Episode 48 21 October 2021
My experience as an independent worker
Principal lawyer, Geraldine Grace | Host, New Earth lawyer podcast
As more of us step away from traditional jobs working for an employer, I relate my experiences as an independent worker - working for myself, performing multiple roles, freelancing, participating in the gig economy - however you want to describe it.
For me, this style of working means I get to align with my purpose and create my own routines and networks. The freedom and autonomy outweigh any insecurity that comes with not having a 'regular' job.
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 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.
[0:32] For the past year, I have not worked in a traditional job and instead have a number of different roles.
[4:05] The freedom I have in this style of working is far removed from the master-servant relationship, an archaic legal concept where the employer controls the employee.
[5:50] I have learned to be a self-starter and reliant on myself for marketing, strategising and networking.
[7:06] I have found it important to establish routines and a fixed place where I do all my work in my multiple roles.
[9:02] The alignment between my purpose and my work is absolute now. My work does not even feel like 'work' in the way we are used to thinking about it. I work hard but am not drained.
[10:58] I have created networks of like-minded people to sustain and inspire me.
[13:10] In the future, I predict more of us will work like this, expressing our purpose and our true selves through our work, and contributing to society in this way, instead of being paid to do what someone else tells us to do.
A Harvard Business Review article on how to thrive in the gig economy
The master-servant rule and its origins explained.
Hi everyone, how are you all? This is the New Earth lawyer podcast. My name is Geraldine Johns-Putra. I'm a lawyer based in Melbourne, Australia. And I'm coming to you from Boonwurrung country. So I wish to pay my respects to their Elders past, present and emerging.
Now today, I wanted to talk to you about something that's been on my mind a lot. It has to do with this idea of the Great Resignation that you might have heard about, the Great Resignation being that en masse people of all ages, genders, cultures, are beginning to seek a different way of working and are looking to resign from their current jobs. The typical way of being employed, working 9 to 5 or 9 to 6, five days a week or whatever, being tied to one employer, is losing its appeal for people, particularly as we've all gone through COVID lockdowns working from home. And we've all begun to do a lot of thinking around how we want to work, what work means for each of us, how we bring our own skills to what we do for a living, and how we bring our energies and devote and dedicate our time and our energies to our contribution to society, which is our work. And I've been thinking all about this because you know, I myself left a role with a large law firm, I did that almost a year ago, and set up on my own. So I set up my own solo practice as a lawyer. And really what has happened is that I don't just do this work as a lawyer in my solo legal practice, I do a number of things. So the reason I'm actually recording this today, from my study is, I want it to be in the environment where I do all of that work, so not just being a lawyer in my own solo, legal practice, but also the other activities that I do. So for example, I sit on the governing body of a large public institution, I sit on another advisory board, I do this podcast once a week with a guest and once a week also talking to you, I'm also doing another thing, I've got something else in the works around, possibly, hopefully training young lawyers, developing a training program for them in collaboration with another institution. So I have a number of things that I do. And this whole idea of not just having one role, one employer, and the so called idea of a job is something that is new to me only started last year, as I said, but also it has, has really opened up a whole new way of thinking for me, you could say that I have a portfolio career, you could say I'm a freelancer, you could say I'm an independent worker, or you could say I'm part of the gig economy, right? However you want to express it, I am independent. I don't have a regular salary, don't have an employer who controls my time, and tells me what to do. I don't have a superannuation or pension and I don't have perks like health insurance or gym membership.
But what I do have is freedom and this is what I want to come on to, you know, this whole new way of working is a shift, part of a larger shift, as I was saying, away from this whole archaic idea of the master-servant relationship. Now, in law, we have this principle called the master-servant rule. And that is an old-fashioned legal term for the principle that the employer is responsible for everything that the employee does, it's also known as vicarious liability. That is, if the employee does something wrong and causes damage to someone, then the employer actually could be legally liable for that. And this all comes from the idea of the control that the employer has on the employee, the master controls the servant, the servant follows the master's orders and in return gets paid or, and/ or gets food and board from the master.
So we're moving away from this whole paradigm, right? Because we were growing up as individuals. We didn't grow into adults just to be, to go from being controlled by mummy and daddy or listening to mummy and daddy and doing whatever they say to then having another mummy or daddy, in the form of an employer. We're growing up. And we're learning that we're in charge of ourselves. And then what we want to contribute to the world we do so from from our hearts, from our minds, and we contribute that as sovereign individuals.
Of course, this kind of work has its drawbacks in our modern society, because our modern society is still based on, you know, the old rules, the old frameworks of that master servant idea. You really have to rely on yourself, if you are going to venture into this sort of independent work, you have to be a self starter you have to market or promote yourself, get yourself out there, form your networks, you know, develop your business and strategise on your own. And so I've had to learn to do that. In my old role I had other people do that for me, they basically did so much for me. And now I have to do all of those things myself. But it's also an opportunity because of the blank canvas, right? I get to decide how I'm going to paint that canvas, what part of me I'm going to bring out. And that is incredibly empowering. So it's this freedom to be myself to express my personality, express my opinion, what I have to offer to the world and the way that I determine that really is the single largest benefit for me.
Another thing I found about this type of work is that now these are things that more and more people have discovered because of COVID and lockdowns and we are all, many of us are working from home, whether we want to or not. And that is up to me now to set up my routines. And many people have discovered this, as I say, there's lots of advice out there as to how you establish your own routine. Now the way I do it is that I have my own routines. So I like to wake up in the morning, set my work day in my mind, so I actually meditate for about 20 minutes. And in that time I express gratitude for the opportunities that I have, as well as you know, ask for whatever help I need to perform whatever I need to do that day. And then after meditation, I'll go shower, get dressed, I might do exercise if that's in my routine for that day. And then I come into my office, and I write down all of the things that I want to do for that day. And when I'm in my office, this office is my space, my work space, you know, so when I'm in my office, I work now whatever I might be working on, whether it's in my law practice, or whether it's, you know, working as an advisor to another organisation, or working on this podcast, you know, this office is my space. And I when I'm done with the work day, I switch off my computer and I leave it and my work day is over. And I don't tend to come back into this space. That's just how I do it. So routines are important. Having a place is important.
And the other thing that I would say that I've really learned about the difference between having this kind of work setup and having a job is the purpose part of it is really important. So I get to pick and choose what roles I want to take on. If I am lucky enough to be offered something or invited to put my name forward for something, then I get to think about whether that particular organisation or that group aligns with my values. And anyone who knows me or has followed me knows that I have done this work on determining what my values are, and determining what my purpose is, which is to create more purposeful enterprises and ecosystems for a happier world. So anytime a role of some sort is offered to me, then I think about whether that role is going to work to further my purpose, and therefore, what actually happens with everything in my current portfolio of work being aligned with my purpose is that I have a lot of energy and a lot of inspiration to do my work. So I do tend to work, probably out of seven days in a week, I probably work six, sometimes all seven. But you know, it's more than five days a week, I will tend to do something almost every day. Even if it's the weekend, I'll often be sitting down here at my desk and doing something that's admin-related, but it doesn't feel like work. And that's the old cliche, isn't it? It doesn't, it's aligned to my purpose, so it doesn't feel like something that drains me, I feel completely inspired even to do the mundane tasks, because I know that those mundane, routine tasks are all in support of the bigger purpose. Work takes on a different meaning when you live this kind of life.
And then I also have this wonderful opportunity to align, meet new people who align with my values. And I've done that through this podcast, I've interviewed amazing people, more than 20 amazing lawyers. And they are like minded, you know, I've made friends of many of them, or strengthened friendships with many of them. Because at least once a week, I'm having a chat with someone who has got just a revolutionary way of thinking, or has an idea that they're bringing to fruition. And I love engaging with these sorts of people, these people, I would say, are my tribe, my group, they're my family. And that's important because I don't have a ready set group of colleagues to you know, all bond with over the fact that we are employed by the same company. But through this way of working, I'm actually creating a more eclectic, but also a bunch of people who are closer in thinking to me. And that's very important, because it's really revitalising to just have those, I might once a week, I might actually also apart from this podcast, I might actually just have an hour's zoom call with someone, and you know, hear what they're doing, and then I'll relate what I'm doing, and in that way, we're like each other's coaches, you know, we're actually cheering each other on in whatever mission that we've chosen. It's very powerful. And I'm able to rely on them professionally too. So I can often rely on my network, if I've got a client, or someone who needs a referral for a lawyer in some other jurisdiction, practising in some other specialisation through my network, I can often find a lawyer. And they're often not just lawyers, but really good people who are living purposeful lives. So I'm always glad to refer such people on to my clients.
So I wonder if in the future, we're going to have greater numbers of people taking on this kind of work. I really do think so I think as I said, it's part of our growing up as a species, that we are really rethinking what work means. And creating a life where we're, there's not this delineation between, oh, I'm living and, oh, I'm working, but bringing this sense of contribution to society, into the definition of work. And by bringing the sense of contribution we're integrating the work with our being. And it's in that way, you know, we're not creating the sort of servitude or slavery mentality towards work, where we are creating a service and contribution mentality. And it serves us better to think of ourselves as autonomous, powerful beings with self agency to really be giving to the world that essence of ourselves, rather than being forced, because we have to earn a living to produce something that someone else thinks that we have to. So it goes to the essence of who we are. And that's really what I wanted to talk about today. I wish you all the best and I hope I'll see you next week. Bye.