How did I end up studying law?Well, that's a good question, actually. It was never a driving passion for me. I almost 'fell into it', not by accident but purely because it appealed to my senses of ethics, order, doing what is 'right' and wishing to do some good in the world. Hmm, that sounds a little quaint now!
For my Higher School Certificate, I studied Legal Studies, History, English, French, German with Maths and the token science subject thrown in - Human Biology. I was an humanities student, through and through. No one in my family had gone to University by that stage so it was a novel concept to me. But I knew I wanted to expand on my love of literature, language and law - the 'three Ls' of my life! So university was my eventual aim.
After a year spent overseas as a Rotary Exchange Student in [the then] West Germany in 1989, I returned to Hobart in January 1990 and leapt into studying at the University of Tasmania for my combined Arts/Law degree. Five years of hard graft later, I graduated.
My early yearsBack in those days, Tasmania had the longest admission period to practise as a lawyer in Australia. It was so frustrating to see Uni friends undertake a 6 month course in Melbourne or Sydney and then be admitted to practise.
Instead, I had to study at UTAS for my Graduate Certificate of Legal Practice for 6 months. Then I had to work for a year as an apprentice at a law firm under formal Articles of Apprenticeship and be overseen by my 'Master'. This was a partner who had to monitor my work and then move my admission to the Supreme Court of Tasmania at the end of the 12 months. It sounds almost medieval-like now, the whole 'Master and Apprentice' caper! Mind you, even if you had a female partner supervising you (then again, that was a real rarity as there were so few of them), she was still called your 'Master'. I guess 'Mistress' had too many unsavoury connotations to be considered for usage!
The whole admission process was quite arcane but it was such a thrill to finally be admitted as a 'Barrister and Solicitor of the Supreme Court of Tasmania' in September 1996! Incidentally, as one of the smaller Australian states, Tasmania has a 'fused' profession whereby you can practise either as a solicitor or barrister or both. In the larger states such as New South Wales, solicitors and barristers are completely separate entities. But I digress!
I then spent the next 2 years as a junior solicitor handling a wide variety of work such as property conveyancing, writing wills and powers-of-attorney, acting for insurance companies and their insureds in motor vehicle accidents and personal injury cases and for debt collection agencies (my least favourite work). I ran my own motor vehicle cases entirely from start to finish, preparing them as a solicitor, running them in court as a barrister and then working as a solicitor to agree on the legal costs to be paid at the end.
It was a wide-ranging, often nerve-wracking but ultimately very full introduction to life as a lawyer. It was so far removed from the 'black and white law' in my law school textbooks! I was dealing with real people and the real consequences of their actions. Talk about an eye-opener to 'real life', not the sheltered version I'd lived up until then.
Life as a Sydney solicitor
But prudence must prevail - even although I could probably curl the hair of my fellow straight-haired Planetarians with the goss, I don't want to be sued. So like the old maxim we followed when on circuit at the country courts, 'what happens on circuit, stays on circuit', I'll have to regretfully decline the opportunity.
However, I think I can safely say that it was incredibly stressful, fast paced and demanding. Trying to keep the Court, the client and the boss happy all at once was an almost Herculean task. And that was for every case, all the time. Often, their interests didn't coincide. I can't tell you how many sleepless nights I endured in all those years! And don't get me started on the horrid time-keeping of every 6 minute 'unit' of the day on my timesheets!
Where to next?Well that, my friends, is a story for another day. I hope that gives you some insight into how I've found life as a lawyer. Does any of it surprise you? Fire away of you have any questions!
* I've always wanted to use that phrase, ironically of course, after reading the famous eponymous book by Miles Franklin.