The early start did not deter our members nor our guests who came for the coffee and the spread. On the menu were muffins, friands and fruit, catered by Tiger Lily and brought to the venue by Marionne and Samantha. Coffees were organised by Annabel Triese, who coordinated with Porta Via downstairs, and Sarah, Christine and Mary who ferried the coffees up so that our members and guests could get their caffeine fix before the talks began.
The speakers for the panel were:
The Hon Neil Brown QC;
Mr Kurt Esser;
Dr Ian Turnbull; and
Mr Daniel Lau
Both Neil and Kurt are not second career lawyers, but they have years of wisdom from their career changes. Neil entered the bar in 1963, before deciding to enter politics where he served as a Minister in the Fraser government. He is now back at the bar, and comments that he likes the law more now than when he started, having carved for himself a career in arbitration and mediation, especially in the area of domain disputes.
Kurt on the other hand had worked both in the US and in Australia. He was previously working in a New York law firm before returning to Australia to carry out his practical legal training at Leo Cussen. Kurt was at the bar for 25 years before he decided to set up his own practice with his wife who is a migration agent. Currently, Kurt’s practice deals mainly with commercial law.
Ian and Daniel are both second career lawyers. Ian carried out his PhD in molecular genetics in the University of Melbourne. While he was working as a research fellow, Ian did his law degree part time at the University of Melbourne. He moved between academia and law for a number of years before deciding to enter the bar in 1996, where he has been at, ever since. Ian counts the changes that intellectual property law made to the way that science was being done as his main reason for entering the legal profession.
Daniel, who is the youngest of our panel speakers, was a teacher before deciding to do his law degree. He is currently a graduate lawyer in Herbert Smith Freehills. Daniel chose to take the clerkship-traineeship role, and hence put a lot of effort into securing a clerkship during his time in law school.
Despite the differences in years amongst all our guests, the advice that they gave was very consistent.
Firstly, have a broad range of friends as you never know where your next opportunity will come from. Kurt spoke of the opportunities he got from the people he played sport with. Ian raised an example of a solicitor who obtained business opportunities from his ethnic community while carrying out his practice in the suburbs.
Secondly, use your background and language skills to your advantage. Ian spoke of the importance of telling your prospective employers, your proficiency in a second language. Kurt agreed, stating that in migration law, it’s difficult to practise if you do not have proficiency in a second language. Daniel spoke about his experience teaching Japanese to the firm he clerked at when their usual Japanese teacher was unavailable.
Also, in relation to the second point, Daniel points out that one should play to one’s strengths when seeking opportunities. As an example, Daniel sought out internships in the Victoria Law Foundation and the Judicial College, both organisations which would play to the strengths of those who were formerly teachers. Ian also agreed with this point. He uses his background in science to draft submissions in relation to law reform in intellectual property law.
Thirdly, keep plugging away. Don’t be put off by rejections, but importantly, don’t put all your eggs in one basket either. It is easy during the clerkship process to have one’s heart set on one firm. However, one should remember that one is also competing with other students who may also have their heart set on that firm. The odds of landing a clerkship are probably better if you apply to a number of firms. However, as Daniel cautioned, make sure you tailor your cover letter to each firm.
Finally, look after your health and family. Ian noted that during the lean times of your career, you may be more dependent on your spouse for income while you look after your kids. Law is an intense career, so it is easy to forget one’s partner and one’s kids. His advice was that we should treasure them.Kurt agreed, pointing out that alcoholism is also rife in the profession. Consequently, he advised us to look after our health.
Following the end of the panel session, all our guests received gifts from the LLSN, which were, yes you’ve guessed it, bottles of wine. Perhaps our take-away message should be, alcohol in moderation is not detrimental to one’s health, but we should not use alcohol as a way of alleviating our stress levels.
Our members mingled for a while before we had to vacate the room. More contacts were made between first years and upper years, and more ideas were put forward for future events.