Interviewer: Grant Klemm, Legal Research Assistant —Grant is a final year Bachelor of Laws/Bachelor of Arts (History) student at La Trobe University and currently works as a Legal Research Assistant.
What do you believe is a key challenge faced by employment law at the moment?
The way people work is changing. There is a fairly vigorous debate about who, or what, is driving this, but it is important that the law remains relevant and balances the need to protect individuals whilst encouraging innovation and entrepreneurialism.
Do you find that your role as an employment lawyer is primarily reactive or do you pursue opportunities to assist clients before issues arise?
A lot of it is reactive – many clients have a lot of internal capability, so will only seek external advice when matters escalate. Something I love about working at Justitia though is that we have many clients that are looking for opportunities to improve their workplaces, so that it is less about risk mitigation and more about “how can we do this better?”.
What do you find most rewarding about your role as an employment lawyer?
I love working with people, but I am also a law geek, so it satisfies both! I think what I find most rewarding is when I can help find a solution where relationships can be salvaged and people’s dignity remains intact. From that perspective, I enjoy exploring options for ADR and addressing issues early.
What roles have you worked in prior to coming to Justitia and how do you think it prepared you for a career in employment law?
I spent quite some time working in legal admin at top tier firms while travelling overseas, which gave me an extremely valuable insight into private practice – I realised quite early on that it wasn’t as glamourous as some people make it out to be! It also made me realise the type of firm, and practice, I wanted to work in, as well as the importance of work life balance. And, not to take anything personally!
What are you most proud of in your career to date?
Juggling motherhood and a successful career – for a while I thought I would have to choose one or the other. Given I am very lucky to love what I do, I am proud that (thus far!) I’ve been able to make it work. Although (at the risk of making this sound like an awards speech…) Justitia’s approach to “sustainable lawyering”, and my support network, make it possible.
What is the most common type of employment matter you work on?
At the moment I’m doing a lot of arbitrations and investigations, as well as general advisory work in relation to exiting employees and restructures. We’re also seeing a definite increase in anti-bullying applications.
How did you get involved in employment law?
I was fortunate enough that my training (and prior experience) gave me exposure to many different areas of law; I was able to tick some areas off (like M&A…) and confidently say they weren’t for me! I did a client secondment during my training contract that was primarily employment law and loved it – I like the human element and the fact that I am constantly being surprised by the things that come across my desk.
What was your most challenging case?
It’s funny, I know there have been many but I can only remember some of the more recent ones. There was one that involved an arbitration with individuals whose relationships had broken down irretrievably. It was messy, time consuming and at the conclusion, no one was particularly happy. In those circumstances it becomes more about damage limitation, which can become quite frustrating.
What do you like about being lawyer?
The mental stimulation, it’s also incredibly varied.
What do you hate?
What advice do you have for someone who wants to become an employment lawyer?
Like with any area of law, get any exposure to employment law practices that you can (although I appreciate that is easier said than done). Studying law and practicing law is very different. Although this job can be rewarding, it is also very challenging and requires some personal sacrifices. The incidence of mental health issues in the profession is also incredibly high. You need to enjoy it and it needs to be worth it.
What qualities do the organisations with good cultures usually have?
A set of values that are more than merely a marketing pitch. Rather they permeate everything the organisation does, and affect the way people are treated. It sounds fairly simple and cliched, but these organisations generally value their employees as people rather than simply figures on a spreadsheet.
Melissa Scadden is a Senior Associate at Justitia. Click here to view her profile.