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.

I was born in Cameroon to Norwegian parents


I was born in Cameroon to Norwegian parents, who lived and worked as Lutheran missionaries. We lived there until I was seven years old and then we moved back to Norway. My great-grandparents on my father’s side were among the first missionaries in India, way, way back and he wrote a lot of book about his journeys.

I am glad to share some of the adventurous spirit or, rootlessness that led my relatives to leave their comfort zones. Granted, relocating from Norway to Australia to commence studies in the noughties is drastically less problematic than taking your young family and jumping on a merchant ship headed to Cameroon in the fifties, but it is still far away from home.

Legends of Law School is a monthly column by Claudia McGarva

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



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


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

* The lawyer charges more.

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. 

While I was on exchange in Sheffield, my Dad’s friend got tickets to the World Cup in Brazil

LLL Jack

While I was on exchange in Sheffield, my Dad’s friend got tickets to the World Cup in Brazil. I ended up travelling to Brazil at the last minute and stayed with Dad’s friend’s Brazilian family. His brother in law, Pacha (who spoke the least amount of English), drove me all around Brasilia and even took me to the university where he had taught. Even though he didn’t speak much English we talked about the coup in the 1960s, all sorts of things. With enough hand gestures we got by. 

Legends of Law School is a monthly column by Claudia McGarva

Thomas Hardy

Thomas Hardy

by Maille Halloran

Author and poet Thomas Hardy served as a Justice of the Peace in Southern England for over thirty years. His period of public service was complemented by a sincere fascination for the law, especially divorce and the law’s effect on women. Merely glancing at the blurb of Hardy’s novels would reveal a preoccupation with the anguish of separation, particularly for female protagonists such as Tess. Hardy presided over many cases which provided the fodder for his fiction. He also sought such cases out, through courtroom visits and correspondence with High Court judges and officials.

A legal reading of Hardy’s novels will supply all the information needed for an adversarial trial. Take Tess where the agency, consent and will of the “pure woman” are all debated in the context of Alec’s assault. Hardy explores the established Victorian distinction between rape and seduction suggesting that while legally, the lines may be blurred, morally they are not. This is just one example of the author criticising the legal absurdities of the Victorian era.

Soul searching- a break from survivalism

By Kristy Mantzanidis

Soul Searching

As a new and emerging lawyer, I am passionate and satisfied working in law. I enjoy the daily challenges, stimulation and buzz of being surrounded by likeminded individuals. That being so, it came as somewhat of a surprise when I was given my first task in my current legal placement which was, essentially, to try to find someone who had found their true calling outside of the Law, and to reflect on their story.

I found Jeff Brown.

Acclaimed author and founder of Soul Shaping Institute (SSI) Jeff Brown left the law in order to find his true calling. Born in Toronto Canada, Brown graduated on the Dean’s Honour List, apprenticed with top criminal lawyer Eddie Greenspan and won multiple awards. He was what you would call the “high achieving lawyer”. It was not until he sought to open his own practice that Brown heard a little voice in his head telling him to “stop, just stop”.

“Law is rooted in a survivalist structure, and reflects its very darkest elements”.

After a self-enforced sabbatical from Law, Brown gradually discovered that “real education” happens “inside out”. His philosophy is simple: by connecting with one’s spirituality and studying their inner world, it is possible to reach true potential and learn essential life lessons.

Brown has written several books about spirituality: Soulshaping (2007); Ascending with Both Feet on the Ground (2012) and his third book Love It Forward was released just in time for Valentine’s Day 2014. Brown has also written a series for ABC’s ‘Good Morning America’, appeared on Fox News, radio shows, written blogs, and directed documentaries.

Beyond writing however, Brown had a dream of supporting others in their life journey. As such, he founded the Soulshaping Institute (SSI), an on-line learning centre committed to supporting and educating others on how to find their truest path and purpose. Brown stresses: we are born with tremendous potential yet need help to self-actualise”.  It was with this in mind that he created SSI. An institute that understands the human existence and obstacles ranging from emotional to collective, SSI provides the tools needed to find our most ideal path and offers a range of courses including: education in healing, spirituality and support networks. Of course this is only one of many cases beyond the law.

For me, I do not think I will be venturing out of the law zone any time soon; however I respect that when you embark on a career in the Law, you need to ask yourself: is this where I really should be? If the answer is yes, then great! But if there are doubts then a little journey outside the square can’t hurt anyone. After all, whilst we might all start with one dream, dreams change, and that is okay. As someone very wise once said:

 “The unexamined life is not worth living”- (Socrates)

Links to some of Brown’s projects are provided below:






Peter Szabo

Peter Szabo

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

I only decided to do law in my final year at school. Before then, my career choices were a chicken farmer (until I was 8) then a maths and physical education teacher. My cousin, who always knew he wanted to do law, was then my hero. (I have been enlightened since). So – I did law. I wanted to be a tax lawyer, like my cousin. I did my articles in Echuca (for one year, 3 days 2 hours and 10 seconds). 3 hours into my articles I was told to interview a client who wanted a divorce. It was 7 March 1976, 2 months after the Family Law Act came into effect. My journey had begun.

What are your passions outside of the law?

The Essendon Football Club, Gardening (I have been blessed with two rounds of Garden Leave over the last 3 years, moving between firms). My hobbies include computers and office automation systems. From 1982 until January 2015, I have been a partner in large firms with interstate and national connections, which gave me a bigger playground to bring efficiencies to. The passion was often dampened or even dashed by office managers whose focus was more on counting beans than catering for the bean producers. Now my own boss, for the first time in 30 years I can do what I like, when I like.  I try to keep fit – boxing once a week, cycling, and “hit and giggle tennis” (I Hit, they giggle).

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

The High Court Case of Ascot Investments and Harper was the defining case of my career. It was my first and only High Court case. There I was, in the instructor’s chair, in the Full High Court. It was my 27th birthday, 5 November 1980.

The hearing took 2 and a quarter hours. Then it was back to Melbourne. It was the first time I had ever flown in a plane.

The case involved third party rights and the Family Court’s powers in that regard. We lost. 6:1, Murphy J (the author of the Family Law Act) dissenting.  The decision made front page news.

The lead up to the High Court  resulted from the wife’s application to enforce a property order made in 1976. Mr Harper decided he would not comply. His only asset was his shareholding in a private company.  The other directors were 2 of 7 of their adult children. The wife wanted to force the directors to exercise their discretion to register a share transfer from Mr Harper to her.

Having failed in the High Court, the wife took contempt proceedings against Mr Harper. He was sentenced to imprisonment until he paid. He decided he would now transfer his shares to the wife, but still would not pay the wife. So on went the chess game.

After a total of 4 and a half years, he was still happily sitting in Pentridge Prison. The Court decided to let him out “to cooperate with the liquidator”, which he said in the witness box he would not do. Ascot Investments was finally liquidated. Unsurprisingly, the net assets were very modest. I closed my file, after 20 years. Mrs Harper was legally aided at the start, and towards the end,  pro bono.

There were many other interesting twists along the way.  The case was referred to me by then Clerk of the Magistrates Court in Malvern, now Justice Paul Cronin. My wife went to school with one of the Harper children. I was interviewed on a current affairs TV program to talk about this remarkable case. It probably started my career in presenting (now too numerous to recall) papers on Family Law.

The Family Law Act was amended in 2005 (25 years after the High Court decision) to give it the power to make such orders. The case remains the leading authority on third party rights in the Family Court.

What makes a lawyer a great lawyer?

Being a brilliant lawyer is in my view of no use if pragmatic, cost effective solutions are not achieved. This is particularly so in Family Law. Legal costs come out of the joint pool. The parties have to be able to communicate with each other about their children after the event. “winning the peace” is the most important result to achieve,

Too often lawyers do not do a cost benefit analysis. Only the goal of “winning” is seen, without a thought to what the end result will mean, after the file is closed.

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

When I first decided to do law, I had no real idea of what it would be like. All I saw was that my cousin was doing it and it seemed a glamour profession. (little did I know!). I wanted to be a tax lawyer, like my cousin. I fell into Family Law, something I hated at University, and did the subject under sufferance. It was not as bad as doing Administrative Law.

Having found my niche,  I discovered what law was really about. Maths with words. Problem solving. Helping clients get a sensible resolution. Making a difference to people’s lives. I have been lucky enough to have been exposed to all aspects of family law, from modest issues and child matters to highly complex financial cases, as well as International cases.  I love the challenge of each new client. What can I do with this one to make a difference?

How do you balance life and work?

By totally getting away from the law out of hours.   I make a point of not taking work home, including not talking about work. While I had my hair long, I managed not to be recognised as a lawyer. I am passionate about my other interests so it’s easy to turn off.

How can one distinguish themselves as a legal professional?

Wear your hair long.

‘An Accredited Specialist in Family Law, Peter was the  founding Chairman of the Advisory Committee to the Accreditation Board for Family Law Specialists in Victoria. He is also a trained Collaborative lawyer and Mediator.

Peter is an Author of the Family Law Practice Manual which is now in its 6th Edition online at www.smokeball.com.au and Tax Issues in Family Law- the difference between Hacking and Carving which is now in its 8th Edition.

Peter has recently commenced practice as a sole practitioner at Level 13 , 200 Queen Street, Melbourne. His main focus is Family Law, although he is becoming involved in Estate Planning generally and particularly for blended families.

Specialties: Accredited Specialist Family Lawyer- Victorian Law Institute, Fellow of the International Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (www.iaml.org), Director, Family Business Consultants network (www.fbcn.com.au)


by Pamela Taylor-Barnett


“Hey, you HAVE to download this podcast, ‘Serial’” my friend said.  “I don’t do podcasts”, I responded dismissively – not yet having had my ears opened to this (not so new) form of narrative.  I was stuck in my ways, I’ll admit. Podcasts were boring, or audio-books – which were something my parents needed for their compulsory I’m-now-retired-I-have-to-drive-across-the-Nullabor journey. Not for me.

“No, seriously, you will love it, get it,” he insisted.  I sighed.  “Ok…”

One episode in and I’m thinking “Wow, this is different.” By Episode three I’ll admit, I was wondering if this series still had me.  I took a pause for a few weeks.

Then I drove to Canberra, from Melbourne.  I do this from time to time and I love the solitude. Do you get enough solitude? There is nothing like sinking into much needed solitude… I digress.

I have become that annoying friend now, who says “Hey, you HAVE to download this podcast, ‘Serial’”. It literally took my breath away in a couple of episodes.  I would be convinced that Adnan was not guilty and then I would hear the journalist put together some other facts and gasp.  Then, almost moments later I’d flip again.

Serial is podcast of a 12 episodes. It was put together by a journalist, Sarah Koenig, who became fascinated by the case of Adnan Syed, a 17 year old who has thus far served 15 years of a life sentence for the murder of his ex-girlfriend, Hae Min Lee.  He still firmly claims innocence.  Over the course of a year, with a team of people, Koenig unpacked the case – intensively.  They researched every nook and cranny, interviewed many people the police didn’t, listened to audio and transcript, and spoke with Adnan and lawyers.

You HAVE to listen to this because:

  • It will make you think about what a lawyer’s duties are – did Adnan’s lawyer completely ‘screw up’? Did she fail to put evidence before the jury? Did she ask the right questions? Did she research – I mean really deep research, and how much research can you be expected to do as a lawyer on limited time? But this is a man’s life at stake… Whew. When we say we feel called to the law, we feel called to help, is this what some barristers mean when they give up their whole time to researching answers?
  • It will make you question society and community attitudes towards race and religion. Adnan is Muslim.
  • You will probably wonder about our system of justice (yes, this was in Baltimore, but we too have juries, lawyers and judges, and difficult appeals processes).
  • It will make you remember humans are fallible. We all perceive things, and remember things differently – and the danger of that in a courtroom. Truly, how dangerous. Was that person stoned or did they look anxious? Was there a phone booth in that building? Yes? No? Surely someone knows!! That sort of uncertainty scares me.
  • It will bring home for listeners the danger of relying on technology evidence, especially without experts, (in this case, it was phone towers that a mobile was connected to, and times of calls).
  • You will hear from jurors. Yes, they spoke about what went on. It’s interesting.
  • Plea bargains – what is their effect? Really? What about off the record conversations?
  • Finally, it’s an interesting story of young people, friends, and a tragic murder. It just happens to be true, it’s not fiction. And as a result of all this research, Adnan has been allowed to appeal his conviction, with lawyers filing these document recently.

I don’t know if Adnan did or did not kill Hae. But I would not have been able to convict on the evidence Serial gave me.  But the jurors did not have that evidence.

So, I say it to you, emerging and new lawyers… “You HAVE to download this podcast, Serial”.