Formerly the ANU Legal Workshop

Am I just not that cool?

Pamela Taylor-Barnett

When we are creative, we think of more options for our clients, and options is exactly what they need.  

On Saturday night I went to a garden party.  Actually, there was no garden, besides about five pot plants.  It was a garden party in an apartment, and the pot plants were on the small balcony.  Despite being sans garden, the garden theme reigned supreme.  I accompanied my friend to this party, so did not know what to expect, nor did I know the hosts. The host greeted us dressed in a cute red top with black patches sewn on: a lady bug, of course.  The other host was adorned with fairy lights and cellophane wings: a firefly, of course. Up the stairs and into the ‘garden’.  This party was three months in the making, complete with handmade birds hanging from the ceiling, the billowing white sheets of fabric strung to the ceiling, the hand-made paper pendants for the light fittings, the garden gnomes and the very hungry caterpillar artwork aplenty, large sculpture and small hanging garden-esque art, and toad stools.  I haven’t actually been to a house party where anyone had put in so much effort into the decoration. It was truly delightful.

The introductions began, and in due course so too came the ‘What do you do?’ questions.  The hosts, you see, are designers.  And they hold a large themed party annually, with as much commitment to décor each time.  And many of their friends, including the friend I was hitchhiking a ride to this party with, are designers too.  And there I was, the lawyer / law academic.  In this world of creativity, law felt sort of… stale.

‘Is law stale?’ I later pondered.  Are lawyers that conservative? Or do we suppress our inner creative voice? I suspect that we do suppress this sometimes.  And I think it is to our detriment.  I have worked with many lawyers fabulously attuned to their inner creative voice.  I worked with a lawyer who was formerly a graphic designer and who adorned her office walls with vintage packing crate labels.  Another co-worker had a spectacular flair for arty-yet-professional clothes.  What I did see in those lawyers with such flair, was that they weren’t held back by inhibitions or diffidence.  They brought their love of creativity into their lawyering.

The practice of law can be stale. Or lawyers can make efforts to be creative.  When we are creative, we think of more options for our clients, and options is exactly what they need.  It is easy to remain guarded because in suggesting something ‘radical’ to your supervisor, or to a client directly, you are skating on the edge a bit, and we feel the need to be measured and cautious.  There is a difference though between reckless and creative. 

And being creative can come in different forms.

  • In finding solutions – see for example the ‘National Bulk Debt Project’, led initially by the West Heidelberg Community Legal Service. The project took a unique approach to providing legal assistance to clients with financial debt who were ‘judgement proof’ (people with no real likelihood that they will be able to pay the debt and have legislative protection from being sued).  Rather than negotiating individually, this project worked with financial counsellors and other welfare professionals to gather over 3000 debtors’ files and presented them to financial creditors, who waived or closed over $20 million of debt for these individuals.     
  • In how you provide service to clients - there are now firms who will take instructions and give advice by Skype.  And there are less traditional models for providing access to legal services, such as Health Justice Partnerships that recognise the researched benefits to clients of a multidisciplinary approach to solving legal problems
  • In strategic litigation - for example, the Fitzroy Legal Service’s East West Link litigation: Murphy v State of Victoria & anor [2014] VSCA 238.

We should embrace our creative intuition, be disciplined but imaginative and ‘have a nerve’.  If playing it safe is what comes naturally or has even become a habit, maybe we can practice getting out of that comfort zone.  Slowly.  Cook without a recipe, practice sports because they involve quick, intuitive decisions, dance, play an instrument, write or even fly a kite!  Just don’t let your inner creative person go stale.  Feel like you fit in with the designers at a funky garden party, even if you are the only lawyer in the room.  

Updated:  10 August 2015/Responsible Officer:  Director, GDLP/Page Contact:  Program Coordinator, GDLP