Ashley Halphen

Ashley Halphen

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.


Growing up, Dad worked in the same suburb as our school in Sweden.

Growing up, Dad worked in the same suburb as our school in Sweden. Mum would pick us all up from school (there were five kids) in a huge car, a spaceship. We would then go and pick Dad up from work every afternoon in the spaceship. I don’t remember this but my sisters tell me that one-day, we went to pick Dad up from work. Mum went into his work, and then came out and got in the car but Dad didn’t come. We were all asking where Dad was but Mum didn’t say anything. We got home and Dad came home about an hour later. He asked her why she didn’t pick him up. Apparently when Mum went to collect Dad, she looked through the glass and saw him kissing his co-worker. He ended up marrying his co-worker and they have two kids. I get on really well with his kids and say to people that there are seven kids in the family. Mum and Dad didn’t go through lawyers for their divorce and kept things pretty amicable. When I ask mum about it, she says that she is glad that dad cheated on her with a woman he ended up marrying rather than a one-night stand because at least something good was able to come out of it.

The Honourable Justice Shane Marshall

Justice Marshal

When did you know you wanted to become a lawyer?

In primary school, when watching Raymond Burr star as Perry Mason on black and white television.

What attracts you most to the profession of law?

It enables people to work in a range of jobs, including positions in which they can make a real difference in the lives of ordinary people.

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

See yourself through yourself – don t judge yourself based on the criticism or praise of others.

What would you say are the hazards of this profession?

The major hazard of the profession is its tendency to adversely affect the mental health of those involved in it. The statistics concerning lawyers who are afflicted by depression are alarming:  at least one in two lawyers suffer from mental illness at some stage of their careers.  As lawyers we need to look out for each other and be alert for signs of depression and anxiety in our colleagues – and treat each other courteously and with respect.

How do you balance life and work?

I am currently on long service leave and perform voluntary work – including giving talks in various legal forums and presiding over moot courts.  Work-Life balance is achieved because I now have more time for life.  Work-Life balance can only be achieved if quality time is present in interests outside the law and at least one day a week is sacrosanct and not to be affected by work.

What are your passions outside the law?

I am passionate about addressing the stigma about mental health in the legal profession and the community in general.  To this end I enjoy my roles as an ambassador for the Wellbeing and the Law Foundation and as an accredited speaker with Beyond Blue.  I am also passionate about addressing violence against woman through my white ribbon day ambassadorship. On the sporting front, I am a passionate Collingwood supporter and eagerly follow the fortunes of the Australian cricket team. I also enjoy horse racing and have a five per cent share in a future Melbourne Cup winner.

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

Yes. I would but I would not have taken a judicial appointment at such a young age. I would have stayed at the Bar a bit longer.  If I had not chosen the law,  I would have liked to have become a journalist.

Justice Marshall was appointed to the Federal Court of Australia and the Industrial Relations Court of Australia in July 1995 after a career at the Victorian bar, spanning almost 14 years, almost exclusively in the industrial relations and employment areas.

In 2003, Justice Marshall received a centenary medal for services to industrial relations.

From January 2004 until September 2013 Justice Marshall was an additional non-resident judge of the Supreme Court of the Australian Capital Territory, sitting in the trial and appellate divisions of that court.

Justice Marshall served on the Board of the Law Faculty of Monash University from April 2008 to October 2013 and currently sits on its replacement, the External Persons Advisory Committee for the Monash Law Faculty.

In September 2013, Justice Marshall became one of the inaugural ambassadors for the Wellbeing and the Law Foundation (WATL) – a joint initiative of the Law Institute of Victoria and the Victorian Bar.

In October 2014, Justice Marshall  became Deputy Chair of the Advisory Board to the Australian Intercultural Society – an inter-faith dialogue body.

On 1 February 2015 he became an Adjunct Professor in the School of Law at the University of Western Sydney and a Director of the LUCRF Community Partnership Trust.

Monica van Reyk

Monica van Reyk

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

When I was in Year Twelve and we had to work out our choices for future study. My parents and teachers had other ideas and I wanted my future to be my decision. So I went through various career books until I came across Law.

What attracts you most to the profession of law?

I think it was in my blood. My Father was a lawyer and my Grandfather was too. They both started off as barristers. I think for me it’s about helping people and solving problems.

What are your passions outside of the law?

I love music and art. I love listening to music in the car and when I am at home. I have eclectic tastes; so I am happy to be introduced to someone new. I enjoy going to art galleries and exhibitions and I do paint and enjoy craft activities. I know I have a strong creative drive and so I aim to make time to do something creative when I can.

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

In the past year I have worked with volunteers and law students and I have said to them “Learn to say YES.” By this I mean, don’t be afraid if you don’t know something or feel you haven’t got enough knowledge. You can say YES and you can say you would like to learn more about X or Y. Then you really give it a seriously good go and see where it leads you. I think you will find it truly rewarding.

What makes a lawyer a great lawyer?

I think the first thing is being able to create TRUST very quickly with your client. Your client must feel that their case is the most important and that you are really listening and are committed to assisting them.

Keep learning; not just for keeping up CPD points, but study or learn something not related to your particular area of interest. It is also important to learn from your Teachers/those Senior Personnel you work with and find some Mentors who are happy to support you in your career goals. Don’t be afraid to ask; just do it!

 How do you balance life and work?

I think the balancing act is tricky for most people. In my case I was a single parent and what I did was I learnt to delegate both at work and at home. I also learned to be very organised; both at home and at work. Don’t be too hard on yourself and don’t be concerned by what others say. It’s your life, so live it your way. If that means you have a cleaner to clean your home or you have a nanny to look after your children, do it.

What do I love about being a lawyer?

I do love what I do.  I enjoy working with and helping others. I love learning and I also enjoy ‘the thrill of the chase’; doing new things learning new things.

As I say to people “I love the law and for the most part I have enjoyed all my roles. I haven’t always enjoyed working with the people I have had to work with.” This is not unusual and sometimes it has been very difficult. Ultimately, it’s what we take away from those situations. So I ask myself – “What did you learn?” and “How can you do things differently?” This is the gift of these situations.


Monica has developed a strong career providing policy and legal advice in both the public (local, state and national) and private (corporate and private practice) sector. Currently, Monica is the Chief Executive Officer of Social Security Rights Victoria (SSRV), a Specialist Community Legal Centre that assists the most disadvantaged and socially excluded members of the community with their social security issues.

Monica has managed the ‘jobvoice’ project for SSRV. JobVoice is an online technological portal to provide jobseekers with a space to provide stories of their experiences with job service providers and also obtain information on which provider may be the best match. The project will be officially launched on Monday 2 March 2015. Visit:

Dr Leon Terrill

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

I come from a large, country family, in which I was the second of seven kids. I spent most of my childhood pretty convinced that I was being treated unjustly and arguing accordingly. I think that is where my interest in the law began. For example, while I wasn’t allowed to own a watch until I turned 12 one of my younger brothers got his when he was 11. How is that fair? From there I developed an interest in seeking justice through law. I am not the first person to find similarities between children pleading with parents and lawyers before a court.

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

When I was at the Central Land Council I was asked to do a brief job for a group of Warlpiri men. Normally I worked to the south, so they hadn’t met me before. I recall that when I walked into a meeting with them, one of the senior men grabbed my hand, lifted it in the air and announced: ‘the lawyer is here!’ He was beaming with satisfaction as he said it and I was pretty chuffed myself. Of course, he didn’t know me from Adam. All he knew was that I was a lawyer. His reaction tells something about the role that lawyers have played in the struggle for land rights. The status that I was accorded had been earned by others years earlier. But it also captures something that has always struck me about the job. True, not every client is as happy to see you! But you are often given this privileged access to people’s lives, to their stories, to helping them with their problems, even when they have never met you before.

What attracts you most to the profession of law?

It has changed a lot. When I was a teenager, I think I was attracted to the suits, the income and the status (I was poorly informed). In my twenties I came to think of it as a way of trying to attain social justice. Now there is something else again. The best way to put it is that I like the competition of ideas, the ongoing project of practitioners trying to work out what the law should do and be in the multitude of situations in which it is invoked. One area of interest for me is native title law. During my lifetime it has been assumed impossible, recognised, codified, hemmed in, worked around and to some extent resurrected. It has caused irreversible change and widespread disappointment, the result of so many lawyers trying to reconcile the righting of an historical wrong with a myriad of competing interests. The outcome can disappoint, but the competition of ideas is compelling.

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

For me it was always a toss up between law and engineering. There are four engineers in my family and I used to think that perhaps there should be five. This was particularly the case when I was studying. The laws of physics are tricky but they don’t depend on precedent and are unlikely to be rendered uncertain by a few rogue judges on the New South Wales Court of Appeal. I can still remember my disdain upon discovering that not only did one have to learn the common law, there was also this thing called equity. Who devised such a convoluted system? Whoever they were, they were certainly no Galileo. I’ve since reconciled myself to law’s greater ambiguity, and delight in introducing it to my students.

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

If these things are at all cyclical, then there will have been a shift away from plain English drafting. That won’t be all bad. I have never quite got used to corporate contracts addressing me in the second person (e.g. ‘If something happens to You while You are insured with Us then We will do all we can to avoid speaking with You until You go away’). It seems incongruous, like they are trying to personalise their depersonalisation of you. And it can lead to odd drafting that comes back to baffle the courts.

What would you say are the hazards of this profession?

The most obvious hazard is that friends and family members have never heard of the concept of ‘specialization’. I’ve been asked for advice on everything – employment law, crime, product liability, intellectual property, planning and overhanging trees just to name a few. My resume makes it pretty clear that outside of private law and land rights I am probably less accurate than google, yet people keep trying. Two weeks ago, I received a call asking for advice on appealing a murder sentence. True story! It is a hazard of the profession that you will often be asked for free advice on topics you know little about.

The other great risk – and I’ve seen this in the most down-to-earth, considered and even cynical people – is that you might at some stage find yourself explaining how you ‘love the law’. It’s a thing, and it happens all the time.

What makes a lawyer a great lawyer?

That’s easy. They have to love the law.


Dr Leon Terrill is a lecturer in the UNSW Law School and a Fellow of the Indigenous Law Centre.

Mark Holden


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

In 2007 I was fired from my job as a judge on Australian Idol. I was 55 at the time and after a year of introspection I decided to do my articles at Leo Cussen Institute in Melbourne. Quite by accident I met a barrister William Lye who introduced me to the idea of becoming a barrister. In 2009 I was admitted to practice and then completed the Bar Readers’ course and signed the Bar Roll in November of 2009.

Having begun my legal training in Adelaide in 1971, dropping out in 1974, starting again at Monash and graduating in 2001 before finally signing the Bar Roll in 2009  it took 38 years from start to finish. That must be some kind of record.

What attracts you most to the profession of law?

I am at a stage of life where its very rewarding being able to help people in their hour of need. It’s a profession in which I can contribute to society even as I get older so long as I have my health .

What are your passions outside of the law?

Music. I have just released 5 short films on ITunes and by mail order on about my family circus – The Holden Brothers Travelling Circus. The soundtrack is also available – it was made by my family – my son and daughter, wife, brother, cousins and my ex even plays bass!

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

Walking out of the Childrens’ Court with my client an Indigenous grandmother and her grandson in her permanent custody after a 2 year battle with the Department. It was a sublime moment.

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

You must love the profession or find another career.

How do you balance life and work?

I’ve just turned 60 this year and don’t stress over work anymore. If I have nothing to do I do nothing. In an earlier time that would have made me anxious but now I enjoy the down time. That’s the fab thing about being a barrister – its not a 9-5 office bound existence.

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

1 out of 2 people will be lawyers if the current trend continues.

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

Join in the community aspects of the profession. I am a member of the Bar Choir and its really enjoyable interacting with colleagues in a non legal environment .

Better known as a rockstar and former judge on the popular entertainment show “Australian Idol”, Mark Holden, is also a Victorian Barrister, having signed the Roll of Counsel in 2009. He practices in the criminal and civil jurisdictions with a strong focus on social justice.


by Bernadette Healy


How do I want to be?
How do I want to be?

It is so hard sometimes to allow myself just to be me

I tried to listen to everything out there
I tried to do as they would have it so
I longed for it all to be about some other else
And I searched for a way to keep it contained though huge within

For a while I gave it to another, to gaze upon it anew and to love.

But my efforts ground me down and down
And in despair I dwelt
I stumbled then upon a place both sought and shunned at once

The fear sometimes froze my soul

I ran this way and that

A treasure hunt of sort it seemed, though blinded I searched and doubted too the prize

Till gazing from my troubled state
I found I could be still
And then I listened patiently in all the messy space

One day I heard a new sound at home and learnt its meaning true

In time the stone began to shift
I came out into the light
I knew then what I must do and I told myself “you’re right”

And so I gently turned around and took a different path
The course was true though yet unknown
I full followed it with my heart


Everyone experiences transitions at some stage – new project team, new boss, new role, move, break-up, significant birthday coming up, travel, marriage, divorce etc etc. Transition is internal, within the self– a psychological reorientation that people have to go through before change can be effective, change is external. Transitions can be tough and require patience and self-acceptance. The above words were composed in response to working with many clients who were working through transition.


Why I’m a Lawyer

by Samantha Marks QC

why im a lawyer

Recently on twitter a topic has been circulating with the hashtag #whyimalawyer. For those unfamiliar with hashtags (and indeed twitter) the point of such a hashtag is that people looking for what tweets are being said by all different people about particular topics can find them by a search.

There have been many tweets about it by a variety of lawyers in the last few days.  Repeated word for word below* these include:

  • Because I like working long hours and getting panicked phone calls at the last minute
  • Because why wouldn’t you want to be one (people listen to what you say), plus it was the vibe.
  • Because I find phrases like ‘incorporeal’ hereditament amusing
  • Because words all day
  • Because DRAMA (aka fun)
  • Because I like to argue about the correct definition of a word or meaning of a sentence
  • I love wearing a wig
  • Because sometimes people can’t resolve conflicts on their own
  • Because finishing a good cross examination feels wonderful
  • Because I wasn’t allowed to do medicine for work experience, and instead read Justinian and had lobster lunches for a week
  • Because you can’t really make money from history
  • knowing sharks won’t attack you in the ocean due to professional courtesy
  • I became a lawyer by accident.  I choose to stay in the hope that I can help families through their toughest times
  • Because I like wearing suits and pulling a trolley full of papers, folders and books
  • Because I love reasoning and argument.  I am a reasoner myself, and hence, law is the perfect match for me.
  • There was a cohort whom would answer “LA Law” to#WhyImALawyer but they were shallow.  And they went into merchant banking
  • Because I love being at the centre of policy making – that feeling when you see a provision you influenced come into existence! 🙂
  • Being a lawyer challenges me, has opened many doors & given me many different opportunities
  • Because I got the marks to study law and I liked debating at school and archeology was hot and dusty
  • because at the age of 10 I thought it would be cool. As I got older, it became about ensuring change in the world
  • I get paid to say “Objection Your Honour”
  • Because a youth worker mocked me in HS when I said my dream was to be a QC…there’s that…
  • Because I love all stationery, particularly fountain pens, highlighters, post-it notes and flags
  • Because when things go pear shaped clients go “ohshit better call isobelle” & because I get to say “don’t panic” a lot
  • I like to explain complicated legal terms using words my clients can explain
  • And Rumpole, and Kylie Tennant’s biography of Evatt, and David Marr’s Barwick
  • Because a small laugh from a judge to a perfectly timed witticism is golden
  • The anxiety you get at 4.55 when a client walks in and tells you they have a hearing at 9.30 tomorrow morning
  • Why has no-one mentioned Perry Mason and his amazing ability to get people to confess
  • Because carrying around large files and books is a great upper body workout
  • In honesty – words, arguing & enforcing rights & speaking truth to power.  And Atticus Finch, of course.
  • Because I like working long hours and getting panicked phone calls at the last minute
  • I love being at social functions and betting on how long it takes for someone to ask “can I ask you a quick question”
  • I’m waiting for someone to say its because they read a lot of John Grisham novels
  • I want to make a difference.  Esp for victims of #domestic violence
  • Because of Welcher & Welcher*, the most realistic TV depiction of small practice I’ve ever seen.


Co-incidentally I was recently interviewed and asked that very question – and a few more – by newlawyerlanguage. So my own more extended answer to #WhyImALawyer is to be found here: Interview with Samantha Marks QC 

*If you would like to see who posted all the tweets mentioned above, just go into twitter on the internet and search #WhyImALawyer

**I was delighted to see someone mentioned Welcher & Welcher. This sitcom with Shaun Micallef is the funniest show about lawyers I have ever seen. Mind you, almost anything with Shaun is funny…

This piece is republished with the generous permission of Samantha Marks QC. It was first published on 20 May 2014, on her own blog: