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.

Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton

By Maille Halloran

Hillary Clinton possesses a lot of ‘former’ titles: First Lady, United States Secretary of State, Senator and lawyer. Clinton earned her JD at Yale where she also served on the editorial board of the Yale Law Review. She met and began dating Bill Clinton after they met at Yale Law School. After graduating, Clinton practised law and became the first female partner of the United State’s 3rd oldest law firm, Rose Law Firm in Arkansas. During her time as First Lady, Clinton was subpoenaed to testify before a grand jury in relation to her and her husband’s real estate investments. The Clintons were not prosecuted but Hillary remains the only First Lady to have been subpoenaed. In the late years of her husband’s presidency, Clinton moved to New York and was elected as the first female senator of the state. After serving as Secretary of State for the first term of the Obama administration, Clinton left the role and announced her intention to run (again) for the Democratic nomination in the 2016 presidential election. Clinton is currently on the presidential campaign trail.

Lawyers’ Mental Health ‘a Life and Death Issue’

Victorian committee members with TJMF board members - Erandathie Jayakody, Max Paterson, Marie Jepson, Jacqui Pitt and Jeremy Hyman (Photo: Sagona Photography)

Victorian committee members with TJMF board members – Erandathie Jayakody, Max Paterson, Marie Jepson, Jacqui Pitt and Jeremy Hyman (Photo: Sagona Photography)

 

By Dean R P Edwards

The recently appointed Honourable Associate Justice Mary-Jane Ierodiaconou keynoted the Tristan Jepson Memorial Foundation’s annual lecture held at Monash Law Chambers last Tuesday, October 6, 2015.

TJMF co-founder Marie Jepson, Tristan’s mother, introduced her Honour to a packed room Tuesday night. Jepson also highlighted the Foundation’s mental health guidelines for the profession, saying the guidelines “provide a unique opportunity to leaders who want to leave a legacy and help to forge a new path”.

Her Honour spoke on the theme of “Inspiring Change: Creating a Positive Workplace”, drawing on her experience as a founding partner at law firm Justitia and, in particular, in encouraging lawyers to adopt an “ethics of care” in the workplace.

Her Honour said the legal profession had focused on individual resilience to date while “structural issues need addressing”. Continue reading

Outsiders

Outsiders-5c

What’s the difference between a lawyer and a Spanish bull?*

David Rose

When my producer approached me about writing a piece for New Lawyer Language, I wasn’t quite sure what to say.

“Do you want to write an article about performing comedy and the law?”, she said.

Write about law? Sure, why not? Anything to take my mind off studying law. I love it, but it’s a little bit like watching a documentary about global warming. After a while, you need to take a break, drink some tea, and tell your relatives that you love them.

A friend once explained to me that the legal industry breaks down into two groups. The first group are born-to-be lawyers; they’re smart, they’re dedicated, they work overtime, and they’re absolutely no fun at dinner parties. These are people who begin sentences with “well, as a lawyer…”, as the rest of the party rolls their eyes and sharpens their cutlery under the table.

The second group, my friend explained, are frustrated performers. In many ways, the two groups are very similar. They’re both intelligent, hardworking, and persevering. They both work long hours. But only one of them starts a theatre company in their spare time. Which is what the team at BottledSnail Productions did.

BottledSnail Productions has – aside from one of the funniest names in legal history – an incredible group of people working behind the scenes. The company started as a way to give those frustrated performers an outlet, so that their sharp legal minds didn’t melt into mush. I have to say that their output has been extremely impressive. They’re produced everything from two law revues, to a one man sketch show, to a full-blown musical, to… well, to me. More specifically, “us”. This year, my friend Michael Shafar (a law graduate) and I are performing stand-up comedy at the Melbourne Fringe Festival. Our show is called ‘Outsiders’, mainly because we took our promotional photos outside. I know, we are masters of nuance.

The show is based on our experiences as law students, as individuals, and as precocious political pundits. It’s been a great opportunity for us. You don’t get very many opportunities to perform stand-up for longer than 10 minutes unless you’re a professional comedian. And how do you become a professional? You start performing for longer than 10 minutes. It’s a little bit like that old retail conundrum of: “you need experience to get experience”. (In fact, come to think of it, the worlds of retail and stand-up comedy are actually very similar: neither pays very well, and both invariably involve being screamed at by drunken bogans. I should find a job at Kmart.)

Without the support and productions skills of BottledSnail, this show would have been an unmitigated disaster. Our venue would have been less hospitable to basic forms of life, our crowds smaller, and most importantly, we would have been without a support network. We owe them everything but money, and for that, I am thankful.

I would highly suggest coming to the show. Not only because I’m performing in it, but also to show your support for the crew at BottledSnail. Without them, the legal industry would be dominated by people in grey suits, with sharpened soup spoons protruding from their clavicles. And nobody wants that.

David Rose & Michael Shafar: Outsiders, presented by BottledSnail Productions, runs 26 Sep – 3 Oct at The Improv Conspiracy (19 Meyers Place, Melbourne) as part of the Melbourne Fringe Festival

www.bottledsnail.com/outsiders

Tickets: $15/$12 from www.melbournefringe.com.au

* The lawyer charges more.

Making Friends with your Inner HCP

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For those of you who know me well, you will remember that a couple of years ago I achieved certification in “Dealing with High Conflict People in Legal Disputes”. I like to talk about this often because prior to undertaking this study, High Conflict People (HCP’s) scared me very, very, very much. Now they only scare me ‘very much’ which, I think you will agree, is an advance on my previous position.

Recently, in an effort to quell my remaining fears I attended a second course run by the High Conflict Institute – this time focusing on HCP’s in the workplace. It turns out there is a lot of interest in how to manage HCP’s across the board – I was in good company with a County Court Judge, the current President of the Law Institute of Victoria, and a range of other leaders, managers, lawyers, and dispute resolution practitioners – all very keen to increase their capacity to manage really, really difficult people.

So, who are these HCP’s? There are 4 key characteristics of the HCP:
• Preoccupation with blaming others (victim mentality)
• All-or-nothing thinking
• Unmanaged emotions
• Extreme behaviours

HCP’s have very little insight into their behaviours and though they don’t all have Personality Disorders, most of them do. Therefore, HCP’s tend to fall into the main five PD categories; narcissist; borderline; paranoid; antisocial; and histrionic. People with PD’s tend to have life long preoccupations with certain fears such as:
• Being treated as inferior (Narcissist)
• Being abandoned (Borderline)
• Being betrayed (Paranoid)
• Being dominated (Antisocial)
• Being ignored (Histrionic)

And they frequently distort events to match this inner reality by:
• Using all or nothing thinking
• Jumping to conclusions
• Emotional reasoning (relying on feelings rather than facts)
• Personalisation
• Exaggerated fears
• Mind reading
• Tunnel vision
• Wishful thinking

Lastly, HCP’s focus on the past; conflict gives their lives meaning and without it, they end up feeling a little lost in the world and a little bit empty on the inside.

I know. I know! I’ve just described your ex-partner, your current boss and probably several of your family members right?

Wrong! HCP’s seem like they are everywhere but most people are only likely to know (or know of) two or three at any given time.The reason they seem so familiar to us is because they are an exaggerated version of our worst traits. We recognise ourselves and others in them so they feel familiar, but the difference is pretty stark in reality. For example, say a normal person feels let down by their lawyer, they might make a complaint, even potentially sue if they can. Ever seen Cape Fear? Well, Max Cady is the HCP version of a normal person in the same situation. Scary huh?

Unlike most people, lawyers actually are exposed to HCP’s all day, every day. They are the bread and butter of our existence. In that sense, we shouldn’t be at all frightened of them. We should be excessively grateful to them really. And you would think that our exposure to HCP’s would make us exceptionally good at managing difficult people but, in practice, we are actually less equipped than most people. Firstly, we are trained to rely heavily on logic, reasoning, objectivity and strict ethical codes of conduct. This means we often just don’t relate to the HCP. They seem ‘totally bizarre’ to us; overly emotional, irrational, disingenuous and sometimes straight psychopathic. Secondly, seen one HCP, seen them all! After awhile the lawyer becomes desensitised to the HCP and simply can’t be bothered putting in the extra effort. Thirdly, HCP’s are supremely difficult to get along with. They are the people everyone tries to avoid. If you are engaging with someone and you have an irresistible urge to suddenly board a plane to Cuba, you have probably met up with an HCP. No, you’re not weird. It’s actually a healthy response. But it’s a response that you unfortunately need to override if you are a lawyer and you’re going to deal with the HCP’s you come across effectively.

You can’t manage an HCP from Cuba so how do you resist the urge to run when you come across one? How do you override the confusion, anxiety, anger, and often repulsion you feel when they are acting out? Well, oddly, the first step is in trying just that little bit harder to understand the fears that drive them. Every one of us knows what it feels like to feel inferior, abandoned, betrayed, dominated or ignored. It’s just a matter of tapping into your own memories to recall what that feeling is like. Once you have located a memory then you have to essentially multiply that feeling by about 1000 because HCP’s don’t just carry these fears, they carry these fears to the extreme. Secondly, you need to recall times where you have behaved badly. Whilst your poor behaviour might not have occurred at quite the rate of an HCP, or even reached those extremes, it essentially comes from the same place. Since we have all behaved poorly enough at times to know what it is like to hurt another, or to otherwise be generally unhelpful or inconsiderate, we should be able to empathise with other people who act poorly; even if it is often and even if it is extreme.

I like to call this process, “making friends with your inner HCP”.  (After all, one of the sure signs of an HCP is a complete denial of any of the traits that are typically associated with HCP’s – and you don’t want to be that person, right?)

Making friends with their inner HCP is probably the step that lawyers miss most and yet it is the first essential step to managing HCP’s.

In essence, managing an HCP effectively requires four rules of engagement:
• Don’t run. Rather, put your energy into connecting with them. You need to give them attention, respect and empathy if you want to go ahead with the next step;
• Join with them in the task of solving their problem by analyzing options with them;
• Always maintain a healthy skepticism about absolutely everything they say (the last thing you want to do is be drawn into their chaos by believing in their madness) and you need to help them reality test their ideas because reality testing is not their forte;
• Educate them about the realistic consequences of their behavior. HCP’s find it difficult to anticipate what would be reasonably foreseeable consequences to anyone else.

If you cannot achieve the first step (giving the HCP the attention, respect and empathy that they crave) you are going to go nowhere fast which is why it is more important than ever to make friends with your inner HCP.

Managing HCP’s is a complex skill that cannot be learned overnight. Hopefully this post gives you a basic understanding of what it involves, and certainly gives you enough information to get you through your next contact with an HCP client. A word of warning though: there are some HCP’s that you will never be able to get through to. Can you imagine negotiation with Max Cady? I think you know what I’m talking about! So, if that happens to you, don’t be too hard on yourself. I will look forward to receiving your postcard from Cuba, oh, and ¡a la tercera va la vencida!

fea_workplace

 

Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela

by Maille Halloran

Lawyer jokes seem a bit gratuitous when you find out that Indian independence leader Mahatma Gandhi and Nobel Peace Prize winner Nelson Mandela were both once lawyers. Mandela’s first attempt at an Arts degree ended abruptly when he was expelled from university for joining a student protest. Fleeing to Johannesburg to escape his family and friends’ anger, Mandela worked as a security guard before finding a job as an articled clerk. Mandela completed his Arts degree and began a LLB. Mandela was the only native African student at the University of Witwatersrand and devoted more of his time to politics than his studies. Mandela failed his final year at the university three times and was denied his degree. Fortunately, a diploma in law allowed Mandela to practise and in 1953 he opened the first African-run law firm in the country. It was only in 1989, in the last few months of his imprisonment that he was awarded his LLB from the University of South Africa. Naturally, law took a back seat as Mandela vied to become the first democratically elected President of South Africa.

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. 

Specialisation Does Not a Lawyer Make?

by Dean R P Edwards

I had been recently discussing the future prospects for a generalist practitioner with a fellow young lawyer. Specialisation is the buzzword these days and every other lawyer appends to their legal practice some kind of niche – be it Property & Real Estate, M&A, Insolvency, and so forth.

It is with some relief that Jonathan Sumption QC, a Justice of the UK Supreme Court, thinks this is a rather bad idea. (You can read more here, although the original story is hidden behind a Sunday Times paywall.)  Continue reading

Quentin Bryce

Quentin Bryce

by Maille Halloran

Best known for being the first woman to hold the position of Governor General of Australia, Dame Quentin Bryce was a pioneer in other fields too. Bryce studied Arts and Laws at the University of Queensland. Though she never practised professionally, Bryce was one of the first women accepted to the Queensland Bar. She was also the first woman to join the faculty of the Law School where she had studied. Bryce’s university studies began with Social Work before she transferred to Law. Bryce continued to pursue social justice through her law studies. Upon graduation, Bryce concentrating on Human Rights, in particular rights for women and children. In a 1976 newspaper article, Bryce discussed a Bill of Rights for children, introducing several ideas that may still be considered progressive now. Bryce has been awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Laws from four Australian universities. Since her tenure as Governor General ended, Bryce has chaired a task-force on Domestic and Family Violence in her home state.

Arna Delle-Vergini

Arna

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

A long, long time after I became one. I was young and restless and no matter where I was in my life, or what I had achieved, I was always searching for the next Troy to burn. At first I thought this was because I had potentially chosen the wrong career, but eventually I realised it was actually a pattern throughout my life, and what I really needed was to learn the simple art of contentment. It sounds easy, but it is one of the hardest disciplines I have ever tried to master and I am a long way from achieving it. The best I can say is that I am committed to trying.

What attracts you most to the profession of law?

I am one of those people who loves through acts of service. Even when I was a teenager I was volunteering in social justice projects.  I believe it is incumbent upon all of us to contribute to our community, and the more skilled you are, the greater your commitment should be. To be able to do this as a means of earning a living is an incredible privilege. People might say that makes me an idealist. I don’t believe I am. I just have an overwhelming sense of gratitude for the rare opportunities that I have had and a strong feeling that if you are given a gift (which is essentially what our privileged existence is), you really must share it.

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

The defining moment of my career was, oddly enough, not even related to my practice. I undertook a subject in my Masters of Laws because the times of the class suited me. The subject was called ‘Dealing with High Conflict People in Legal Disputes’ and it advocated a completely different style of lawyering to the adversarial style that I was trained in. To say that this subject annoyed me would be putting it mildly. In fact, I wrote a 10,000 word, fairly defensive, paper on how adversarialism was a necessary prophylactic for lawyers. I actually received top marks for the paper but it was a Pyrrhic victory because by the time I had finished writing, I didn’t even believe in my own thesis. By the time I finished writing the paper, I was a convert to therapeutic jurisprudence and I haven’t looked back since.

What would you say are the hazards of this profession?

In my view, the hazards of this profession relate solely to the personal cost of practice. Most of us in the profession know by now that lawyers are disproportionately overrepresented in the professions for depression, anxiety, drug and alcohol addiction and marital breakdown. There are a lot of theories as to why this might be and trying to work out the answer to this puzzle keeps a lot of us in the ‘health and well-being for lawyers space’ gainfully occupied. I don’t have the answers. If I had the answers, I wouldn’t have started a website to promote dialogue about the meaning behind being a lawyer with a strong emphasis on health and well-being. Essentially, being a professional should not cost you your health or your well-being, or, indeed, your life. It’s pretty simple really.

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

There is a quote that I love: ”The first forty years of childhood are the hardest”.  I mentor many law graduates and they always shift a little uncomfortably in their seats when I share this with them because they’re often still in their twenties.  I deliberately share that quote with them though because they need to understand that it’s okay not to have all of the answers now. They’re not supposed to. Nor will they ever have all the answers for that matter. I don’t have them. Neither do our (legal) heroes, the judges and justices of the higher courts. New lawyers need to take the pressure off if they want longevity in their career. They expect to have ‘arrived’ the moment they get their practicing certificate. Unfortunately, that’s effectively where their journey starts. The process of becoming a good lawyer is a long one. This is why I ultimately focus so much on self-care and how you conduct yourself as a lawyer. I’m sorry but knowing and applying the law is the easy part. Being a ‘good lawyer’ though is a real challenge and one that is likely to be a life-long career journey. This is the next level of lawyering and it is arguably more of a challenge because lawyers are only trained in what the law is and/or how to apply the law, but not how to be an actual lawyer.

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

I did a Law/Arts degree at Melbourne University. My focus in Arts was Classics. In fact, Classics has been a life long passion. I traveled to Italy in my twenties to get my copy of Roberto Calasso’s “The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony” signed by the author himself. He was a little surprised, but mostly delighted, that his novel had so much appeal to a lawyer as his father was a Law Professor. I still occasionally dream about being a classicist and spending a life attending archaeological digs all around the world but I daresay, if I had my time again, I’d make the same choice. Firstly, I dislike heat. Secondly, I am afraid of snakes, spiders and scorpions. That rules out probably 99% of all digs. I think this is why sometimes I like to toy with the idea that there are parallel universes. It makes me happy to think of myself somewhere in another Universe living the life of Indiana Jones, but I would never go so far as to give up my comfortable little patch of green on Earth for it.

How can one distinguish himself or herself as a legal professional?

Be yourself. After all, as Oscar Wilde so aptly puts it, everyone else is taken.

Arna Delle-Vergini is a Victorian Barrister, accredited mediator and a legal coach. A therapeutic jurisprudence convert late in her career, Arna has developed a particular interest in practitioner health and wellbeing. In 2013 Arna convened www.newlawyerlanguage.com – a website she hoped would promote dialogue amongst lawyers about the meaning of their professional role in a dynamic legal climate. She also explores her interest in practitioner health and wellbeing through her Masters, her role as a member of the Victorian Bar Health & Wellbeing Committee, and by regularly facilitating training and workshops with new and emerging lawyers.