don’t act on your advice even though they acknowledge it and at times appear grateful for it. They don’t provide documents to you, yet become exasperated when their matter is moving too slowly. These clients may be classified as ‘high needs’, which is a polite and vague term used to disguise a multitude of sins.

Economic theory has the concept of the ‘economic man’. The economic man assumes humans will consistently make rational economic decisions that maximise their self-interest at the lowest cost to the individual. At a basic level, it is assumed that the economic man will always make the right decision for himself.

If the economic man were your client, he would listen to and act upon your advice. He has paid good money for that advice, and would want to maximise the benefit of the service he has already paid for and protect his best interests. He wouldn’t be litigious: He wouldn’t spend ridiculous amounts of money to pursue an action based upon ‘the principle of the matter’, where the cost outweighs any benefit he may receive. He would be succinct. He wouldn’t send you five emails to ask one question when he knows he will be charged for the time spent reading these emails.

However the economic man is not real. Arguably, human behaviour is inherently irrational and our decision-making processes are influenced by bias, ideology and emotion. I wish I knew there was no perfect client. I wish I didn’t waste so much time stressing about the imperfect ones. However, I’ve learnt that you must take the client as you find them. The client may be relatively rational in their normal life, yet when dealing with the stress of a legal matter, their insecurities, stresses and exasperations are unleashed all at once. The client may have been struggling for a long time, and the gates can no longer hold these back. The lawyer is usually the first person standing to meet them at the gate when the flood hits. We are not always meeting them on equal terms. So when a client is disengaged, distraught, needy and abrupt, it is not necessarily out of frustration with you as their lawyer, but frustration with the process itself. It’s not all about you.

I Object!

By Georgia Briggs

Georgia is a recent graduate from the University of Canberra and at the age of 21 is at the stage of searching for that dream job to lead her from her double degree of Law and Events Management into being a ‘real adult’. Her column “I Object” is a monthly piece about the thoughts, processes, and sometimes (who are we kidding- pretty often) tedious hurdles that post law school life can be.

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“I’ll never forget my first day of law school, I was actually an Arts student at the time, trying to make the grades to switch over, I already felt like everyone could see my disguise. They know, crap! (I totally made it through though, woo!)

It was like one of those horrible cliche movies of university, I sat down in the class (don’t worry, I wasn’t late because I left 30 minutes before necessary to ENSURE that didn’t happen) but as the lecturer began she said words to the effect of “I assume everyone has read the first 5 chapters of the book as required”.
Ummm… Sorry, What?!

*cue Elle Woods moment of “I wasn’t aware there was a reading assignment” *.

That’s what seems to be happening in the post law school daze I’m in, a lot of “Ummm… Sorry,What?!” moments.

I’m coming to realise that this is actually pretty normal, and me feeling like legal life decides to smack me over the head with failure every so often, just to keep me in check, is okay. While I can’t promise (and shall not, because I’m a lawyer so we don’t promise things) that I have some handy tips for you, or my short thought bubbles will assist you in getting that dream job that for some reason didn’t land on your lap the day of graduation (Sorry, What?!), I can aim to uplift some spirits while you read, hopefully rofl-ing (oh yes, you read correctly, rofl) and feeling better about it all, or at least I can occupy several minutes of your time each month that you’ll never get back. Enjoy!”

Law as a Healing Practice

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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.

Congratulations – Julian McMahon named Victorian Australian of the Year

Julian Mcmahon speaks to journalists during a visit to Kerobokan prison earlier this year. Picture: Nashyo Hansel. Credit: Herald Sun

Julian Mcmahon speaks to journalists during a visit to Kerobokan prison earlier this year. Picture: Nashyo Hansel (Herald Sun)

 

Newlawyerlanguage sends a warm congratulations to barrister Julian McMahon. Julian was recently named Victorian Australian of the Year. Julian is a human rights activist who has spent over a decade working pro bono for Australians facing the death penalty overseas. He is the lawyer we all aspire to be. Put simply: he does our profession proud.

The Honourable Judge Irene Lawson

Photo Biennial conference

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

My life in the law started serendipitously. I was in the foundation year of a new senior secondary college located in Broadmeadows. Legal Studies was offered as a subject for the first time and I thought it may interest me. This was during the Whitlam years and was at a time of great social change. Legal aid had been introduced as a national scheme and I wanted to find out more about the legal system. I loved the subject and it was the start of a long, interesting and varied career.

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

Don’t be afraid to take on new challenges. Whenever I have been “stretched” as a lawyer has resulted in gaining greater experience and expertise. Don’t be afraid to ask questions no matter how basic they may be. Legal professionals are generally very supportive of new comers.

What makes a lawyer a great lawyer?

Being honest and reliable. Your integrity is your best asset. It is important to always be frank and honest in your dealings.

What would you say are the hazards of this profession?

Ignoring your life outside the law. It is very easy to get caught up in your work especially when you are involved in trials or long running disputes. Always take time out to pause. Walk, ride a bike, go bush, see a movie, swim or do whatever you can to have a break.

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

See above.

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

There will always be the necessity for people to advocate on behalf of those who do not have the life skills to negotiate life’s complexities. I see the ongoing need for professional advocates who are responsive and clear communicators.

How can one distinguish themselves as a legal professional?

By being open to exploring new challenges and continually developing your skills. This is an area where you never stop learning. Enjoy the ride.

Her Honour was appointed to the County Court in 2002. Prior to her appointment she was a Partner at Slater & Gordon where she specialised in civil litigation primarily medical negligence litigation. In 1999 she became an Accredited Specialist in Personal Injury Law of the Law Institute of Victoria. Her practice covered the breadth of litigation involved in medical negligence from birth trauma litigation to nervous shock claims. She was actively involved in responding to various public inquiries relating to the provision of professional indemnity insurance and medical negligence issues.

Her past Directorship roles include the University of Melbourne Council (2001-2012), the Global Learning Village Advisory Board (2003-2012), Melbourne University Law School Foundation and a number of community based organisations.

Her Honour is pictured here with her husband of 35 years, Crown Prosecutor, Brendan Kissane QC.

James Farrell

James farrell

Can you describe the different types of roles that you have had?

I volunteered at community legal centres while I was studying, and was drawn to using the law to achieve social change. When I finished law school, I joined a large national commercial firm, where I had great opportunities to develop, working with great mentors and teachers. I was seconded to a large corporate client for over six months, which was a great insight into inhouse practice, which allows a lawyer to develop more commercial skills and really strong internal relationships with people with a range of experiences and strengths. I was the principal lawyer at a homeless persons’ legal clinic, where I worked with passionate and intelligent people – peers, clients and supporters. I also worked as an academic in a law school, and was really drawn to the way that research could influence public policy. So I’ve experienced a range of legal roles, but I keep coming back to community legal centres; they’re the places where the law is most real and raw, where laws and institutions have a powerful impact on powerless people, and where you can see real improvements in people’s lives, including your own.

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

I wanted to be a lawyer when I was at high school; like many high-achieving students who didn’t enjoy maths, it seemed like a good option. I also grew up in a family that was really involved in the community and talked about ideas like equality and justice, so it seemed like a good fit. I didn’t get the marks I wanted at high school, so took a circuitous route, working in hospitality for a few years before starting uni at age 22. I haven’t looked back!

A lawyer, a priest and a classicist walk into a bar. What does the lawyer say and why?

‘Get me a beer.’ Because sometimes, you just need a drink.

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

Get involved in pro bono or volunteer at a community legal centre, or in another cause. You’ve been blessed with skills and an education that can make a real difference to the community, so don’t waste it. As a new lawyer, you’ll have great opportunities and experiences when you work for free for people who really benefit from your help.

What makes a lawyer a great lawyer?

An ability to connect with people. I’ve seen a lot of people who understood the legal rules, remembered the cases, and could draft great legal documents. But the great lawyers can all connect with the people around them – colleagues, clients, court officers, baristas and barristers.

What would you say are the hazards of this profession?

The legal profession attracts people who are bright, committed and ambitious, and that’s part of what makes lawyers such interesting people to work with. Those same characteristics make it difficult for us to accept anything less than perfect, and to focus too much on our work, at the expense of some of the other important things in our lives. We shouldn’t ever lose sight of those important things – and people – in our lives.

How do you balance life and work?

It’s hard. I love my work, and probably work more than I should. My kids (Jack, aged 6, and Georgie, aged 5) keep me pretty grounded. When Georgie was about 3, she asked me if I was sleeping at my work during a particularly busy stage – that was a rude awakening!

 

James Farrell OAM is the director of QAILS (Queensland Association of Independent Legal Services), the peak organisation for community legal centres. 

#1 Golden Rule of Cross-Examination: Never Ask a Question You Don’t Know the Answer to!

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“I got wait-listed at Fordham Law School. So I put on my older brother’s suit and went to the admissions office. I was going to march in, ask for the dean, and say: ‘I’m here to do whatever it takes to get into this school!’ Instead I got nervous and just asked a bunch of questions that I already knew the answer to.”

Courtesy of: Humans of New York