Episode 4 20 May 2021
The 5 ways every lawyer can serve
Principal lawyer, Geraldine Grace | Host, New Earth lawyer podcast
In this mini-episode, I talk about the 5 ways every lawyer can be of service, available to EVERY practising lawyer wherever and however and for whomever you work.
Being of service makes us more than good lawyers, it makes us great lawyers.
Martin Luther King, Jr. said, ‘Everyone has the power for greatness – not for fame but greatness – because greatness is determined by service.’ All you need to serve, he said, is 'a heart full of grace and a soul generated by love'.
Being of service is the way toward deep personal fulfilment which will lead to better wellbeing, better mental health and better relationships with yourself and everyone in your life.
I am an experienced corporate lawyer, using the law to build purposeful, human-centred, Earth-friendly legal enterprises & ecosystems, for happier humans and a better planet.
I am also the founder and host of the New Earth lawyer podcast.
I am based in Melbourne, Australia, and an expert in enterprise governance, purpose, business & human rights and modern slavery. I established my own law practice Geraldine Grace in 2020, focussing on enterprises seeking purpose, and actors in the impact economy.
I am a legal advisor to a number of not-for-profits with a national reach in impact and purpose. I work with Boards to optimise performance and help enterprises embed purpose and integrate human rights into their business.
I have over 20 years' experience practising law in Australia, the UK, Hong Kong and mainland China. I have worked for large global and Australian law firms and was a partner of a top-tier Australian law firm for several years.
I sit on the peak governing body of Australia's largest university.
[1:14] According to Martin Luther King, Jr., service is what makes us great.
[2:49] Every lawyer can be of service, not just those working in specific areas.
[3:15] Service is not the same as sacrifice.
[4:37] First, honour the law.
[6:46] Secondly, appreciate your client.
[9:04] Thirdly, respect your fellow lawyers.
[10:24] Fourthly, value the opportunity to learn.
[11:23] Finally, cherish the opportunity to teach.
A delightful short article on Martin Luther King, Jr.'s full quote about service, greatness and what it takes to serve, from his Drum Major Instinct speech in Atlanta, Georgia two months before he was killed.
More on MLK's Drum Major Instinct speech from the Martin Luther King, Jr. Institute at Stanford University.
Hello, everyone, and welcome to the new earth lawyer, a podcast that features lawyers who are changing the practice of law to change the world.
My name is Geraldine Johns-Putra. I'm a lawyer based in Melbourne, Australia. Today, I wish to talk about the concept of service and the ways in which a lawyer can be of service.
When I talk about service, I don't just mean how well a lawyer services a particular client. This is important, of course, but client service is really just one of several ways in which a lawyer serves. I am talking instead about service in a broader sense, serving the community, the collective, serving the whole, as well as individual clients.
One of the most eloquent speakers on service was Martin Luther King, Jr. who happens to be one of my personal heroes. He said, everyone has the power for greatness, not for fame, but greatness. Because greatness is determined by service. And all you need to serve, he said, is a heart full of grace, and a soul generated by love.
When we practise as lawyers, how many times do we think of grace and love for humanity, as we go about our days. The answer should be as often as possible, because if we do that, we'll be not just good lawyers, we will be great lawyers. We'll be being of service. And that is really the way towards deep personal fulfilment, which will lead to better wellbeing, better mental health, and better relationships with yourself and with everyone in your life. At a time when our profession is facing into stark numbers of us who are suffering from poor mental health, and problems with our wellbeing, this is as important as ever.
This ability to be truly of service is not just reserved for lawyers who are working in a specific area, or who are working for a not for profit organisation, or those who are advising pro bono clients. The point I want to make here is that this is available to every practising lawyer, wherever and however, and for whomever you work.
And there's one other thing I want to say about service, which is that living a life of service, it's not the same as living a life of sacrifice. When you live in service, it's your responsibility to first know, and to love yourself well, so that you can stay true to your values. And you can discern how and when you need to put yourself first. Because that's an important act of self love.
If you're giving of yourself to the detriment of your mental, your physical, your emotional, or your spiritual health, that is neither wise nor loving, because that usually is going to come from a place of fear. For example, the fear that you're not good enough, or the fear that you won't be loved if you don't please others.
When you live in service, on the other hand, you are automatically replenished because the source of your motivation is love. And I mean love of the true and pure kind. Right, so what are the ways in which every lawyer can serve?
Well, the first is to honour the law. Remember that you are a lawyer. Your paramount duty is to the administration of justice, to make sure justice is done according to the law. Laws are what holds our society together. Things work because of laws, things run because of laws. Without laws, and without justice according to laws, 7.8 billion of us on this planet, we wouldn't be able to live in harmony. So our responsibility as lawyers is to make sure that laws are observed by everyone, and that they operate justly, fairly and reasonably.
And more than that, as lawyers, we know how it all works. It doesn't matter if we're talking about government regulations, or advising people through a divorce, or deciding what's going to go into a contract, or running a trial. We know how the law should work in each situation. And that means we have a big responsibility, and we should be mindful of it.
What it also means is that law is a vocation. And that word comes from the Latin, meaning to call. So law is a calling. It's a calling to specific individuals who agree to come to the profession, to administer justice and uphold the law. So our duty is to ensure that society functions so that everyone is looked after. And we should be proud to have been called to this vocation, and we should discharge our duty humbly. We are part of something very important.
After justice and the law, our next important act of service is to clients. Now, of course, we all know how important the lawyer-client relationship is. In private practice especially, as lawyers, we have it drummed into us that we need to serve clients well, make sure they're happy.
But serving a client is about more than viewing the client transactionally ,you know, just as a source of revenue, who you must please at all costs. Instead, I see serving a client as meaning protecting their interests, which also means appreciating who they are as human beings, their needs, their fears when they're coming to you with a legal problem, which means listening to them, really listening to them.
It means recognising perhaps that they might need help of the non-legal kind with their problem. And then making sure that any solution we offer them is the best one for their needs, stepping back if need be and looking at the overall picture.
I recently had my biggest lesson in client service, when I was working with a client in the Indigenous services sector. And I thought I was being respectful, I thought I was considering the client's needs. And I approached the legal issues with care and I brought my years of experience to it. But I wasn't really listening to the client. And I wasn't really understanding the client's needs. The client was, as I said, an Indigenous service provider. And they were working in an environment where every step and every process has to deeply respect the Indigenous way of doing things. And my Western legal training was really only part of the solution. The rest, in fact, was about me just shutting up, listening and learning from my client. It was very rewarding work.
Thirdly, after the law, and after clients, respect your fellow lawyers. This is an act of service. Look upon them as your comrades, your companions in the endeavour to uphold the law. Whether they are colleagues or they're on the other side of a dispute or a transaction, they're human beings too. And they also are searching for a solution for their client. And the solution that they're looking for, necessarily involves you and your client. So it's not a battle or a competition. It's a journey that you're all taking together.
Some lawyers think that by being arrogant or intimidating they're being a good lawyer, but what they're actually doing is causing damage to themselves to the client to the profession. and I would argue to the law. We've all met these types of lawyers, and I would urge you not to be one of them, not even to be tempted to.
Fourthly, value the opportunity to learn. And as I said earlier, law imparts to lawyers, extremely valuable knowledge. And it also teaches us skills, skills that are relevant and skills that are really quite remarkable. And these include the ability to think analytically, to use logic and reason so that it becomes second nature to us, to identify issues with some speed, to apply systems and structures to quite complex problems, and so on and so forth. And the knowledge and the skills that we obtain aren't so we can hoard them, or show them off, or exploit them for our own gain. When we obtain knowledge, it's actually an opportunity, and I would say a sacred opportunity, to be better lawyers for the benefit of everyone, not just ourselves.
Finally, an act of service that every lawyer can partake in, is to cherish the opportunity to teach. The senior lawyers from my past that I remember, and I'm really most grateful to are those who took the time to teach me. Now, when I teach and I train younger lawyers, what I'm doing is gifting to them what was gifted to me. And it's a tradition, it's a hallowed tradition. It's an opportunity I'm giving to others to serve better, to be great. Which is really quite an honour.
So those are the five ways in which a lawyer can serve every lawyer can serve.
So I'd like you to imagine when you go to work tomorrow, when you are commuting to the office, or you're sitting down at your desk, how much better will you feel reflecting before you start the day, and even at key moments during it, how you are serving? How much lighter, how much more joyful will you be in your heart, much more satisfied you will feel from a deeper place. Even when you fill in your timesheet, at the end of the day, if you have to do this, if you're in private practice, see it as evidence of your service. Not how much closer to your billable target you're going to be. Even though it might be that too.
Stand tall, be proud to be a lawyer, never feel ashamed to say you're a lawyer. You and me and every practising lawyer, we have a big job to do. One that goes beyond the billable hours and the titles and the bonuses and the performance reviews. We are going to be great lawyers.
Now if you have other ways in which you serve as a lawyer, or you just want to express your thoughts on this episode, please feel free to leave a comment on the New Earth lawyer website or on on one of the social media pages of the New Earth lawyer or you can even drop me a message privately on one of my social media channels. I'd love to hear from you.
In the meantime, stay well. Until the next time, take care of yourself and get busy serving.