Friday, 20 August 2010

Life as a Sydney solicitor

So following on from here, let me give you a taste of what it was like to work as a young solicitor in Sydney.
The good old scales of justice
After three years working as a solicitor in Hobart, Sydney was a huge change of pace and style. In Hobart, personal injury matters were often mired in the court system somewhere, some even 10 years after the subject accident. The wheels of the justice system moved very slowly. That meant witnesses forgot their evidence as their memories dulled and evidence got lost. That made it hard for both sides to run their cases. Justice delayed is justice denied, so the saying goes. I found it rather frustrating.

In Sydney, however, 80% of the personal injury cases had to be finalised within 12 months of being lodged with the Court with the balance to be completed within two years. That meant a lot more had to be done in a lot less time, with long hours the result. That was a change after being able to leave work in Hobart at 5 pm each day. My days often ended at about 8 pm or later if I had a hearing on. I made many a dash to Circular Quay to hurtle up the gangplank just in time. I also spent an outrageous amount on taxis late at night after the ferries had stopped (most of which I had to pay for myself - not happy, Jan).
My trusty Sydney Ferries route map
Another main difference was that in Tasmania, law was a fused profession - you could practise as both a barrister and a solicitor.  Given the small population, that made sense. In New South Wales, however, the much larger population dictated the need for a separate bar.  I found it immensely entertaining to get to know a lot of Sydney barristers with all their talents, failings and eccentricities. There was a lot of politics involved in retaining a barrister which I found surprising and at times tricky to negotiate.
Good old black letter law
I specialised in defending public liability claims, mainly for councils all over New South Wales. That required me to travel 'on circuit' to places like Wagga Wagga, Orange, Bathurst, Newcastle, Wollongong and Port Macquarie, often in tiny little six seater planes.

Being on circuit meant that there was a list of matters to be reached during a two or three week period. I had to travel there with my barrister just before my matter was reached (lots of frantic last minute organisation was involved), loaded up with suitcases full of files and exhibits. Then I had to meet with and coordinate my witnesses and evidence and stay there until my matter was completed or adjourned to the next sitting if time ran out. I stayed in the local motels, having to report back to the office and our (often overseas) insurance clients at the end of a long day. It was a heady combination of hard work, long hours, stress and then unwinding over dinner with other solicitors and their barristers.  We worked hard but partied hard. I soon learnt the maxim 'What happens on circuit, stays on circuit' - so I'm sorry I can't elucidate on some of the shenanigans we got up to!

During our 11 years in Sydney, I adopted the Goldilocks Principle, working at medium sized, large and then small firms. Each had their own ethos and talented individuals as well as large egos. I learnt a lot, made some fabulous friends and found it quite stimulating. Some of my cases made the news. However, the relentlessness of time recording was unpleasant - imagine having to account for every six minutes of your day, five days a week. You had a minimum number of units you had to work each day to make your budget and your timesheets were strictly monitored and publicised to your colleagues. Isn't that an horrendous thought?!

By the time I went on maternity leave with India, my tank was empty. I was worn down by the unremitting pace, the politics, the schmoozing and the long hours. Given Sam was born when India was only 19 months old, I haven't returned to paid work since. What lies ahead is the subject for another post!



  1. OMG, absolutely fascinating.... but exhausting to read! What a pace to keep! How would one keep that pace with a family? Are you planning to go back? Sooner, later? Thank you for your comment. Lovely to meet you. Have added you to my bloggy roll! A-M xx

  2. Hi A-M
    Sorry about exhausting you! I'm still learning how long posts should be:) Yes, working like that was pretty incompatible with family life, especially when you had to contend with Sydney's dismal public transport system to get about as well. I went back to work for 10 months after Joshua was born and still worked those stupid hours even though I was pregnant with India and had severe anaemia. How I did it, I don't know. My husband had to look after Joshie after hours and cook dinner. We couldn't have managed that with three under four and no family support, hence the move to Hobart. As for returning to paid work, I'm not sure. I'll have to wait until my PND has passed. I'll be writing more about that soon. Thanks so much for doing that - you are the first and it is a great honour to be on such an illustrious roll. J x

  3. Hi Jane. Thanks so much for the lovely email; so glad you like visiting my blog, thank you. While it's been a very, very long time since I was on PB I still remember (in fact was talking about it just this morning!) and as a consultant I can totally relate to the billing you describe (thankfully not in 6 minute bites though!). I see that you do some lovely craft as well, so lots in common. I look forward to reading much more. I especially love interacting with other Aussie bloggers :)

  4. Hi Kerry My pleasure. I'm so delighted you're following me. I'm really touched. The warmth of the interaction between the local bloggers has taken me by surprise. It is such a pleasant thing, I agree. J x

  5. Hi Jane, Thanks for commenting and following my blog - I am now a follower of you! SO nice to meet another Hobartian :)

  6. Hi Jane! I have so enjoyed reading your posts! Your life in Sydney sounds so hectic!! We also lived in Sydney for 11 years and are very much enjoying our slower country lifestyle now! I am really looking forward to hearing what you plan to do in the future and am so very much looking forward to getting to know you better through your gorgeous blog. Wishing you a lovely week ~ Tina x

  7. Thanks, Sarah - yes, we Hobartians should stick together! That's what I love about the blogosphere, the chance to connect with absolute strangers in your hometown who share the same interests.

    Tina, you're so sweet. I'm really flattered. I think we could sustain that pace pre-PB but once children arrived, it wasn't pleasant anymore. I'm sure you understand now you've made your life change. I am bursting with ideas for posts so stay tuned!

    Jane x

  8. Another lawyer turned blogger. You would not believe how many there are. Seriously. Some of them keep it secret though. (I don't).

    And you are brave doing this kind of work, I never could.


  9. Hi Jane (great name) Really? I haven't stumbled across many yet - you can tell I'm still a newbie. I'd love to know some blogs (including yours) if you have any names handy. What type of work do you do? As for defending personal injury claims, well, let's just say it had its moments! Thanks for dropping by. I'd love to know how you found me - I'm still learning this stuff! J x

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Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts, you gorgeous soul. You've just made my day! J x

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