Marguerite Picard

Episode 3   17 May 2021

Bringing a human touch to legal family disputes

Marguerite Picard collaborative divorce lawyer

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Bringing a human touch to legal family disputesMarguerite Picard
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Marguerite Picard

Director &  founder, MELCA

Collaborative divorce and family lawyer

Marguerite Picard is a collaborative family lawyer who thinks about divorce and all kinds of interpersonal disputes as problems best resolved by building common ground, rather than letting ‘law’ drive people further apart. She talks with me about her human-centred approach, how she looks for answers beyond the law and works with a team of psychologists, financial planners and other non-lawyers to bring a human touch to divorce and family disputes.

Bio

Show notes

Links

Transcript

Comments

Bio:

Marguerite Picard is a director of MELCA, which is a one-stop-collaborative-divorce-shop. MELCA is a thought leader in all things divorce and interdisciplinary practice. MELCA's documentary ‘Family is Family’ in which a number of wise souls speak about the many benefits of an interdisciplinary approach to divorce, sums up her approach. MELCA has won many awards and accolades and as of 2021 has offices in Brisbane and Sydney in addition to its Melbourne office.

Marguerite co-wrote, "Breaking Up Without Breaking Down", which talks about how a constructive approach to divorce pays dividends for everyone in a family. The central message of the book is about choosing your advisors wisely from the get-go, to avoid deepening conflict. It’s now in its third reprinting.

Marguerite's second business is Smart Separation. It was set up to give people a ‘diagnosis’, an action plan, referrals and some of the wisdom of my long years in practice. It is backed by the Smart Circle, her trusted network of professional associates built up through her legal lifetime.

 

Marguerite is also an Accredited Specialist Family Lawyer, Collaborative Practitioner, Mediator, Arbitrator and Collaborative Trainer. Before focussing on family law some 20 years ago, she worked in criminal law, property and commercial, and wills and estates.

Show notes:

  • [02:17] Marguerite talks about discovering collaborative practice and realising she could work with non-legal experts to deliver a better result for clients from traditional litigation.

  • [05:09] We talk about law and relationships. Law touches everything including relationships but lawyers claim territory in the realm of interpersonal relationships which we aren't trained for.

  • [07:54] Collaborative law promotes deep, actual resolution.

  • [10:25] We discuss MELCA's excellent documentary 'Family is Family' and how collaborative divorce law dramatically improves outcomes for children.  

  • [16:35] Lawyers can lead in the kind of innovation which improves things like access to justice, using our experience as a guide to what serves clients better.

  • [19:11] Marguerite explains how mediation as it is currently practised often does not offer clients solutions that allow them to express their views, as it is often driven by trying to meet two positions in the centre. 

  • [24:56] Marguerite gives us insight into how coming from a large family gave her an appreciation for resolving conflict in a way that serves justice.

  • [30:50] Marguerite talks about how important it is to believe in your instincts and make bold change.

  • [35:27] The pandemic has given us the opportunity to see that change is possible. 

  • [36:48] Marguerite's exciting new project is a 4-part documentary series that will reinvent the whole idea of separation from a human-centred design perspective.

Links:

MELCA:  www.melca.com.au

Smart Separation: www.smartseparation.com.au

'Family is Family' documentary produced by MELCA

'Breaking Up Without Breaking Down: Preserving your wealth, your health and your family', authored by Dr Tina Sinclair, Tricia Peters & Marguerite Picard 

Pauline Tesler, director of the Integrative Law Institute and collaborative law pioneer

Final report to the Family Court of Australia on The Children's Cases Pilot Project, by Jennifer McIntosh Ph.D, March 2006

 
 
 
Marguerite Picard quote about collaborative divorce and importance of child psychologists
 

Transcript: 

Geraldine  0:11  
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 and I am a lawyer based in Melbourne, Australia running my own law practice known as Geraldine Grace.

 

My guest today is Marguerite Picard, a collaborative lawyer. She is a founder and director of MELCA, a one-stop collaborative divorce centre. MELCA is a thought leader in all things divorce and interdisciplinary practice. It is an award-winning law firm originally based in Melbourne but now with Brisbane and Sydney offices. Marguerite has co-written a book, Breaking Up Without Breaking Down, which talks about how a constructive approach to divorce pays dividends for everyone in a family. It's now in its third reprinting.

She is also the owner of Smart Separation, a business set up to give people a process for separation. It's a sort of triage and referral system. It's backed by the Smart Circle, her trusted network of professional associates built up throughout her legal lifetime. Marguerite is an accredited specialist, family lawyer, collaborative practitioner, mediator, arbitrator and a collaborative trainer. Before she began focusing on family law some 20 years ago, and, might I say, achieving amazing impact in that area, she worked in criminal law, property and commercial and wills and estates. Marguerite, welcome, what a pleasure to have you on the podcast.

Marguerite  2:02  
Thank you, Geraldine, it's an absolute pleasure to take part.

 

Geraldine  2:06  
Now, I want to start with the whole concept of collaborative divorce. Tell us about it. Tell us how you came into it.

Marguerite  2:17  
Okay. The way I came into it was that I was really struggling in a standard legal practice, feeling like we weren't able to deliver what we promised, that in some ways, the whole litigation process was a bit of a charade. And, as in many other countries in the world, in our system, people start in the process, but they don't end up having a decision made for them, they settle somewhere along the way. So it was really making me think that if we can settle at the door of the court, we must be able to do that better earlier on and save people a lot of anguish and a lot of money. And when I met collaborative practice, it was as though it was the thing that I had dreamed about but didn't have a name for.

 

So I did my training back in 2005 or 6. And one of the things that strongly attracted me to it was the concept of working with non-lawyers. So working with psychologists, child psychologists, counsellors and financial planners, because for me, the idea that I no longer had the burden of trying to be all things to my clients was really powerful. And also, I was very attracted to the idea of actually working with other experts rather than referring out to them and not being part of an integrated whole. So, for me, collaborative practice is about a team approach. It's about looking at the whole person, and all of the aspects of separation and divorce that people are going to intersect along the way and what they need, which is usually a little bit of law, and a lot of other things.

Geraldine  3:55  
Oh, that makes sense. And in fact, that probably applies to many legal areas, not just family law. People come to lawyers with what lawyers immediately see as a legal problem. And yes, that's why they seek us out. But that's just part of the problem, in many cases, and when we offer a solution, yes, we're bringing our legal brains and our legal knowledge, but it has to fit into the whole solution. And so the lawyer being part of that interdisciplinary team, makes perfect sense. As you mentioned, your Smart Separation service is a triage service. And in triage, you have specialists from different areas working together. So that's something that I think will grow and we're seeing that grow in the legal profession. In corporate areas, for example, in risk-related areas where lawyers working with a team with other with other specialists.

 

And what's also really interesting about the work that you do is the relationship aspect. But what struck me when I began to look at your work was that you homed in on the fact that law is about relationships, that we are the ones responsible for upholding the fabric of society if you like, because without the law, these things break down. And so law is with us every second of the day, from the moment we open our eyes to the moment we close them, and even while we're sleeping, because nothing would work the way we expected them to work without the law, and particularly our relationships.

Marguerite  5:58  
Yes, that's interesting. Geraldine, I suppose part of where I come from is the idea that law has claimed territory that perhaps doesn't belong to it. I think that when there are any interpersonal disputes, which is usually where interpersonal relationships intersect with the law, of course, when people are in dispute, if we stand back, it's quite curious that people with training as lawyers would be in charge of the idea of helping people to resolve interpersonal disputes. And I think that lawyers often, we don't understand our conflict style, we don't understand how we're contributing to the conflict. And also, when we see people come along to us in some kind of dispute, we're not seeing the context for that. We're not seeing where that fits into the system, we don't have any understanding of the individual's emotional or psychological makeup, what's in their personality, we don't understand the dynamic that's happening between people. And I absolutely agree with you that this is... the collaborative approach is not only right for people who are separating, but in any kind of dispute. And one of the areas that starting to grow in Australia, is people who have disputes about wills and estates. And like divorce they're about family relationships, much more than about money or law in many cases. But I also think that in any kind of, you know, commercial disputes, take shareholder oppression, in any place that people are in dispute, what the law does is provide some answers. It's one idea. But it's not necessarily the only idea. And I think the law comes up with its answer, because we've taken the territory and we've put ourselves in charge of the system. But it doesn't actually resolve anything that goes on between people.  And...

Geraldine  7:54  
I would agree with that.

 

Marguerite  7:54  
...that what people really need is actual resolution, which Pauline Tesler, one of the amazing heroes and leaders in the world of collaborative practice speaks a lot about deep resolution, as opposed to a mere settlement. And I think that's the place we need to go.

Geraldine  8:16  
That comes back to the concept of relationships, we are so used to bringing our legal principles, our law cases, the law itself, black and white, and making the problem fit into the black letter law, rather than appreciating all the complexities of the human relationships, and yet, you're completely right, every lawyer deals with clients and these clients are breathing, living human beings with hidden issues, or sometimes not so hidden issues. And so bringing that lens, and also understanding where it's not our strength, and not our training, and seeking out people who have the training, admitting that, you know, we don't, we can't be finding all of the answers here. Yeah.

Marguerite  9:11  
Geraldine, I very much agree with your comment that often we're extending ourselves past our skill set. And it is, has been a wonderful relief, actually, for me, to work with people who have deep training and experience in other areas that I knew my clients needed. And being part of that loop of the conversation with those other experts, so we can all try to see the person as a whole individual, is really helpful to me. And I guess one of the things that made me want to step outside of traditional law was that idea that we lawyers can claim so much of the territory and I would often say to people, I can turn in anything into a legal problem, just watch me. And that's what we're trained to do. And I think very often it's quite difficult as a lawyer when somebody presents to you, thinking that they're seeking out legal advice, that's the name they give for the problem-solving that they're looking for. But for us to be able to step back and reframe things as a different kind of problem, and one that we perhaps don't have the answers for, is also a relief. And I think it's a great benefit to clients as well.

Geraldine  10:25  
There's another aspect to this, that really, also was brought into focus for me, I watched an excellent documentary that MELCA produced.

 

Marguerite  10:38  
The celebration, 10 years of MELCA. So the documentary was made a couple of years ago. 

 

Geraldine  10:44  
Ah...

Marguerite  10:44  
We've been formed since 2009.

 

Geraldine  10:48  
All right. So it's only a couple of years old, it's reasonably current then.

 

Marguerite  10:52  
Yes it is. 

 

Geraldine  10:53  
That's great.

Marguerite  10:54  
I don't think the message ever changes.

 

Geraldine  10:56  
You're right. And this is, it was a very moving documentary. It's got the former Federal sorry, and former Family Law, Chief Justice Diana Bryant in it, it has many practitioners in collaborative divorce. And I watched it from beginning to end with a sense of awe and a sense of regret. The awe came from watching this new kind of law being practised. My own parents went through divorce when I was in my 20s and it was traumatic. So I related a lot to what was being said. It wasn't traumatic in the sense that I was a child. But it was still traumatic, because there was a breakdown of a union. The sense of disappointment and regret came from seeing the damage that lawyers can do when we apply the law in a hard way to what's really an incredibly personal, stressful time for people. So it's not just the fact that we're impacting relationships, we're impacting people, who will then go on and take that sense of trauma with them. And the most touching thing with family law, is it's children. And children will lead their lives carrying this experience with them. And we can actually as lawyers make a difference at such an early age.

Marguerite  12:40  
Yes. And we have the capacity to make a difference positively or negatively. And I think one of the really strong things is for lawyers to step back. And I think parenting disputes is a perfect example where I wonder what it is that lawyers think that they bring to those discussions. Yes, we bring the law, because in each country, there is some legislation. But that's one option. It's a position that people couldn't adopt if they can't do better than that. But really, the people who can bring the greatest wisdom to this are going to be the child psychologists, seeing the children and really educating parents about what the child is seeing and feeling through separation. And to me, that's the place we should be starting and perhaps finishing. But of course, situations aren't always able to be dealt with in that way and we do need the backing of courts to make orders and to enforce those when things go badly. But, for the average family, I don't think that that is necessary and it's not really a mentality to start with.

 

And I think even though lawyers might be working in cooperative ways, if they haven't signed off to a set of rules, nobody quite knows how negotiation is going and litigation is always the backstop. So I think starting not with the lawyers at all, especially around fragile and delicate relationships and seeing parenting as part of an entire system is not the training of lawyers and I often think I don't have anything at all to contribute to a parenting discussion. I know that we had a pilot suggested at one point in Australia and the concept was that, for unrepresented parents, there would be a panel who would assist them to come to parenting arrangements. And it was auspiced by the Court and part of the Court. And a lot of the lawyers objected to that on the basis that the panel didn't contain lawyers. And these were parents who were bringing highly personal disputes about their understandings of what was best for their children and I found it unfathomable at that time, many years ago, to hear that the lawyers were saying, well, this can't work because we've been left out of the discussion.

Geraldine  14:57  
Yes, it's that once again, that sense of making ourselves relevant. Because the law touches everything. 

 

Marguerite  15:06  
Yes. its our training, its our belief.

Geraldine  15:06  
So this is a tendency that lawyers have, we immediately see the law part and then bring our expertise, where it's maybe not the most appropriate thing. So learning to step back is another vital skill that would go across the board, not just collaborative family law, but for all lawyers to realise when it's actually just time to step out. What you're saying there about the court auspicing this pilot, is another key point that I wanted to bring out. And that is that the law, black-letter as it is, in a way rigid doesn't change fast enough in all areas. So it's about practitioners - clients and practitioners - making the change. Often, in my world anyway, which is corporate generally and business, it's clients who lead and then practitioners follow, and then the law comes behind. 

Marguerite  16:20  
Yes. 

Geraldine  16:22  
What I would like to see and this, I think, is the exciting thing about more lawyers understanding alternatives to traditional practice, is that lawyers can lead. 

 

Marguerite  16:35  
Yes. 

 

Geraldine  16:35  
And we don't wait for our clients. There has to be obviously some sort of a demand for a particular service. But lawyers being far more innovative and taking the bull by the horns and saying this is starting to grow, we might not have that huge demand yet, but we're going to go for it, because we can see not just that it's a nascent development, but also that it's the appropriate way to go.

Marguerite  17:03  
And I think when we do step out of the norm, and start to innovate, we really are being led by our clients, because it's our experience that we've learned from our clients, that leads us to see that there must be better ways to do things. And I think a lot of the better ways are really for me about access to justice, which comes down to cost and delay as well. And that isn't just in divorce law. Of course, it's in all areas of law, that there's a great class of people in most Western countries who can't afford to access the law. And that's one of the drivers, I think, for people to leave conventional law for clients to look for other ideas, which I think there are many developing, as well as using tech to make things more efficient and affordable for people. But I think innovation does have to be driven by the lawyers. And I agree with you that the law will catch up with the practice. But in fact, we're in the middle, we're being led by our clients in many ways. We're innovating in response to what we see as a need, and then encouraging and hoping that legislation will catch up with us. But often, of course, we can practice in ways that are quite consistent with the law, or at least not in conflict with a more, which may be non-traditional.

Geraldine  18:22  
Absolutely. And this is where the most exciting part of innovation actually comes in. Because we have a structure that we're operating within and what we're doing is we're moving away from old practice and developing new practice. And this is where actually a lawyer can be creative. 

 

Marguerite  18:39  
Yes, 

Geraldine  18:40  
Which is not something that we traditionally associate with law. But I see far more creativity around me in all areas than before. And to that point, I think collaborative divorce is a growing area. And I see many more practitioners of it than before. As someone who's been in the area for two decades, what's your observation been, starting from the beginning when you were really a trailblazer?

Marguerite  19:11  
Well, I think the idea of people wanting to resolve their issues away from lawyers, is something that I have heard increasingly over the last decade in particular, and that's because lawyers have a reputation for increasing the conflict and being very expensive, and quite often not delivering much value for their money. So that's certainly been one change that I've seen. And I've seen processes set up where what people are trying to do is have legal advice from a single source, because they know that in the end, that's going to be part of the structure that they have to work in. But they're not wanting to engage separate lawyers, because, once they do that, they know there's a risk that the lawyers themselves will increase the conflict. And I think that's very telling for us as a profession. And I think it's one of the reasons that collaborative practice is growing, that that's a values thing as it was, for me, I felt increasingly, when clients came to see me, it was difficult for me to predict what the outcome would be, what were going to be the limits of what I might be able to do for my clients. And part of that was knowing who was on the other side. So for many years, I wondered to myself when a client approached me, oh who is on the other side of this or who is going to be, and then I will have some sense of how difficult, extended or costly it's going to be. And then I found that I started saying that to my clients. And then I've thought to myself, what am I doing, working in a system and in a profession where this is actually what I'm saying and thinking about my colleagues. So I need to go find my own herd of people who think in my way.

 

So I had done mediation training many years before that and there was quite a lot of mediation happening, but in some ways, it was limited. It was single facilitator, the wisdom of multiple professions wasn't being brought in. And so I had never done much mediation because as a practitioner in a standard legal firm, there isn't a lot of opportunity for that. And a lot of what we call mediation, and this might perhaps be controversial, but mediation has been taken over largely, in property matters in our State, by the Bar. So barristers run mediations, which are much more akin to conciliations or legal settlement, call them what you're like, I don't call them mediation, because they're really positional, they're not interest based, they're bringing in incredible depth of experience and wisdom and advice about how a settlement might be driven towards the centre that a court might approve. But most people don't get the opportunity to express themselves to have any real discussion in that context. And again, that was one of the things that felt defeating for me. Yes, we were outside of courts doing that kind of mediation, but again, the clients weren't running the agenda, they weren't able to speak about what was important to them.

 

And sometimes people, quite frankly, don't want the positions of the law. And so one example I would speak about quite often in that is that sometimes an inheritance has come into a relationship, perhaps quite late in the relationship, or after divorce or separation has occurred, rather. And the law would have a particular view about that, which is that it's going to be treated, not in a way that it's quarantined from the asset pool, but close to. And I've seen many situations where people have said, well, it's an accident of timing, that this separation came in now, pardon me, this inheritance came in now, there's going to be another one following it, or there was another one much earlier, which the Court would treat differently. And so quite often couples, from their own sense of justice and their own sense of what the deceased person would really have wanted for them as a couple and a family, has taken precedence over what the law has to say. We would share what the law says in a collaborative meeting. But we're not asking our clients to subscribe to that. It's a position, it might resolve disputes where nothing else will, or it might settle disputes, but it doesn't really resolve what people are experiencing. So the idea of collaboration, I think, is growing because practitioners understand that it fits with their own values. They see the value for their clients, and it has certainly boomed in Australia, in the last decade or so.

Geraldine  23:47  
So this is actually where the, where collaborative divorce, will quite possibly have impact into dispute resolution, and into mediation, which is what we think of when we think of alternative dispute resolution, but clearly there are many steps yet to take to an outcome that is more collaborative, even within the main model of ADR, which is mediation.

 

I've wanted to ask you, Marguerite, about, hearing about your experiences, when you were practising as a lawyer, pre-collaborative divorce, looking at mediation and then looking at the way disputes were settled, what do you think is in you, that made you choose a different path, to just say, no, I'm prepared to do things a little bit or a lot differently? 

Marguerite  24:56  
Hmm. Well, that's an interesting question and I have dwelled a lot on it. I come from a large family. I'm one of eight daughters. So in our sibling set, there was naturally a lot of opportunity for dispute resolution, argument and debate. That was the way our family operated. But I think my parents were relatively unconventional, they didn't really subscribe to conventional social mores in many ways. I also had an education that really fostered the concepts of social justice. And it was perhaps a combination of those things. But I didn't come from a well-to-do background, I didn't go to the, you know, I didn't live in a large city for a start, and wasn't educated in a way, there weren't lawyers in my family, so I didn't bring a tradition to law with me. And I never signed up for the status that lawyers are supposed to have in our society. So in some ways, there was a certain degree of naivete, I suppose, in the way I started out as a practitioner, because I was ignorant really of a lot of the conventions that were to go with law and legal families and lawyers.

 

So I think that was part of it, but very much the question about social justice, and for me, when people were paying such vast amounts of money to get to a settlement that could have happened earlier, and maybe in a better way, but the increase in the conflict that happened was something that didn't sit with me. Because having said that, you know, I came from a large family where there was a lot of debate and discussion, like all humans, I don't think any of us loved conflict. And the idea of trying to look at what it really does to people has always been really interesting to me. And I think, in law we're unusual in that when we're looking at a problem, the problem being the conflict or the dispute, what we tend to do is polarise people as the start point. And you might do that if you're analysing a problem, you might do that in a science arena. But in an interpersonal dispute, why is it that we isolate the arguments, and then gradually through the legal system, we're asking people to bring themselves back together to a point where they can resolve or settle? But we've created that damage, the polarisation and the difference. We've distinguished everyone's argument, not because it was a good one, not because it would serve them in the long term, because it will, but because it will, win this moment in their lives. And it is transitory, it's not your whole life. It's not where you began, and it isn't where you're going to end up. And we do damage to the individual I think, who takes away from unpleasant disputes and unpleasant ways of running conflict or litigation. It's damaging to that individual.

Geraldine  28:02  
So it seems to me that from what you're saying, the pure concepts of the law - justice, unifying rather than dividing is what you've found again, or you possibly never left, so the touchstones of our legal system, you kept with you. And the fact that you didn't bring ego into it, you didn't have huge expectations, as you said, about status of a lawyer meant that you were able to stay true to those values. And when you saw them not being portrayed or accentuated by the system as it was, you found a way to do that.

Marguerite  28:57  
Yes. And I had to find a way because otherwise, I was going to leave the practice of law, which would have been a great regret to me, because it's been a wonderful profession for me. I think I was well suited to it or to my version of law and being a lawyer, so I would have been very sad to leave. And that was my alternative was to go or to change.

 

Geraldine  29:17  
That speaks to me a lot too Marguerite because I had the same moments. Do I still want to be a lawyer? And there have been at least two times in my career where I've really pondered on that question. And I came back to it. The first time, I came back to it because I decided I liked being in service. I didn't need to be the main decision-maker, particularly in a mergers and acquisitions context, I didn't need to be the person executing the deal and directing all of the parts of the transaction. I was quite happy to do my part. So it became clear to me that I liked being of service. And the second time, I actually looked at all of my values and one of the values that stood out to me was that I liked peaceful order. I liked the fact that as a lawyer, I could help to bring that smoothness to the fabric of society. So I think that for all of the times that I have criticised the law or criticised the way lawyers are, at heart, I think it's, I agree with you, it's a wonderful profession, teaches us wonderful skills, and gives us, it gives us huge opportunities to to be our service.

 

Marguerite  30:44  
It does and change is an act of service, isn't it when it's led by what people need.

Geraldine  30:50  
And so I wonder if there are listeners, hearing you recount your journey, who might be wondering how they could actually embark on a path where there's more of the service element to law, service to others, rather than self interest? What advice would you give to anyone who's got that thought?

Marguerite  31:21  
Well, I think some of the key things I would say, are to believe in your instincts, that they're valid. I think for a long time, I thought, my sense of not belonging or not being in alignment with my values was defects in my abilities. And I realised that that probably wasn't the case. As I stepped further away, I wish I'd had the wisdom to have the self confidence to realise that earlier on. And I think also enabling yourself to have conversations and so what you're doing Geraldine is amazing, is to find other people who are having similar conversations to yourself. And when you think about what it is you want to do, as with all system change, there's a temptation to tinker around the edges. And so I think, stepping right back from your current practice, or profession and saying, what are the things I really want to be doing? What are my skills? What would the ideal practice look like for me, and then start to create that rather than thinking about how can I flex the existing constraints?

Geraldine  32:32  
Again, that is the, those are the moments of clarity that occurred for me as well, that, like you said, trying to change a little bit here, a little bit there, incrementally, is... doesn't get to the nub of the issue. And having what really is a vision. So apart from establishing who you are, establishing what your purpose would be, you have to have a vision. And in fact, the vision comes before the purpose in a way, because that's how you're going to get there, why you're going to get there. And the vision needs to be bold. 

Marguerite  33:19  
Yes. 

 

Geraldine  33:19  
Because otherwise, it's not going to address the underlying feeling of dissatisfaction.

 

Marguerite  33:25  
Yeah. And it needs to be real. And I think for all of us some kind of coaching is probably a very wise thing to undertake in that area. And I'm not thinking necessarily about business coaching, or that might be what you do later on, but some kind of personal coaching, whether that's therapy or, you know, life coaching of some sort, engaging with that. And it's an interesting observation that you and I've made some of the same leaps, and we've had the same lightbulb moments along the way. And I guess one of the things that I feel sad about is that I didn't do that much earlier. And one of the things I think is so exciting, is seeing the much younger practitioners these days embracing ideas about change, or not being prepared to sit with what there is, and being prepared to look outside of it. So I would encourage the young practitioners to you know, look for mentors and people with whom they can have these discussions and be confident and, as you say, be bold, because if it's not bold, it's probably incremental. It's probably not an innovation. It's probably a tweak.

Geraldine  34:35  
And there's never been a better time. You're absolutely right. And as you said, this is what the New Earth lawyer project is about. It's finding people with similar mindsets, presenting the ideas out to the world, so that anyone who's thinking I'm not sure this is how I want to spend my working life for the next few decades, they can actually pick the areas, pick the speakers, pick the concepts that they resonate with, and begin to explore. Because that's what actually makes what seemed impossible possible, the fact that either other people have pioneered it, or they're thinking in the same way. Then the connections get made, and the tapestry grows. The environment we're in now, one of questioning everything, not just the law, but questioning many other structures.

Marguerite  35:27  
But definitely the law, the traditional systems of law, being patriarchal and hierarchical and adversarial doesn't fit with modern ways of thinking. And it's interesting to me that in our Federal Parliament, we have people flying from all over the country and disrupting their family lives, etc, to attend Parliament in person, because it's always been held true that that was necessary. And then during the pandemic, we had Zoom, and all of a sudden, we realised that Parliament could run differently as well. So if we can have as did the courts, so if we can have these arcane institutions, instituting change, when they're forced to, it's just that the pressure needs to come from somewhere else. And that new force is going to be from the practitioners as we change and decide that we want to work in different ways for our own wellbeing as well as for our clients, that the new ways of thinking are going to emerge and put the old ways under pressure, and there will be change. But sometimes it takes a crisis, doesn't it like the pandemic?

Geraldine  36:31  
Indeed, and it's the opportunity that comes out of the crisis. This is absolutely true. I was going to ask you if there was anything you'd like to talk about, that you're working on right now, any projects in the pipeline? 

 

Marguerite  36:48  
Sure. Well, one other thing that I would like to say about changing the way that you practice is that I think, even though we're speaking about wellbeing in law these days, we're still putting the burden of responsibility on the practitioner to change themselves, rather than to change the system to make that more possible to live and work within in a healthy way. So I think the idea that we're all to run off to mediation, pardon me to meditation and to yoga and to look after ourselves, unless there are structural changes, unless firms actually support lawyers by taking their work away, but not failing to reward them, etc. there's, that isn't real change. So we have to make that for ourselves. That's the reality, I think.

 

But at MELCA, we are working on a new project at the moment. And that is that we are making a documentary series. And we're looking at the reinvention of the whole idea of separation, rather than looking at how we can move around the parts of the existing system. This is to look at this from a human-centred design perspective, and start afresh. So that will be a four-part series, where we've got approval from the Documentary Australia Foundation for that. So that will be not a short or a fast project, of course to undertake. But that's a very exciting thing that we're doing.

Geraldine  38:12  
Congratulations, that sounds amazing. And I agree with you wholeheartedly with the idea that putting wellbeing, the onus of wellbeing, onto the practitioner makes that practitioner feel like it's their fault somehow. And they're the ones who are not fitting with the system. So we tend to send people off for programs, wellbeing programs and so on, and then put them, plug them back into the same old system, and then feel like it's a big surprise, when people aren't wholly fixed.

Marguerite  38:47  
Absolutely.

Geraldine  38:47  
Because its not the people you need to fix, especially if they are burning out in large numbers, then it's worth looking at what is the real problem here, and it's the system.

Marguerite  38:59  
And I think it's working within traditional law, when we think about how that intersects with the court, and adversarial thinking, but I also think it's about the fact that your lawyers working at billable hours is a fabulous business model when you're at the top of that tree. And if you're going to change some of those ideas, so that your employee lawyers are rewarded in different ways or treated differently, means some financial sacrifice at the top. And I'm not sure that we there.

Geraldine  39:31  
We're getting there almost as a result of the model collapsing in on itself.  But it would be good to do something about it, before we get to the point where there is a crisis at law firms.  Where law firms actually are collapsing, which has happened in the past, but on a larger scale. But that documentary series, I really look forward to it and I think it's, when I look at your website and look at the work that you do, it is really so forward-thinking. It is very untraditional. And I would recommend people go and check out the Family is Family documentary that's on your website as well. For half an hour, it's really worth it because it will trigger for any kind of lawyer, trigger some real deep thinking. Marguerite, thank you so much for sharing with us. Thank you for being a guest on the New Earth lawyer podcast.

Marguerite  40:39  
And thank you so much, Geraldine. It's a conversation that's dear to my heart and one that I'm happy to continue having.

Geraldine  40:44  
My pleasure.

 

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