I wish I knew … once a lawyer, always a lawyer

Claudia McGarva

By Claudia McGarva

It’s hard to separate work and home. I’m not just talking about finishing off advices in bed, waking up in the middle of the night thinking about work, or feeling constantly guilty about not spending enough time on either front. I’m talking about being in lawyer mode in a relationship, and applying what you learn in legal practice to your relationships.

So here are my top three obnoxious lawyer habits that have transgressed into my personal life. They’re not very romantic, and by no means have I perfected their execution, but they bring an element of control amongst the chaos:

  1. Quid Pro Quo

It’s December. In the legal profession, this means end of year parties. Now that I have a child, I have to book well in advance for a night off, figure out how I’ll get home, and whether it is worth staying up past 8:30pm. If I’m going to have a night off, it better be worth it.

More importantly, it means I have to cash in my carer credits.

My carer credits are held within a secret bank account. I don’t receive written statements and have to rely upon my poor memory to see how much is sitting there. No one else can access it besides me. It gets topped up when I pick up the parenting slack when my partner has to work late, goes to after work drinks or has an afternoon off from caring duties to have a resemblance of a social life. However, it takes a real dive if I have to stay overnight for a work conference, or go to a Christmas party.

I’m constantly balancing the books. The notion of quid pro quo is something instilled in you through law school and in legal practice. It forms the basis of our daily interactions: something for something. The practice of law is highly transactional.

Likewise, negotiating different roles in a relationship and trying to make something work means trying to make sure both parties don’t feel ripped off and can enjoy the benefits of their investment.

At first glance, this may appear clinical. However, my credit system acknowledges caring duties constitutes work, and it has value – on a micro and macro level. I’m not quite at the stage of recording my time spent on care duties in six-minute increments, but I’m not above it.

  1. Managing Expectations

 I learnt the hard way that you under-promise and over-deliver. In a matter, you are constantly managing client expectations – what is a reasonable outcome? What is an unreasonable outcome? When you will out that advice? When you will get around to reading the flurry of emails?

The same goes for personal relationships.

I promise my mum I will call every Sunday. If I’m going to be late home from work, I try to give my partner as much notice as possible. I have honest and frank conversations with my partner, and myself, about what I can and can’t deliver.

And most importantly, I say no more often than yes. Rather than saying “I’ll try to make it”, and then bail at the last minute, now I try to be completely honest and say “No, I can’t” in the first instance. It’s not a new concept, but when you implement it for the first time it feels revolutionary.

  1. Networking

In the early days of my career, I went to networking events to get out of the office and eat tiny food. It was nice meeting other practitioners and then bumping into them at court, slowly recognising more faces around town and having friendlier interactions with other lawyers if they were on the other side in a matter. I then realised the importance of maintaining networks and being able to draw upon the expertise of others to help give your client the best advice and representation, and for your own professional development.

I’ve been able to develop great relationships early in my career that I still have today. However, the most productive network I’ve worked hard to maintain, the one that has been the most beneficial to my career, is the relationship I have with my partner. I wouldn’t be able to work the hours I do at the moment without my partner, and vice versa.

I used to think when I had my son that I was missing out on important events that were, unhelpfully, always scheduled around day care pick up time. Now, I’m slowly getting over the fear of missing out, and realise my family is the most important network I need: to keep me sane, and more importantly, to keep me employed.

There’s plenty more I could add, and my partner has said “stop lawyering me” on more than one occasion when he felt he was being cross-examined. However, there are some perks with being in a relationship with a lawyer: my partner never reads the terms and conditions on a product and/or service because he knows I will. At least I can bring something to the table.

Interview: Patrick Street

There are many fantastic people out there connected with the law and all their stories are unique and interesting. Recently I had the pleasure of interviewing Mr. Patrick Street who, I believe, fits well into the above category. His legal career stretches over 40 years starting as a young man working as a Clerk in the Victorian Magistrates Court working, striving and finally achieving the other role on that side of the bench… Deputy Chief Magistrate.

Patrick became a Victorian Clerk of Courts in 1958. “I was in Courts throughout the Melbourne area until 1981 when I was appointed as a Magistrate.” In 1995 he was appointed a Deputy Chief Magistrate of Victoria where he remained until he retired from the bench in 1999.  “In 1999 I thought that’s 40 years in the Court’s branch, that’s enough!”

While being a ‘Clerk of Courts’ Patrick studied law part time at Melbourne University, “I wanted to get onto the bench as a Magistrate.” He graduated from Melbourne University with an LLB in 1976 and a Diploma in Criminology in 1980 and in 1976 was admitted to practise as a Barrister and Solicitor of the Supreme Court of Victoria.

Unlike most of today’s law students, lawyers and even judges, Patrick’s journey was unique as he jumped straight from Clerk to Magistrate. “I didn’t particularly want to leave the job and become a solicitor or a lawyer, I wanted to get on the bench. I’ve been in the courts a lot being a clerk of courts, so it meant I was facing the lawyers and barristers, and I did the same thing when I was on the bench, I faced the lawyers. So I’ve never been in Court where I’ve faced the Magistrate. I can’t really say if I would have enjoyed being a lawyer, because I’ve never done it.”

Alas, for all those whose minds are currently whirring about the possibility of skipping the bar table and going straight to the bench, times have changed. “Clerks aren’t really eligible to be a Magistrate [nowadays]. In the mid 1980’s it changed so that you had to be appointed from either a Barrister or a Solicitor. Back in the day you had a seniority list and once you became eligible to be a Magistrate it was a matter of seniority of when you got on the bench.”

“What happened at the time I got on was that there were 4 vacancies and four Clerks of Courts including me applied for the jobs and we were then interviewed by the relevant authorities and then we were appointed to the bench. So it didn’t really involve any Law Institute or the Bar Council or anything like that.”

Since his retirement Patrick has been involved in quite a few publications, that have allowed a convergence of his passions. “I’ve been doing the monthly crossword for the Law Institute of Victoria, we call it ‘Letters of the Law’. That’s involved a lot of work producing those every month since 2000”.

Patrick was appointed President of the Australian Crossword Club in 1992 (and is still in that position) and since 2000 he has edited and published the Club’s monthly magazine Crozworld. The Club’s website is: http://www.crosswordclub.org/

“I also produced the Victorian Magistrates Court Annual Report for ten years and was the editor of the Magistrates Information Bulletin from 1995-1999 (29 issues). I was the co-author of The Health Act Victoria produced by the Law Book Co in 1983. And from a personal Magistrate’s perspective, I produced the first 12 copies of The Magistrates Journal (1983-86) when I was the Secretary of the Victorian Magistrates Association.” As you can see, Patrick is a very busy and dedicated man!
For the last 12 years Patrick has also been producing the bi-monthly newsletter of the Silver Society of Australia. “So I’ve been interested in collecting sterling silver tableware. So that’s 3 publications. But the time I have spent on the Magistrates Cases that has taken an enormous amount of work.”

Magistrates Cases

For those who have not heard of Magistrates Cases, it is a wonderful website and resource for (particularly Victorian) practitioners, law students and yes, as the name suggests, Magistrates. In essence, the website has access to over 2500 specialised case reports, in electronic format, mainly from the Supreme Court of Victoria in relation to the Magistrates’ Court’s jurisdiction in Victoria. Now THAT is a handy website!

“The Supreme Court of Victoria used to send its judgements down to Magstrates if they thought that the judgement might be relevant. I started doing them in 1983, I’d been on the bench for 2 years and the Chief Magistrate at the time said ‘I want you to start doing that‘. I got these cases and would go through them and ended up putting them in the publications.”

“There’s usually about 4-5 cases that go out in each one of these parts. I still do about 10-12 of these parts every year.  It’s definitely not a summary. I include the whole case and catchwords to give you a bit of an idea of what the case is about. I usually do a few sentences to background the case and then I put my neck on the block and say “this is what the Judge held”. That’s the hard bit, what is this case all about and what did the Judge mean?” Patrick laughs that he’s “only” done it more than 2500 times now. “it must be a world record!”

“About 10 years ago or so, I started my Magistrates Cases website where I’ve uploaded every relevant case to Magistrates Cases (http://www.magistratescases.com.au/) from 1969. Every case that has been published as a Magistrates Cases has been uploaded, there are more than 2500. Even cases before I started doing it.  The ones that were edited by other Magistrates didn’t have the detail I’ve always done and quite often didn’t say what the case stood for, I would fix it and upload it.”

So why did Patrick take over the role and importantly, allow online access? “I want Magistrates to be totally informed and kept up to date with the latest cases from the Supreme Court because if a case in the Magistrates Court is similar to one in the Supreme Court then the Magistrates are bound to follow what the Supreme Court has decided.”

“All Magistrates have access to the cases and I send spare copies of the printed version to the Magistrates Court in the City and the Broadmeadows Court. When I was on the Bench this didn’t happen and I must say, it’s handy that any magistrate or barrister can access the case in court!”

Patrick has also written a large number of articles not only about historical matters of the Court but also for the assistance of the magistrates which can be accessed through the Legal History section of the website. “The article on drink/driving goes more than 300 pages and probably is the most detailed article of decided cases in relation to that topic. The Magistrates Cases covers virtually all cases on drink/driving in Victoria since 1969.”

 

A few Questions for Patrick Street

Do you have any single moment, case or event that has defined your legal career?

“A decision I made in 1994, the Defence Counsel thought I had acted in an improper manner. That case went before one of the Supreme Court judges who completely went along with my decision. So I was very happy with that. It gives you a bit more confidence when you have a Supreme Court judge upholding your decision. So I enjoyed that.”

If you could give one piece of advice to new people in the legal profession, what would it be?

“Well in my opinion a lawyer is the most important person in Court. I loved to have a lawyer appearing for a defendant than a defendant appearing on their own. I’ve always been very impressed with the quality of the submissions that have been made to me over the years. Lawyers are the most important part of the Magistrates Court.”

What makes a good lawyer?

“I always liked the lawyer if they were making relevant and helpful submissions, but if the lawyer got offside with the magistrate or said things that were a bit insulting or unhelpful, to me that never did any good for the decision that was finally made. So for me, if the lawyer can be courteous at all times but be extensive with their knowledge of the law and the case involved, to me that’s the best, the lawyer who was doing the right thing.”

Is the reality of being a judge anything like people imagine it?

“I’m afraid not, it’s hard work! The trouble with the Magistrates Court is that there is so much work there every day and what it means is that you are in a position where you must complete the work that’s been listed today, because it can’t be put on tomorrow, because there’s a heap of cases tomorrow, and in fact there’s a heap of cases every day for the next three months! So if you can’t finish the hearing today, then that’s going to cause a real problem.”

“I felt that I had to make decisions properly and as efficiently as I could to make sure that people weren’t going to be put off for 3 or 6 months. To make sure I finished the particular case on a particular day, it was very difficult to make sure that happened.”

 

At just over 74 years of age, Patrick is still editing Magistrates Cases as well as his many other publications. For access to Magistrates Case, follow this link: http://www.magistratescases.com.au/

I wish I knew… to avoid office politics

Claudia McGarva

By Claudia McGarva

When the Eiffel Tower was completed in 1889, many locals hated it. They called for it to be pulled down. It was an eyesore. It was structurally flawed. The tower was almost scrapped a decade later, until the French realised it was a nifty radio tower during the First World War. Now, the tower attracts about 7 million visitors a year and is a national symbol. The Eiffel Tower endured ridicule, scorn, threats of destruction, widespread acceptance and finally, pride.

It is scary to think how many ideas are nipped in the bud before they have the chance to grow: ideas that were abandoned because the majority didn’t accept them. During my legal career, I’ve worked at organisations that decided to pioneer a new way of doing business, or at least flirt with the idea of a new world order. These organisations either had an existing reputation of being trailblazers, or had acquired a new head honcho who could clearly see the firm’s flaws before they became a part of the problem. Either way, the challenge to these organisations was not whether their proposal for a new billing structure or deciding to expand their areas of practice was a bad idea. It was clear these organisations had done their research and were responding to a need in the market. No, their greatest obstacle was their existing staff and their opposition.

Staff opposition was usually on the basis of “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it”. Ideas of change and responding to client need were immediately dismissed as wanting to change for the sake of change. At times, colleagues became toxic. When I was a newly admitted practitioner, I found disgruntled colleagues bailed me up in the kitchen and tried to ‘get in my ear’ about how the firm was going to hell in a hand basket. I now assume it was because as a junior practitioner, you are learning about everything, including office politics, and you are an easy target – impressionable, probably still polite to your colleagues and non-threatening.

As a relatively new practitioner, this can be a difficult position to be in. You may be new to office politics and get bogged down in the muck. It can be exhausting, particularly if you have billable targets and colleagues want to use your time complaining about these changes. I’m not saying there aren’t appropriate times to debrief with colleagues about an organisational decision (which can also be of great value to an organisation). The issue is whether that conversation is constructive – does it offer valid criticism about a new decision? Does it test the idea? Does it understand the need for change?

I think about the time wasted engaging in these conversations, and the effect it had on my morale. It can be damaging, exhausting and debilitating. It may lead to an unnecessary premature departure from an organisation that may have otherwise been a good fit. It can also mean you miss out on being part of an exciting development, which in time, may be a source of pride in your career.

There is Only One Version of Your Story

oneversion

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.

A Few Interview Secrets

By Georgia Briggs

georgiaBriggsAs we move further along the path to our Dream Job, or even just, A Solicitor Job, all of us have experienced different things in interviews which we now know can make or break the impression you make on your potential employers. I have a couple today, and if you have any, I encourage you to share them to assist us all, come on, we’re all friends here.

“Do you have any questions for us?”

Yes, YES, dear god yes! When I was younger, if I believed they had already covered all my questions, logical ones, such as what will the work be like, what is my role, what are my hours, what is my pay, then no, I don’t have anything more to ask, it’s already been answered through the interview. WRONG.

Turns out (and yes, all you smarties are probably going, ‘well yeah, dar”, well not “dar”, because I didn’t know once upon a time which means someone else doesn’t) that you should, nay MUST, ask a question, even if you genuinely are content with the information you’ve received. Ask one about the company, better ask three, about the work environment, about the establishment of the position and whether there is room for promotion down the track. You. Must. Ask.

It is also important, that in preparation for this, because now you all know, that you think of a few potential questions beforehand. I’m not going to be the one to tell you to prepare endlessly for an interview. I know some who do and some who don’t, but we all spend a few minutes waiting to fall asleep at night, or cutting it a little close, waiting for them to come and walk us into the interview room, thinking about what you might answer to questions, what they might ask you. Prepare your questions BEFOREHAND, then you look super smart and interested (yay!).

How you answer your questions

I was recently told at the end of an interview, in a kind way, that I should have answered all the questions using the STAR method (Situation, Task, Action, Result). I’d never heard of it, and while they didn’t mind “as much” because they were only looking for “a temporary person” if I ever went for another job in this sector then I should answer using the STAR method or I would “definitely not get the job”.

While I am pleased to have been told now, as she said “how would you know if no one has ever told you that it’s a specific requirement”, it’s very disconcerting to hear at the end of an interview you think went okay, but I thank her for telling me anyway.

I pass this previously completely unknown information onto you, the people, so that you may better utilise your interview skills for problem questions then I did.

Question: Tell me about a time where you….

Situation: Set the back story -what was happening at the time.

Task: What was the issue that came up?

Action: What did you to do solve said issue?

Result: Did it work?

Take a few moments before answering their questions (it feels like a horrendously awkward silence, but it’s really not) to organise your answer so it comes out clean and crisp.

If this method all seems a bit much and to me it did a little, just give it a bit more thought, an extra two seconds (one is too short, and three is too many) before you answer your question.

Do you have any tips or secrets to interviews you think new lawyers would like to know? Share the benefit of your wisdom with us by leaving a comment.

I was taking a law school admissions test in a big classroom at Harvard.

openmic15-09

“My friend and I were some of the only women in the room. I was feeling nervous. I was a senior in college. I wasn’t sure how well I’d do. And while we’re waiting for the exam to start, a group of men began to yell things like: ‘You don’t need to be here.’ And ‘There’s plenty else you can do.’ It turned into a real ‘pile on.’ One of them even said: ‘If you take my spot, I’ll get drafted, and I’ll go to Vietnam, and I’ll die.’ And they weren’t kidding around. It was intense. It got very personal. But I couldn’t respond. I couldn’t afford to get distracted because I didn’t want to mess up the test. So I just kept looking down, hoping that the proctor would walk in the room. I know that I can be perceived as aloof or cold or unemotional. But I had to learn as a young woman to control my emotions. And that’s a hard path to walk. Because you need to protect yourself, you need to keep steady, but at the same time you don’t want to seem ‘walled off.’ And sometimes I think I come across more in the ‘walled off’ arena. And if I create that perception, then I take responsibility. I don’t view myself as cold or unemotional. And neither do my friends. And neither does my family. But if that sometimes is the perception I create, then I can’t blame people for thinking that.”

[Courtesy of: Humans of New York]

So, it turns out I was wrong… bound to happen I suppose.

By Georgia Briggs

georgiaBriggsA few weeks ago I wrote a piece, including some very sound advice I like to think, as to what happens when you go to an interview, and it goes terribly. This was loosely (lies, very tightly) based on a job interview I had recently. It was for a nice job, which would tide me over until I found more permanent work, and they were on the same level as me in that regard, happy to have me for a short period, in non-solicitor work, until I found something better suited. Mutual use and understanding of the role. Well, despite the fact that I thought I tanked the interview more than I could have ever imagined, I got the job! WHAT?? I almost fell off my chair when the employer called me and said “we want to offer you the position”. I couldn’t wipe the look of bewilderment off my face, lucky it wasn’t a video call! I had honestly cried my little eyes out for a brief 30 minutes (ish) afterwards at how poorly the interview had gone, apparently, it hadn’t gone that poorly at all!

The lesson here is, you never really know what other people are thinking until they tell you. So keep an open mind towards yourself and the future and never put all your eggs into a basket before knowing for sure.

I wish I knew… when to hang up

Claudia McGarva

By Claudia McGarva

When I started practising law, everyone refused to speak with a particular lawyer over the phone. This lawyer was known in the legal community as ‘the Pterodactyl’ due to her screeching at other lawyers. If she called the firm, all the assistants knew not to bother putting the call through to the lawyer responsible for that matter. They would politely say, “It is our policy that all communications are to be in writing”, and hang up.

I was shocked when I met this lawyer at court one day. She was pleasant enough. I think she even complimented my shoes. I didn’t understand why my firm had a ‘policy’ to deal with her. That was, until I had a matter against her.

She wasn’t just rude; she was abusive. She called my client a liar. She called me a liar. She said my correspondence was “bordering on unethical” because I had asked for some documents and included a deadline. She made continual threats. These ranged from making a complaint to the law society to seeking numerous personal cost orders against me. As a baby lawyer, I would be lying if I said I had Teflon skin. I was terrified of this woman. When I saw an email waiting for me the next morning from her, I would sweat. I would make sure every email and letter was immaculate and I wrote a transcript for every conversation I had with her. I would lie in bed thinking about the threats I had received from her that day, thinking I would lose my practising certificate before the ink was even dry. Whatever confidence I did have when I started practising was quickly evaporating.

That was, until I realised the threats stemmed from her insecurity. She was a generalist practitioner, did not specialise in that particular area of law and had only been practising in that field for about a year. She was also a sole practitioner. I was exclusively practising in that area of law and had access to experienced lawyers to advise and mentor along the way. The aggression was a mechanism to prove to her client that she was advocating strongly on their behalf and deafen her ineptitude. I am all for ‘faking it till you make it’; however, I had never seen a senior lawyer act this way. There is no need to. It doesn’t help your client and it doesn’t help you. It puts other lawyers off side and makes you feel more isolated in, what can be, a lonely industry.

Now, I do not engage with these practitioners when they carry on. Sometimes, I remind them of the legal profession rules (and very rarely, threaten to make my own justified complaint to the law society).  However, most of the time I now say “put it in writing” and hang up.

How much PAE?!

By Georgia Briggs

georgiaBriggs

There are two main things that I recall being told as I finished my last semester at law school, and they run almost simultaneously:

  1. “It’s tough to get a legal job straight out of law school, good luck.”- said by the occasional legal academic as a throwaway comment.

    Accurate Translation: You think you’re going to get a job straight out of law school. LOL, unlikely my friend. That is almost certainly not going to happen.

Unlike the HSC, where people would have you believe that without a good mark you are going to end up homeless somehow, but everyone got into Uni anyway and you know no classmates living on the streets, this one is actually true. It’s is TOUGH to get a legal job straight out of law school. It does happen to some, but it’s very much a non-event.

  1. “How am I supposed to get experience without experience?”- AKA what feels like the most common cliché ever in the whole world.

Accurate Translation: WHY when I search for ‘junior solicitor’ or ‘graduate solicitor’ every job opportunity says 2-3 PAE (post admission experience). 2-3 minutes? I’ve got that. 2-3 days? Yeah… probably. Nope, that would be years… Great! But seriously life, HOW am I supposed to get 2-3 years PAE when no one will hire me without 2-3 PAE? *sobs in anger*

Volunteer work is a good idea, and one of the only ideas you have, however *quoting Homer Simpson* “do you know so called ‘volunteers’ don’t even get paid?!” So you need to balance the ability to volunteer, which I strongly recommend as it’s super fun, gets you experience and is good on the resume, with maintaining the ability to afford to live. So keep that in mind.

Got any friendly academics at your old Uni that you got along with? Ask them for any tips too.

Do extra short courses to become more learned in certain legal fields. Do things that make you more desirable to employ. Don’t waste away this odd time of limbo between finishing Uni and finding full time solicitor work, utilise! You already know how to juggle study and the type of job you have now, you’ve been doing it for years. So make the most of the time. Below are some links for CPD and other courses to check out.

NSW: http://eshop.lawsociety.com.au/index.php/events/new-lawyers.html

ACT: https://www.actlawsociety.asn.au/events/category/cpd-courses

QLD: https://services.qls.com.au/MBR/Events%20Calendar/Member/EventsCalendar/Events_Calendar.aspx

SA: https://www.lawsocietysa.asn.au/ (unfortunately you can’t get to SA CPD without login.)

WA: https://www.lawsocietywa.asn.au/continuing-professional-development-cpd/

TAS: http://lst.org.au/professional-development/

NT: http://www.lawsocietynt.asn.au/for-the-profession/continuing-professional-development-cpd.html

 

Authenticity: A power equally available to all

original

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.