When did you know you wanted to be a lawyer?
At age 9. Watching Antony Petrocelli swoon a courtroom, left me with a hazy dream about a future path that now, almost four decades later, is paved. I studied law with the sole view of practicing in criminal law. An area of practice that compels a deep insight into the human condition and requires strong skill in communication.
The boundaries of human behavior never cease to amaze. The challenges of communication from the ground up…to the heights of addressing twelve impartial members of our community from all walks of life is an art – the art of advocacy. Like all art forms, it is a skill that can never be perfected, rather it forever evolves with the experience of the advocate. The key is versatility – knowing and appealing to your audience. As Dale Carnegie once wrote, ‘you can’t catch fish using strawberries as bait.’
What attracts you most to the law?
The practice of law has taken me to some of the most remote locations on the planet: death row jurisdictions in America’s Deep South; remote indigenous communities in the far Northern parts of Australia; impoverished African provinces where the rule of law has not effectively reached; and even the frozen streets of Mongolia where the rule of law is being transplanted from more established legal-democratic systems.
The practice of law has exposed me to some of the most brutal acts one person can do to another, and also to extreme examples of grace, courage and dignity. This dichotomy of exposure has profoundly enriched my character as a member of society.
What makes an advocate a great advocate?
The process that envelopes a trial to verdict is like the manufacturing of a product on a factory assembly line: Raw instructions are infused with legal principle and life experience along the procedural timeline to finally produce considered and persuasive arguments.
What makes an advocate great, is the ability to communicate…effectively! Argument that is executed with precision and economy; fashioned in a manner that befits the personality style of the audience; and delivered with self-belief and empathy.
The great can go to any part of an argument at any given moment; the great can swiftly and effortlessly deal with any anticipated response or rebuttal; and the great hold their audience in the palm of their hand from beginning to end.
The great immediately command attention and are simply breathtaking.
What is it that defines you as a lawyer?
To empower a client with a complete ‘grip’ of all procedural, legal and evidential aspects to a case; to dignify a client with realistic expectations; to prepare a case upside down and inside out; to run a case with courage and tenacity; and to finally walk away from a courtroom knowing fairness has dictated and justice has prevailed, makes me proud to be a member of the Victorian Bar.
A tip for maintaining sanity in the law
Find your tribe, your people. A beauty in the profession is the number of like minded others. Find them and share time with them, exchanging ideas, issues and work pressures. Most of all enjoy the unique company of those who share your unique career and have fun. Real happiness is shared!
What are your hopes for the profession?
It has been a privilege to step outside the box and conduct the pro bono work I have to date. I would urge any aspiring lawyer to pro bono commit, for whatever period of time to whatever agency, in a manner or context that is outside the comfort zone. So enlightening and enriching is the experience, the experience to give, I would be thrilled to see the profession mandate and support work of this nature as a requirement of admission and/or part of continuing professional development.
Advice to new lawyers
- Be humble.
- Be yourself.
- Be true to yourself.
- Believe in yourself.
- Knowledge is a bit about learning but a lot about understanding. As Oscar Wilde once said, ‘education is an admirable thing, but it is well to remember from time to time that some things worth knowing can never be taught.’
Ash Halphen was admitted to practice in 1992 and signed the bar roll in 1999. He is a jury trial, criminal defense advocate. In addition to his pro bono work, he has conducted advocacy courses in Nauru, the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea and assisted the training of readers at the Victorian Bar Readers Course.