Episode 216 – Where Are They Now!
It has been almost 5 years since I kicked off this podcast and over those years I have met some really remarkable lawyers and something I am often asked is ‘where are they now!’ This week I decided to answer that question with 3 of my earliest guests on this show- Janelle Kerrisk, Mel Storey-Scott and Dugald Hamilton.
I interviewed Mel back in 2016 when she was working our at the Brisbane Airport. She now works in-house for a global technology company. She says, ‘The difference is like a cruise ship vs a jet ski!’. On a personal level, in our last interview, Mel was just about to enter into her first (and only) bodybuilding competition. She ended up in the top 6 however, the toll on her body sent her into a depression. She says, ‘I wasn’t a very happy lawyer after we last spoke, but I learnt a lot about my discipline, boundaries and what I wasn’t willing to put myself through.’
The last time we spoke in episode 82, Dugald was only a year into the 23Legal journey. So, now that we are a few years down the line Dugald, along with growing his firm, has become involved in the legal hackathon and shares his passion for risk management, technology, cybersecurity, disputes and mental health. He is growing his firm and says ‘I’m playing around with a lot of automation and some projects which will be disclosed soon!’
When we spoke on episode 14 with Janelle she had 1-year-old twin boys (who are now in grade one) and had just started Helix. ‘I would say I’m considerably more tired now, but my enthusiasm levels are still there and I still believe in doing law differently’ says Janelle. She has kicked some amazing goals including running an international arbitration, building a 3 city law firm and setting up online products just to name a few. She has also managed to scale while maintaining a niche market. Janelle says, ‘I do feel like I am working towards a meaningful purpose and it has been really beautiful to have that in my life over the last 5 years. ‘
These 3 lawyers are 3 of my favourites- they are all leaders and always have an interesting perspective on things so I decided they were the perfect bunch to bring together to tackle some of the big issues in our profession at the moment- mental health, the impact of COVID19 and workplace harassment and bullying. These are big topics but these 3 have so much to say that we can all learn from.
So, what is going well in this COVID climate we are experiencing? Well, Janelle has noticed an awakening through COVID in the legal sector which has proven that change is possible in the law. When Covid hit, Dugald was fortunate enough to hire a new staff member who had been let go from a large firm, who as a result has been able to learn about micro-firms and increase his knowledge base as he assists Dugald at 23Legal. ‘From the general legal population, we are starting to see lawyers re-evaluate their career paths. They are starting to question the long hours and are starting to value their home life more’. Mel added, ‘I also feel like the walls just came down. When everyone was home we saw the full human experience and I don’t think we realise how valuable that was.’
In contrast, there are always things that don’t go so well. Dugald shares a funny story about ‘Dropbox’ and the long way to go we have law-land when it comes to embracing change. ‘The mental health aspect of COVID and the way in which it is portrayed is becoming a massive issue’ says Dugald. Mel says, ‘I think we are having a ‘me too’ moment in the legal profession, in that we are starting to uncover what we knew was actually going on. It is disturbing, but it is ultimately for the better, although it may be uncomfortable.’ We then dive deep into a conversation around the responsibility of law firms and the generational changes we have seen as the law catches up to the expectations of society within this space.
All of this change in the law has led to a positive uptake in expectations. ‘There is a new generation of lawyers who are willing to stand up and have a voice’ says Janelle. ‘The clients are also expecting better lawyers and better practices within our firms’ says Dugald. There are so many more young women who are coming through law and the definition of success has also shifted within the industry. ‘At some point, the gold stars are not enough. There is no meaning’ says Mel. Students are starting to see that there are different pathways into the law and the re-framing of conversations that are required in Educational Institutions. There is no right way to do the law and the pathways are opening up drastically.
‘The very first conversations I heard around the value of happiness in the law came from you (Clarissa) and I realised it was ok for me to want to be happy’ shares Janelle ‘Now I base a lot of my law-land existence around that concept.’ The science of happiness proves it leads to a longer life, better decision making, calmer people, it is contagious. Clarissa says, ‘When we think about what you want for our kids want in life – its happiness. We need to value that ourselves if we want that for the people closest to us in life.’ Happiness also makes you a better lawyer! ‘The selling point to law firms is – Happiness Pays’ says Dugald and goes on to explain this concept. ‘When we talk about diversity, it is about the diversity of thought, experience and patterns which leads to growth’ says Mel.
We switch topics to client-centric law firms, innovation and if they can be combined in legal practice. The answer – yes! ‘When we think about innovation we are thinking about adding value, and it’s not just tech-led solutions’ says Mel, ‘we need to think about the client, come from a place of empathy and ask how we can add value.’ Clarissa then brought out a bedazzled tissue box, which led to a conversation around comfort and safety for a client. ‘This is where technology, innovation and even a tissue-box can bring people back to a level where they can make comprehensive decisions about their future’ says Dugald.
Finally, we are lucky enough to get three happiness tips. ‘Have conversations’ says Janelle ‘listen to people outside of your box, reach out and make the decisions that are right for you.’ ‘The biggest thing I have learnt is to be kind to yourself. You’ve got to be led from a place of love for yourself and give yourself some slack- you’re doing an awesome job’ says Mel. Dugald rounds up by saying, ‘Be you. If you are not authentically who you are, you will never be happy.’