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Kara Bramham

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     KARA BRAMHAM

“You have to prove yourself as a young lawyer. You have to show that you’re not overly emotionally involved, that you’re tough and you’re switched on.”

I am a Lawyer.

My dad is a lawyer, so I’ve always been fascinated with his work. I loved legal studies at school, so after high school I went straight into law at Deakin University to follow in my dad’s footsteps. I did a double degree in Commerce and Law, which was great for me, as the Commerce aspect broke up the tediousness of the law subjects.

Studying law was a lot tougher than I imagined;  memorizing cases and learning how to apply principles in case law and sections within legislation to facts. There were a few times where I thought about giving up on law studies and pursuing Commerce alone, but I stuck with it. I finally graduated from both degrees in 2013.

In my last two years of uni, I was also working at Slater and Gordon Lawyers, in the New Client Services department. Basically, I worked in their main call centre, taking calls from new potential clients.

My job was to either screen them in or screen them out.

As Slater & Gordon specialize mainly in personal injury law, I would talk to the client and find out what their issue was – the date and details of the injury. Then I’d have to make a decision whether they had a viable case, based on circumstances, timing and seriousness of injury.

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So it was a pretty responsible role, as I was deciding whether or not a person could be compensated for their injury and losses. Slater and Gordon gave a lot of training to people doing this job – I remember I underwent weeks of training before I started.

Most people in that role were law students – that was a pre-requisite for getting the job.

It’s not easy getting a job in the legal industry, so it helped that I had also been babysitting for the CEO for some time prior to that. This is how I got referred to the firm.

I chose not to work in my dad’s firm, as I really wanted a bit of separation and to achieve things independently. It’s nice to know that the option is always there though.

I worked in the client services role for over three years. Then I was promoted to a legal assistant. HR approached me and said they thought now that I’d graduated, I was better qualified to a more responsible position.

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In that role I got to work on actual active files of the clients who have been screened in. I got involved with the whole process: research, courts – everything to do with litigation. There was a lot more responsibility and I was working directly with the lawyers. I did things like draft up letters, draft and file Court documents, spoke to clients to get information.

I was also meant to apply to get admitted that same year, in 2014, but then I took a slight detour…

A colleague from work entered me into the TV show The Bachelor Australia.

I went to the audition and got a place on the show, which took up the next year and a bit of my life, if you include all the media attention and things that came after the show.

Slater and Gordon allowed me the time off, but they were pretty strict on how I was allowed to behave and what I could say during the show. I couldn’t disclose what firm I worked for, etc.

It was a pretty crazy experience.

The show took about four months to do. I got to the top 9 contestants in the Bachelor. It was pretty tough at times. You get locked down in isolation for months with no phone, television, newspapers – nothing. I could call my family for about five minutes on loud speaker once a fortnight. Despite making friends with the girls in the house, it got pretty lonely at times, and towards the end I felt like I was going crazy. I was pretty relieved to go home to normality in the end.

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Luckily, I was able to take up where I left off at work, and Slater & Gordon placed me into another legal assistant role on my return. I continued working, and also went to College of Law to do my Practical Legal Training, which is the final step you have to do to get admitted as a lawyer.

One of the requirements of PLT is that you have to get seventy-five days’ work experience under the direct supervision of a lawyer in a law firm, which is what I got at Slater & Gordon.  That lawyer is now a barrister, and he was a really fantastic teacher – I learnt a lot from him.

I finally graduated from College of Law in 2015, and was admitted in November that year as a lawyer. My dad admitted me as a solicitor, which was really nice.

Once I was admitted, I continued working at Slater and Gordon, this time as a legal researcher at one of their subsidiaries, Nowicki Carbone. It was a firm that Slater and Gordon had bought, and my job consisted of helping with the merger, but mainly doing legal research for a TV show that they ran, called The PI Law Show.

There were two fortnightly themed episodes; so you could have an episode dealing with public liability law, worker’s compensation law etc.

My job was to make up episode packs tailored to each episode. I’d have to do the research and include things like interesting news articles, interesting cases related to the theme and relevant legislation. Then I’d distribute the packs to all the partners and the guests of the show. It was a lot of work, but a lot of fun, too.

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However, I was growing frustrated, as I still wasn’t a lawyer, even though I’d been admitted.

Like a lot of people, I found it tough finding work as a lawyer. It was extremely competitive.

I’d been working for Slater & Gordon for four years by then, but they still didn’t have a lawyer job to offer me. At the time, they had significantly cut their graduate program, so a graduate position wasn’t available to me. And though I liked working for them, I realized that I couldn’t wait around for an opportunity that may not come.

My dad’s firm was still an option, but I really wanted to do my own thing and get ahead on my own.

So I found a job as an in-house lawyer with a construction company.

It turned out to be really challenging. The company was not good at paying its bills – in fact, they hardly ever did. They had a lot of court actions commenced against them. But rather than pay those, they hired me and essentially said, “Find a way for us not to pay these”.

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I didn’t like that at all, as I was doing something I didn’t agree with, and didn’t see as conscientious. After a couple months, I realized I needed to get out of there and started looking for another job. I secured an interview at Flitner & Company in Greensborough, and got the job. This was almost a year ago.

It’s not an easy job, and it can be really challenging and exhausting – but I feel like I’m learning a lot here, and I’m really enjoying the work and the company.

Flitner & Co is a general law practice, we handle most types of cases. I’ve worked on a lot of family law files, criminal law files, breach of contracts, building disputes. I’ve worked on a couple of personal injury files, which I love because that’s my background from Slater & Gordon.

Mainly though, I work on family law files, which can be quite tough, especially when there are children involved.

You see a lot of messy situations, where separated couples can get really bitter and nasty to each other, and at times use their kids as weapons.

I am learning that the best thing to do as a lawyer is to remove yourself from the emotional side of the situation, and avoid becoming too emotionally involved with the clients, as otherwise you lose your ability to analyze or appropriately represent them. It’s hard to do that without getting completely  jaded, but the good lawyers find a balance.

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That’s something that I’ve had to work on pretty hard because I’m generally a pretty sympathetic and empathetic person. It’s hard not to engage in conversations where clients talk about their bad day, especially with family law, because you start to become one of their closest and best friends, someone seen as being able to save people from a bad situation.

I have also done a bit of criminal law here, which I was surprised to enjoy.

Ironically enough, that’s the type of law I found I can disconnect from the most, as the legislation there is what I find easiest to follow. Criminal law is probably the most black and white area of law, and that appeals to me as I’ve always been quite a structured, “numbers” person.

I really enjoy mathematics and accounting, which is unusual for a lawyer.

But that’s why Criminal Law, being so logical to me, is kind of exciting. It’s tidy, it’s clear: you don’t get a lot of that in law!

My partner is actually a Victorian Police Officer. That can be tricky sometimes, coming home and talking about our jobs. We have to be discreet of course, but even in general conversations, we’re looking at things from opposite sides: he’s trying to get people arrested and prosecuted, and I’m defending. It can get a bit tense!

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But I really love it. I like the firm where I work, and the people I’m working with. I’ve gotten a lot of guidance and help from the Principal, senior lawyers and barristers.

But it’s different when dealing with lawyers from outside my firm.

What I have found, is that when you’re a young, junior lawyer without a heap of experience, there’s a lot of older, more experienced lawyers out there who will try and pry on you and put you at a disadvantage.

Basically, they will bully you and try to intimidate you, because they know you’re not as experienced, and hope that you will get scared or distracted from doing a good job for your clients that they’re working against.

Especially in family law, the other side can get very aggressive and belittle you, or accuse you of incompetence.

My boss is fantastic though. He supervises me, and so I’m able to come to him, or some of my colleagues, and ask for advice on how to deal with aggressive or unconscionable tactics.

In the legal industry, it really helps to network and build friendships with other lawyers and barristers. Then you can go out for drinks, or catch-up with people, and talk to them about your issues. This makes you feel better, because you find that everyone has been there. It’s reassuring to know that even though there’s a lot of bullying and aggressiveness in the legal industry, it’s not just aimed at you!

My dad is a help also. I talk to him, and he says:  “Don’t worry about it. They’re trying it on.  You know, they’re sizing you out.”

He has also warned me about judges giving young lawyers a hard time, and he was right about that too.

Judges are different than lawyers, obviously. I think judges see you as young and inexperienced, and they’re wary of you wasting your time. So they test you when you’re giving submissions in court. They might ask for really specific details, things like, “What section are you referring to? What case law do you have to support yourself?”

They know it’s such a competitive industry, so I guess they want to know that you’re working hard, and always prepared, that you’re deserving of being there.

You have to prove yourself as a young lawyer. You have to show that you’re not overly emotionally involved, that you’re tough and you’re switched on. And you might not have the same knowledge as an older lawyer, so you really have to compensate for that by paying attention to every single detail, you have to be extremely meticulous and know and follow the court rules and legislation.

I’ve had moments in court a couple of times, when I wasn’t 100% prepared or accurate.

It was excruciating. I remember representing a girl that ran a red light and smashed into another vehicle. My client was OK and the other driver had a slight back pain that had already subsided. The judge asked me if there were any injuries, and I said no. And the judge said, “Are you sure about that?” The way she said it, I knew I was in trouble! I said, “Please give me five minutes, your Honor, I’m just going to get some instructions.”

So you absolutely have to be prepared every single time, otherwise the judges see right through you. You can just tell by the way they’re addressing you, whether they think that you’re on the right track or not.

They’re clear geniuses.

It can be quite nerve wracking when you’re not, because judges can be really impatient. They have a lot on and they just don’t have time for irrelevant or incorrect things.

I meet new clients 2-3 times a week, get their information and instructions, their stories and what they are trying to achieve. I liaise with the other side, we try to negotiate.

The court is always the last resort.

We try to discourage people from going to court when they come in, all ready to fight.  Because it’s actually very ugly. It’s expensive and time consuming, it’s really stressful and nobody really wins when you have to go to court. It can take months, and often years, for court cases to be resolved, and it’s a huge drain of energy and happiness for all parties involved.

We will always try to first achieve an out of court settlement through mediation and negotiation.

I often tell my clients, “Court is very unreliable, it’s better to keep things within your own control by negotiating. It’s going to save you stress and money.”

Unfortunately, a lot of time people are too angry, they don’t listen and they take the risk and go to court.

I’m probably in court at least twice a week, which is unusual for a junior lawyer, but I am lucky that my boss trusts me with that responsibility. It’s a really great experience for me.

The rest of my time is spent preparing for hearings, researching legislation and case law, getting submissions in perfect order.

The best part of my job is when clients are happy with their outcome and the work you have done for them.

I get the satisfaction of feeling like I am good at my job and helping people achieve their goals, get some fairness. It’s nice to have clients express gratitude.

I also enjoy the organizational side of my work. I like working on a file, ensuring it’s tidy and up-to-date, with everything ready to go. Maybe that’s my “numbers” side coming out.

Eventually, I’d like to become a barrister, and go into chambers to receive briefs.

You need to build up a fair amount of experience first though, then you sit another exam and go to the bar. It’s a lot more court work. There’s less interaction with clients and a higher focus on the law itself.

On the other hand, a part of me thinks that I won’t practice forever. Look, I do enjoy my work, but it’s pretty tough, there is a lot of stress – more than I expected.  I don’t really enjoy the aggressive side of the legal profession, and there’s a lot of it out there. Like I mentioned before, I’ve always wanted to do something with numbers, so that could be a future avenue for me also.

Perhaps a law that’s less emotional: I have thought about doing tax law.

But I’m also open to doing something completely unrelated to law, like becoming an economist, which would involve starting over again – though I do have the commerce background and an economics major. I think I have these thoughts because I see the impact of stress on lawyers who have been practicing for years, and I’d like to one day settle down and have a family, and I’m not sure law is really a family-friendly profession.

But for now, I definitely want to stay in law and prove myself in this field. In law, your reputation is everything and especially in the legal profession, you get one shot.  My old supervisor used to tell me that you get one shot at having a good reputation in the legal field and if you do anything to tarnish that, it’s tarnished forever. So, I want to make sure I make the best of the shot I’ve got.




This post first appeared on What I Did / What I Do | Personal Experience Stori, please read the originial post: here

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