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What’s it really like to be a lawyer?

We’re often led to have a romanticised perception of the law industry, thanks to the flair of television law dramas – we’re looking at you, Judge Judy. However, while keeping up with Law and Order: SVU might spark a passion for justice in you, Phoebe Blank, a top Deakin Law graduate explains that real practice is vastly different from the dramatics of television.

Long hours, frantic deadlines, and developing a thick skin are all part of the job, says Phoebe, who is currently working as a Senior Associate Lawyer at MinterEllison. She has a solid foot in the profession and recognises the highs and lows of the industry. Here, she shares her observations and insights of what it’s really like to work as a lawyer.

What led you to becoming a lawyer?

‘I always knew I wanted to be a lawyer because I liked the idea of being the voice for someone who couldn’t be heard. I also enjoyed Law & Order probably a bit too much, and of course, real practice is nothing like the court rooms on television!

‘I always liked maths and English as subjects. In maths there is only one answer but there may be multiple ways to get to that answer. In English, there are many different ways to argue a point of view and generally not just one answer. Being a lawyer is very much finding a way to argue your client’s point and matters can be resolved not just through a Judge but also through alternative dispute resolution. I liked alternative dispute resolution because parties are able to resolve matters not just on a question of law, but on what they genuinely want as a resolution.’

What does an average day look like for you?

‘An average day involves getting up at 5:30am and getting to the gym before heading into the office to start the day at about 8am. MinterEllison provides staff with a gym membership which I think is great to look after staff wellness. Particularly important because once in the office – the work doesn’t stop!

‘I generally receive work from a partner which may involve drafting a response for an employer with respect to an unfair dismissal or a general protections application. At around 11am, I might pop out with a colleague to get a coffee – a much needed caffeine fix for the rest of the day.

‘Usually, I work through lunch, however if our firm has a workplace law seminar at lunch then I will attend that and get the latest updates in employment law. Then I’m straight back to work, which may involve attending the Fair Work Commission for a bullying application, or meeting with a client to receive instructions on a new or existing matter.

‘I generally leave the office around 6pm and sometimes I take my laptop home to continue working. Or, on a Friday, I might attend the firm’s Friday night drinks and talk to other lawyers in different practice groups.’

'I always knew I wanted to be a lawyer because I liked the idea of being the voice for someone who couldn't be heard.'

Phoebe Blank,
Graduate, Deakin University

What do you love most about your job?

‘I love that the work is complex and challenging. While I don’t always appreciate being under pressure, I can see myself becoming a better lawyer as time goes on. I strongly believe that if something doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you – and my aim is to keep getting better.

‘I also love the team and the wealth of knowledge that is collectively within our group. I enjoy talking with other members in the team about a problem and the various ways to solve it.’

What are some of the challenges of your job?

‘Managing work flow and deadlines is definitely the hardest. Particularly when we receive instructions last minute and it’s all hands on deck. It’s good being in a big team where we can readily pull in additional resources when needed.

‘It’s also challenging dealing with different styles of different partners, but this is managed by open communication and checking in with the partner as to their preference.

‘Otherwise, the other challenge can be the long hours.’

What are the necessary skills required in your job?

‘Resilience – the ability to recover quickly from difficulty. Being a lawyer has definitely taught me not to take anything too personally and to never lose my spirit, which can be difficult when work is overwhelming and stressful. It’s important to have a thick skin when dealing with a difficult client or opposing solicitor.

‘Attention to detail is also very important, as well as an inquisitive mind. If you genuinely enjoy what you are doing then you will do well in it!’

What school subjects and university qualifications fit this job?

‘Legal studies in VCE, to teach you about the foundation on which we have law in Australia. However, I did not study legal studies in Year 12 but thankfully Deakin’s first unit perfectly taught me the things I missed.

‘I also think English and Literature are important because these subjects teach you how to analyse language and that is particularly important with respect to interpretation issues in law.

‘Lastly, while not particularly relevant for a career in law, I do think it’s important that you learn a language. I undertook French. Knowing a second language is such a wonderful skill to have throughout life, and something that employers really value.’

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