Would the real para-legals please stand up? | Disability, mental health & the law

Eloise Dibden is a fourth year law and international development student at University of Adelaide.  She is responsible for assisting the Student Representative Council with hosting its first Student Disabilities Working Group to discuss the issues facing students with disabilities and the ways in which the SRC can support them.  Michael Bidwell, our Editor in Chief, reached out to Eloise to share her story and important message: #thatsokay

Would the real para-legals please stand up?

Disability, mental health & the law

When I was asked to write this article, I was equal parts enthusiasm and nerves. Somehow, even though I feel I am completely out of my depth, I hope to impart to you some insight in to what it may be like to be a young person with a disability, hoping to enter the legal world.  Disclaimer: I have cerebral palsy and have confronted mental health issues… and yes, unfortunately that is a pun in the title.

Being a lawyer (at least so I’ve been told) can be stressful, exhausting and downright hard work.  When you have a disability, all of these things can be amplified… That is of course assuming you have been given the opportunity.  Something that terrifies me as I head closer to the end of my degree, is that employers will never get to witness the skills, knowledge, and quite frankly sassy personality I have developed through my time in law school. Then, even if I am recognised, this does not mean that the work place suddenly becomes a fantastic hive of understanding, respect and support.

However, before any of that happens, I strongly advise you, and remind myself (because goodness knows I need to), to take a breath and look after yourself. I have found myself comparing and judging myself against others. I felt less than people posting on social media about their lives, work and relationships, because I wasn’t up to the same ‘stage’ as them. Then, I realised something: there are no deadlines, or clocks ticking dictating your life. You can set your own pace with your own goals.

Take the time to get to know yourself, your strengths and limitations. These will be different for everyone and that is okay. Knowing yourself and what you can and maybe can’t do is a huge asset. You now know where you shine, and what to work on in the future. You now know when you might need to ask for help: it’s okay to ask for help. That goes for everyone. If you find you need assistance achieving something that’s okay. If you find you can do it alone, that’s okay too. What’s not okay is struggling unnecessarily in silence. What’s not okay are people telling you what you can and can’t do. Say something. The truth is, you need to be your own advocate. This can be a huge task – I have already found it overwhelming during school and university – but it will improve with persistent practice.

One of the biggest hurdles for me to get over (… I should probably say around… I certainly can’t jump over it) was my self-doubt. I believed no one would pick me, or hire me, or think I was worth the effort. I have changed this negative mindset, which has taken me years to really do properly, and now when I see an opportunity I think I may as well give it a go. If I do get selected then I will prove I was worth it. I will ask for the assistance I need. Those who reject me are clearly not the right fit. It’ll take a while, but eventually you may just find your people: your tribe that champions your vibe. Don’t settle for those who ‘overlook’ or dampen your flames.

Although I am speaking on behalf of individuals with disabilities, I can tell you why not creating an open and accepting workplace can be a detriment to all workers: you never know what will happen in the future. I’m not just talking physical difficulties, but also battles with mental health. Instilling a positive organisational culture, and not just on the visible surface, but underneath in the invisible behind-the-scenes day-to-day running, will promote and keep business strong. There are so many ingrained perceptions and assumptions that are still barriers to people gaining the meaningful employment they desire and deserve.

So, I challenge you today. Start a conversation with someone you know, a family member/work colleague/that person you always mean to get around to, but don’t. Ask them, genuinely (I’ll know if it’s not sincere), how they are, and be open and willing to share something of yourself. Too often I have found that by sharing something I have been through, it is only then others are willing to do the same. I know it’s tricky, and could be asking a lot, but if we don’t start communicating, we may never develop the compassion and understanding that is needed for everyone to be their best selves.

You are your own advocate, so take charge of that. Honestly, as corny as it sounds, be the change you want to see.

Start talking, and please let me know if there are any other topics you want me to discuss or experiences you want me to share!

Fingers crossed I’ll see you again,

Eloise Dibden

 

If you would like to be interviewed or offer your thoughts on a recent event, book or article, please contact our Editor In Chief, Michael Bidwell, at mbidwell@mccullough.com.au

Interview | Anne-Marie Cade (Divorce Right)

Anne-Marie Cade launched Divorce Right with the aim of making the divorce process smoother, kinder and less painful and keeping families out of court. She works with couples to empower them to reach a peaceful, amicable separation and stay out of the family court as she believes this approach will ensure a positive outcome for the family.

She won the Thought Leader of the Year award at the 2017 Women in Law Awards and was a finalist in the Sole Practitioner category and was also shortlisted for the Women in Law Excellence Award. In 2016 she won in the individual category at the Lexis Nexis & Janders Dean Legal Innovation Awards and was a finalist in 2015.

Sophie Tversky (TLF) recently asked Anne-Marie some questions below!

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We’ve read that you studied in Colombo, what cultural differences underpin market changes? What differences have you noticed in innovation in Colombo and Australia?

The legal profession in Sri Lanka is steeped in tradition and this is partly because of the very conservative nature of the profession. The younger lawyers in Sri Lanka are accepting of innovation and the changes that come with it but it will be a very slow and gradual process before it changes the practice of the law in Sri Lanka.

What does legal innovation in the family law sector mean to you and how did you know Divorce Right filled a gap in the industry?

In the course of my practice I noticed the dissatisfaction among clients particularly in regards to the approach to family law. It is almost from a sense of fear that they would make that call to a family lawyer if they were considering divorce as they feared that  it would cost them a lot of money that they would be billed for every call they made and every question they asked and furthermore they were dissatisfied with the adversarial approach to resolving family law disputes.

I am dedicated to changing the perception of how people divorce as a community and as a country and I encourage couples to work together with a mediator to resolve their disputes.

So it’s all about the approach I adopt when dealing with my clients and expressing empathy, compassion and seeing the problem thorough my client’s eyes. This is an under cultivated ability for lawyers. To really take the time to listen to the clients and understand the emotional under belly of what they are saying.

I have a vision and purpose to help people move on so when I work with a client I encourage them to look at the bigger picture, their goals and needs going forward and make decisions that will work for the family moving forward. I see divorce not just as a legal problem but an issue that has legal, emotional and financial implications. I adopt a holistic approach to the way I approach my client’s problem.

How is technology facilitating greater understanding/empathy with clients?

When people, particularly millennial clients, need to see a lawyer and even if they receive a referral from a friend for a lawyer, they will “google” the lawyer first before calling them. They will check out the website, the social media profile and make a decision as to whether they want to hire that lawyer or not. Lawyers can use technology/ social media to interact with their clients, to humanise the law and build trust so that clients will engage them when they do need a lawyer. Lawyers can also do this by blogging and providing people with good content, legal information freely. This is another way of building trust with members of their community.

Clients are now more empowered and want to be always kept informed about where their matter is at. Client portals are very useful as all information regarding a client’s matter can be stored on the portal and will be easily accessible to the client 24/7.

DivorceRight provides spouses with a ‘support team’ including: lawyers, financial advisors, mediators and counsellers, but the process is primarily driven by the spouses. In what way do you think ‘party led’ processes will inform other practice areas of law?

Lawyers may not always have all the answers to their client’s problems. They can come together with other professionals to work collaboratively. When this approach is taken higher order and complex problems can be solved by getting the insight needed from other professionals and disciplines other than pure law. This approach can be helpful in other areas of the law as well not just family law.

As accessibility is a key part of your platform, how do you ensure that you achieve a work/life balance particularly given the growing expectation of people to obtain information instantaneously?

I don’t believe in a work/ life balance as such. I believe in work life integration. Work/life balance creates almost a sense of competition between the two elements. Whereas when you integrate your work life with your home life, this approach creates more synergies between all areas of your life such as work, home/family, community, personal well-being, and health. I think this a far healthier approach to adopt.

However success will be about seamlessly integrating your work life with your personal life rather than keeping work and self/family at bay (balance).

Do you think innovation will change adversarialism?

I think what is really disruptive is changing HOW we practice as lawyers. We need to be more client focused and see problems from our client’s perspective. It also means adopting a more collaborative approach and seeking alternative means of dispute resolution. We need to create the perception that lawyer culture is changing. And when people notice that lawyers are behaving differently and practicing differently it will change the narrative of what it means to be a lawyer.

It’s important that in order to practice in this way it’s not enough for lawyers to merely subscribe to this vision but rather to act consistently with it.

What is your greatest learning in your legal career thus far?

Personalize the experience for your clients and they will love you for it.

What is your creative outlet/de-stresser?

Spending time with family, listening to music, going to the movies.

What is your legal forecast for dispute resolution?

Alternative means of dispute resolution and collaboration

 

If you would like to be interviewed or offer your thoughts on a recent event, book or article, please contact our Editor In Chief, Michael Bidwell, at mbidwell@mccullough.com.au

Interview | Ian Goddard (Yarris)

Ian Goddard is a man of many talents. He transitioned from senior partner of a prominent corporate law firm to delving into the world of entrepreneurship and technology, founding Yarris Pty Ltd, where he is the CEO.

Yarris develops cloud-based technologies to simplify workflow processes, working across many sectors, and managing well over $1 billion dollars of services each year, including legal services,  telco construction and insurance. In legal, ‘Dazychain’ manages legal operations for in-house counsel, and ‘Legal Panel Gateway’ is the system for government legal departments.

Ian has served as chairman or director on various public, private and Government boards. His career shows his passion for developing new and better processes for commerce and work.

Sophie Tversky (TLF) was very fortunate to gain the below wisdom from Ian!

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What is one word to describe your approach to life?

Happy (and persistent).

Throughout your career you have embraced change, as reflected by your career shifts from corporate law to founding a business incubator, which then led to Yarris Pty Ltd and Dazychain. How important is adaptability and what has this looked like in your life?

Absolutely essential. Like it or not, life and circumstances are constantly changing, and we can adapt, or give up and die. I think adapting and changing is fun, it keeps life interesting. I would hate to be forever static and unchanging.

Over the years, I, just like others, have necessarily adapted through being younger, poorer, older, richer, single, married, divorced, married and a parent. In work I’ve changed from a builder’s labourer, a factory worker, a boat charter operator, a junior lawyer, a partner, a company chairman to a technology CEO.

In most changes I was untrained, and I just ‘learned on the job’. I think the difference between successful people and less successful people is that some people learn to adapt quickly as their circumstances change, and others don’t adapt well and repeat mistakes. With hindsight, I would have sought out more training or paid more attention to the training that I was given so that I could have adapted faster.

Very often change is uncharted, painful and/or scary and you don’t really know how you are going to adapt, but you always do, hopefully. For example, coping with a little daughter with asthma for the first time, managing a cash crisis in business or having to terminate staff in a downsizing. The experiences are vital for learning how to do them the next time.

Of course, good changes are easy to deal with. Signing off on a big deal, getting married, winning an award, these don’t take any resilience to manage. The good changes are easy, but I wonder how much we learn from them.

Throughout your career, you have striven to give back to the community. Are the changing legal landscape and the new generational mixes in organisations changing the concept of corporate responsibility?

The concepts certainly have changed.

I think there’s a greater emphasis on more formalised philanthropy, and corporates now are supposed to operate corporate social responsibility programmes if they want to be seen as good citizens. So to that extent, the willing volunteer has plenty of opportunities to sleep rough or run  marathons to raise money for charity.

What has interested me more is being part of the leadership creating these programmes or managing the organisations that are involved. I think there’s still plenty of opportunity to be involved, but the landscape has changed. The people who get the jobs are more formally qualified now and there is more competition to win those roles. The bar has been raised by a number of factors.

  • A number of high profile cases have illustrated the risks of being a director. Enterprises want directors who are skilled and can manage risk.
  • There is a trend for non- executive directors to be qualified with the AICD.
  • Aspirant directors commonly see their path to commercial boards as starting with a not for profit organisation, so there is more competition for those places.
  • Also, with the very justifiable emphasis on diversity, the path to directorships has broadened for women and narrowed for men.

There is a lot of discussion regarding 21st century skills for legal graduates. In your transition from corporate law to technology, what skills have you found essential and transferable? Additionally, what new skills have you had to learn?

Initially, when I jumped from law to business, I thought I was pretty well equipped for it. I was partly right.

The skills of mastering a brief, making presentations, leading a team, understanding finance, dealing with clients and generally knowing how to get on with people were really useful. Many lawyers I know feel they don’t have the skills to move into business, and they looked longingly at their colleagues who did make the jump. The fact of the matter is, they could move, but they risked a good income.

Lawyers should take heart, they possess valuable and sophisticated skills that many workers lack.

However, there were, and still are, skills that I have to work at. I think a couple of decades as a lawyer did not help me to be a great manager. I’m not particularly good at setting goals for staff and monitoring them in a systematic and disciplined way.

My biggest learning was that in my former role as a lawyer, the longer I worked and the more hours I billed the better. However, that attitude is utterly wrong in business. I now try to involve others and delegate as much as possible. I don’t win plaudits from doing the work, I win plaudits for the results. I still have to strive to be mindful of this. I find that habits I learned early in my career are very hard to change.

How do you think delivery of legal services will continue to change?

Here are my guesses.

Law will be a lot like retail. That is, in the total shopping mix, some purchases will be made at the store, but online is more convenient and cheaper for many everyday things.  Similarly, some legal services will require face to face and bespoke, but many needs will be satisfied with cheaper pre-packaged and online services.

Law firms will have fewer staff, but more highly skilled staff.

Specialisation will be essential for successful private practice. Only specialists, assisted by the right technology, will satisfy customers who want formulaic service delivery, at a good price, with great service.

Technology will continue to improve productivity. E- discovery has been mainstream for a while, and we will see growth in automated contracts, smart contracts, automated workflow systems and blockchain.

More lawyers will provide their services in an in-house capacity.

In-house lawyers will use not just their legal skills but also operational and business skills. Their roles will increase in importance.

In-house jobs will be well paid, but not at the levels of current private practice partners.

One might think the Bar should prosper with high calibre junior barristers able to provide their services more cheaply than their high-priced solicitor brethren. However, my guess is that the Bars’ conservatism and some archaic practices will impede them. Combine that with society’s aversion to expensive litigation, and quality competition from law firms, and I think the Bars will inevitably shrink, although there will always be an important  place for skilled specialist advocates and criminal specialists.

There will always be a highly paid demand for lawyers who are great negotiators and advisors who can navigate their clients around society, business, government.

In your opinion, is there a difference between the state of change in government and corporate sectors and how do you approach working with each?

Yes, I do think there is a difference.

Corporates have a definite edge in innovation because they are more nimble. In fact, even the historically bureaucratic big corporates are investing in startups and new practices. Finance and insurance companies recognise that cheap specialist competitors will probably destroy their old business practices. They are seeking to stay relevant by pouring money into fintech startups. Mining companies are challenged with lower profits and an imperative to reduce costs, and Australian miners are world leaders in adopting new mining technologies.

Government has huge needs – to reduce expenses and try to balance their budgets, provide desperately needed services to people with disabilities and to fund the rapidly aging population, to name just a few imperatives. Government needs innovation and technology more than any other sector. However, given the inherent bureaucracy and the low quality of political leadership, government badly lags the corporate sector in innovation. There has been good policy work on innovation done in theory, but much less achieved in practice.

Having said that, our experience, as vendors of innovative products is that at the end of the day it is ordinary humans make the decisions to innovate or not. Whilst most people favour change and improvement in principle, in practice they often are too busy just coping, or worrying about their kids, to spend the time and energy to learn how to do something differently. ‘If it ain’t broke don’t fix it’, it’s good enough to get by.

In all cases there is a couple of constants – expert change management makes the difference between a successful launch and a failed IT project.

Also, in all organisations public and private, if you want to innovate you need to find the powerful champion who can make it happen.

 In creating your products, how do you balance innovation with increasing privacy/cybersecurity issues?

I don’t find that an issue. The privacy and security requirements are a given, they must be met, so we meet them and develop products within those requirements.

The consequence is that those requirements might mean that we invest time and money in meeting new requirements imposed by our customers instead of focussing on new developments.

It’s worth noting that every year the requirements are more onerous. I expect the coming European changes will add yet another degree of complexity.

 

If you would like to be interviewed or offer your thoughts on a recent event, book or article, please contact our Editor In Chief, Michael Bidwell, at mbidwell@mccullough.com.au