“I think that philosophically people should understand the legal system that is governing them.”
I am a Practice Leader in the Disputes & Litigation team at LegalVision.
I wouldn’t say that I always knew that I would be a lawyer because that wouldn’t be true.
After finishing school, I went to Israel to study in a Jewish learning institution for a couple of years. I am Jewish, but having never seen the country, I was interested in finding out about it. I really enjoyed it, and studied Jewish texts and law while there.
My initial exposure to law came through my family. Mum and Dad both went to law school. Dad is a barrister. And so, there’s a lot of dinner table talk about law. However, I’d still not made up my mind to be a lawyer.
Upon my return to Melbourne, I started an Arts degree. After a year of Arts, I was thinking to myself “Okay, where is this all going?” and that’s when I decided to transfer into Law/Arts because I figured of all the professions out there, this might be one that I enjoy.
As it turned out, I actually didn’t enjoy law school at all. By the time I started my law studies, I was already about 21 and I really just wanted to get out there into the workforce.
I didn’t enjoy studying law very much.
Also, I think, a relevant factor was that I would speak to my Dad about law and he would tell me “Oh, it’s not really like that in the real world of law.” And so, I felt that what I was learning was detached from the reality and I didn’t like that. I just wanted to get out there and start practicing.
I got through law school eventually, probably at some stages just barely, but I did get through it and I found myself really enjoying practicing law from day one.
For my articles, I did what was called SWT, Supervised Workplace Training, where you could do a year in a firm, completing various practical requirements with some minimal external training. It was like a traineeship.
Random fact is that there’s no minimum wage for lawyers but there is a minimum wage for legal trainees.
And so when I accepted my first job I was told that the pay would be above the minimum wage for legal trainees, which was then $31,500.
It blew my mind; it was just a rude awakening as to the realities of earning a wage as a lawyer.
In that first firm, I got to do a bit of everything. It was a suburban law firm in the city, doing crime, family and commercial law. The good thing about working there was that I got thrown in the deep end from day one. I remember I was sent to court on my first day to instruct a barrister.
That firm viewed you as a resource, and their modus operandi was effectively to throw you in the deep end.
No malice, just the way the firm operated and it was ‘sink or swim’ – and I really enjoyed it.
And, I really enjoyed getting a taste of different areas of law, as that’s helped to work out where or which areas of law I’d like to practice, having seen several areas.
One area I had a particular interest in was criminal law.
Of course, that’s the area that everyone knows because it gets the most media attention, and so I wanted to experience it first hand, if only for five minutes.
I found it wasn’t for me. I had difficulties. There were moral questions that I felt were more heightened with criminal law than maybe commercial law. I just didn’t see myself ending up in it.
I eventually found my fate in commercial litigation, rather than drafting contracts. I didn’t enjoy drafting contracts, still don’t enjoy it. I know some people like it and build really successful careers out of it. But it’s not for me.
I really enjoy the human aspect of litigation and assisting people to work through disputes that they have. I really enjoy the interpersonal side of it.
Litigation is the means by which a dispute is processed through the courts.
So, it will typically involve somebody filing a document with the court to commence a court proceeding. And then, there’ll be a defence put in, the parties exchange documents, go to mediation and if they can’t settle it, it then goes to a trial. So, all those processes together are what we would call litigation.
I found early on that I enjoyed litigation.
I saw this while I was doing criminal law, which is always litigious, because you’re either prosecuting or being prosecuted. The same with family law, where I’d go to court to sort out orders in respect to children or property, and I was also exposed to commercial law – breach of contract, fights over deals gone wrong, administrative law.
I learnt about government decisions, licenses taken away or applications for various licenses that weren’t granted, tax disputes – all sorts of really interesting disputes, centering on financial transactions or pursuits.
Gradually I moved away from criminal law and family law because I didn’t see myself staying in them. Family law I found messy and extremely personal.
Whereas, commercial litigation I found very intellectually stimulating and having that interpersonal element, without getting too personal.
My workload gradually shifted towards commercial litigation and that was probably a decision on my part and the firm’s part at the same time.
By the 3 year mark, I was doing exclusively commercial litigation work and thoroughly enjoying it. I liked working in that small firm, as without a lot of staff there, I didn’t have to deal with a rigid hierarchy. Eventually, I was running matters on my own, sometimes with barristers, and I loved the responsibility and the autonomy, as well as the intellectual stimulation from those matters.
At the same time, I liked dealing with actual people and helping them resolve their issues.
The funny thing about commercial disputes is that usually the two parties have a pre-existing relationship. They have a contract or they’re business partners.
And then at some point something goes wrong, there is a dispute on foot and they need a lawyer to help resolve it. Most of the time the parties are able to reach agreement and settle it with our assistance.
Around the second half of 2015 I found that a number of really interesting cases that I’d been working on were coming to an end and there weren’t other interesting cases to replace them with. So I started looking around for other job opportunities.
By this stage I had already formed some strong opinions on the state of the legal industry and had ideas of what it should be.
Traditionally, legal services have been built around hourly billing, because the law only requires lawyers to give an estimate of costs. Typically, there are no fixed-fee quotes.
At the same time lawyers are extremely afraid of getting sued.
So what often happens is that you have complex matters where the lawyers are charging by the hour, however at least some of the work being done is not for the benefit of the client, but for the benefit of the lawyers as they try to protect themselves.
For example, when a lawyer is advising a client that there may be potential claims that are available against him/her/it, but they’re unlikely to be brought for various reasons.
And so, there is a cost-benefit analysis there as to how much time and money is to be spent on investigating the potential liability for those claims.
A more cautious lawyer may decide to spend more time and money on that. But, in reality if we know from the outset that those claims are quite unlikely to be brought then who’s really benefiting from the lawyer’s time? The lawyer is getting paid but the client is getting very minimal benefit from it and I regard that as inefficient.
Because if you’re paying as a client then it should be for your benefit, not just for me to protect myself.
This has always been the situation and I think that part of the reason for it, is that there’s a lot of confusion around what lawyers do. We use all these words that people don’t understand, words that have one meaning in common language, can have a different meaning in law. And so, because there’s imperfect knowledge on the part of the client, lawyers have an advantage in the transaction.
I think that philosophically people should understand the legal system that is governing them.
We should move away from using terms that people don’t understand and we should move away from a system in which the buyers are at a big disadvantage to the sellers.
With those ideas in the back of my mind, I was looking for new opportunities. I looked in all the usual places, like LinkedIn and on various legal jobs websites. I also started reading about disruption that was/is occurring in the legal industry.
Eventually I came across a company called LegalVision, based out of Sydney and went on their website and I saw they were looking for a litigator with between 2-5 years experience, which I fitted into.
I shot them an e-mail and I got zero response.
I shot them another e-mail and I got no response. After a few weeks I thought to myself “You know, I’ve got nothing to lose.” I e-mailed the CEO directly and he e-mailed me back two minutes later.
My email was simple: “This is me. Here’s my CV. If you’re interested let me know.” I probably mentioned the job that I saw on the website but, you know, evidently it wasn’t that important. The CEO e-mailed me back literally two minutes later saying “Can you do business development (BD) as well as law?”
I thought about it for about one and a half seconds and realized that in the course of the five years that I’d been working at the first law firm, I dealt with heaps of new client inquiries that had come in. I felt that I was equipped to do that so I responded saying “Yup.”
About two minutes later he emailed back and said, “Right, our Head of BD will get in contact with you.”
A short time later I had a phone interview with the Head of BD and then a meeting with one of the founders who happened to be in Melbourne at the time. Then they flew me up to Sydney to meet with a few of the other senior lawyers there and it ended up being a good fit.
I ended up being hired to open up LegalVision’s Melbourne operations, which is why they needed someone who could do not just legal work but also BD work. I started in early 2016.
We started off at a co-working space because it made sense costs-wise, but also because LegalVision wanted to be connected to that kind of start-up culture.
It was fantastic, as it was just me on my own to start with, and I was sharing an office with graphic designers and marketers, and it was a great creative energy around me.
LegalVision is backed by investors, and is essentially a start-up itself.
It’s not a partnership, like 99.9% of law firms. We really embrace technology to focus on providing value, service and results. That’s what I liked about the company, it was really different. And the biggest selling point for me was that the majority of the work we do is on a fixed fee basis.
Most of work that LegalVision does is on the front end, drawing up agreements, advice, setting up structures and the fees for those types of things can easily be fixed. So we’ve commoditized these things, and made our processes really efficient, so the clients don’t pay for work they don’t need.
It’s a pretty different business model.
I wasn’t solely responsible for bringing in business in Melbourne. In fact, the primary way that LegalVision brings in business is online, it has a very strong digital marketing strategy. It has an in-house marketing team and the strategy has two aspects to it.
The first is SEM – so paid search, but also organic and what drives the SEO is producing content. So, everyone in the business spends a day a month producing content, writing articles.
There’s now over three thousand articles on our site.
And so, for me, philosophically I like that because it allows the public to gain access to up-to-date legal knowledge for free and it also happens to be a good marketing tool for us.
My role then was to deal with any clients that wanted to meet face-to-face in Melbourne. 4
At that time we also had an outbound sales team and if any of the leads were interested in meeting, I’d go out and meet with them.
I would also attend networking events to try and bring in more business, things like that. What’s occurred over time is that our reliance on paid search marketing has gone down and the effectiveness of the content that we’ve produced has gone up.
I really enjoy the business development process because it’s important to be out there and listening to what the market is looking for from legal services providers, and I think I’ve got a fairly good understanding now, after 6 years in the industry.
On the legal side of things, I started off doing a bit of work in franchising, and a bit in litigation.
The franchising work was more front-end work and I didn’t particularly enjoy it.
So I fairly quickly moved into straight commercial litigation, which is what I’ve been doing now for roughly a year and a half at LegalVision, and I love it. There’s heaps of variety. I’ve got the autonomy that works for me, interesting clients, interesting cases, as long as I’ve got cases that keep me pre-occupied and maybe to some extent troubled, I’m happy.
By “troubled”, I mean challenged.
So if I encounter a client that needs a remedy and it’s not easy to find one and I’m forced to stretch my learning and research further, and investigate further and talk to more people to see if there’s any way of assisting this client, I really enjoy that.
What I don’t enjoy are the limitations of the system. For example, as a lawyer I can only assist the client to go through the courts to get a remedy. Lawyers don’t lock people up. We can’t force people to do anything, only the courts can. People come to us seeking an outcome and we can’t guarantee that outcome. We can only guarantee that we will engage in the process to the best of our ability and assist them to go through the legal process.
Sometimes clients are dismayed or disheartened because they have forked out a lot of money and they haven’t achieved the outcome that they want.
That’s frustrating for them as well as for me.
Cases get won and lost every day of the week. You can lose cases that you thought you could’ve won and vice versa. Yeah, it’s very frustrating but I’ve found that losing cases has been the best teacher for me. There’s, I’ve found, nothing more painful in law than losing cases and I’ve learned the most valuable lessons from having lost.
But sometimes there are cases that simply cannot be won.
You’re dealt a hand where the facts and the evidence are what they are, and that can’t be changed. It’s about what you can do with that to assist your client to the best of your ability, but you can’t change the facts. I think that every good lawyer knows the limitations of the case early on and hopefully you advise your client as early as you can about these, the deficiencies in the evidence, etc.
But in the end, you have to act on your client’s instructions and if they want to run the case, you run it regardless, even when you know a win is unlikely. Though sometimes, you think you can’t win, and you do because the judge sees it differently.
On the other hand, occasionally you think you have a strong case but a judge thinks otherwise and that can be very frustrating.
Eventually as the team grew and my role shifted from being somewhat involved in BD, to taking on a greater caseload, we took the view that it was time to build the Melbourne office and we needed to get a private office to house the team and all our documents and things.
Having really enjoyed working in a co-working environment, we looked for a private office in a co-working space. We found one here in the Hub. It also has a great creative vibe, the whole ecosystem that comes with it is fantastic. We’ve been here just under a year now.
The greatest challenge for me in my professional life is having regular doubts about my own abilities and about whether I’m any good at providing value to clients.
I question myself regularly, weekly.
Have I understood a case properly, is my advice is on point, can I justify what I’ve billed a particular client?
It helps to chat to my Dad about these doubts, as he’s been working in the industry for many years and still does work in it. I use him as a sounding board to work out if I’m on the right track. I also chat with work colleagues about each other’s cases and to get each other’s views on things.
But, at the end of the day, it’s very difficult.
My Dad always gives the analogy that litigation is like trying to perform surgery, and somebody else is at the operating table trying to undo what you’re doing in real time. I think he got that from someone else, but I can’t remember who. On the one hand, there’s the question of ‘Do I have sufficient knowledge?’ and then, the secondary question is ‘Am I doing a better job than my opponent in this case?’
These are really tough questions to answer and they’re dynamic, because at different points in a case you might have found a unique strategy, and you might get the upper hand, but then you can overplay your hand and your opponent suddenly is in a stronger position.
It’s about knowing and leveraging your strengths and trying not to fall into the trap of exposing your weaknesses.
Looking forward, I’ve got several goals.
I’d like to gain further skills and perhaps even expertise in commercial litigation. I want to feel secure in the knowledge that I’m providing the best possible value to clients, and to feel a sense of mastery, which I don’t feel yet.
To help me with this, I’ve recently become involved in a judicial mentorship with the President of the Victorian Court of Appeal. The Law Institute of Victoria advertised the mentorship, and I thought this would be an amazing opportunity to hear from an experienced judge and learn from him. I applied and now I meet with him once every couple of months at his chambers to discuss issues affecting us as lawyers, and the profession more broadly.
So he hears from us and we hear from him, and it’s fantastic, very interactive.
I’d also like to be more involved in the managerial side of legal practice. This is already starting to happen through LegalVision. We’re building an office in Melbourne. We have another lawyer who started here recently , and then there are plans for us to expand. I want to be involved in growing a legal business, rather than just being an employed lawyer.
Also, I’m interested in finding ways to improve the process for clients.
Maybe that means getting involved in policy down the track, possibly in terms of law reform, or working with stakeholders in the legal industry to try and improve the system.
I’ve read years ago that the first ten years in a particular career should be spent gaining exposure to that profession, rather than being specifically focused on money. I think that’s right, because I haven’t worked at firms where I’ve earned the most money, but I’ve worked at firms where I’ve obtained amazing and broad experience and for me personally, autonomy has always been really important and I’ve got that.
I’ve managed to find workplaces that I’ve felt really comfortable at, that have supported me and that have allowed me to grow and develop, and to me that is really valuable.
Look to work at a firm that aligns with what you’re trying to get out of the profession.
If you want to be mentored then make sure that the firm that you’re working at is focused on mentoring you, rather than you just being another billable asset for it. If what you’re after is to develop your skills and to take on responsibility then find a firm that can offer you that.
You’re unlikely to find a workplace that’s going to be absolutely perfect in every respect, but find the best fit. Brand names are great, but they’re not necessarily for everyone. I would say that neither of the firms that I’ve worked at are the biggest brand names, but they’ve been great for me.
I’d also add this: don’t worry whether you enjoy studying to enter a particular profession. I didn’t enjoy studying law, but I love practicing it.