Name: Michael Bidwell
Job title: Graduate
Employer, city/country: McCullough Robertson, Brisbane, Australia
Length of time in current role: 7 months
Where and when you studied law: Griffith University 2012-2016
Describe a typical day in your job
I am currently in a nine month rotation with the property team. My typical day will range from assisting someone to enter a retirement village, to assisting a corporation purchase a major hotel. Property law is a transactional group so there are often many forms to be done, but you quickly learn why they are so important. It is an exciting area of law for a junior because you get a lot of autonomy and client contact compared to some other areas of law. I would describe a typical day for me as: client meetings in person or over the phone, filling out forms, drafting agreements, liaising with the other sides’ lawyers and maintaining the dozens of files in my name generally. I also love to sneak in a networking event, because I love a cold one with the industry that I am a part of.
How did you get into this job?
I will start this one off with answering how did I get into Australia? I spent the first 19 years of my life in a small town in Michigan, USA. When I was 16, I signed up to this website that would send me emails from universities and I ticked ‘international’ thinking why not. In 2010, mum and I flew over to check out Griffith University in Brisbane and I fell in love with the place and people. That led to me literally moving to the other side of the world at 19 in 2012 to study law and environmental science. Everyone in the States thought I was crazy besides mum and I took advice from my grandma with dementia at the time who said ‘just go and if you do not like it, you can come back’. I literally knew no one here so I built my network and landed a few clerkship opportunities. After careful consideration, I decided at the time to accept a graduate offer with McCullough Robertson. I spent about 18 months in their Planning and Environment team as a research clerk. I followed a rather traditional career path entering a commercial law firm in Australia but the fact I was there in the first place was not traditional.
Are there any particular study subjects or working experience you would recommend to prepare for a similar role to yours?
I really think broadening your study subjects as much as possible will assist with any area of law. I would strongly recommend studying a second degree. My environmental science degree was helpful in Planning and Environment but it also taught me how to argue facts whereas law teaches you how to argue interpretation. If I had to suggest particular study subjects in law, international law will continue to grow so it would be beneficial to at least understand how public international law works. Work experience does not have to be legal to be beneficial in working in a law firm. Basically, we are a customer service industry. This does not mean you compare your Macca’s experience to closing out a big corporate takeover but you acknowledge at a junior level you will be dealing with several competing tasks and prioritise based on importance. I always see cover letters where they are comparing work experience as if they are applying for the partnership of the law firm. You need to recognise what skills your volunteering and work experience have truly given you to enter a law firm: teamwork, task management, meeting deadlines, contribution and progression.
What are the highlights of the job?
The client contact in property law is very beneficial for recognising the highlights because you get direct gratitude from the client. A simple ‘thank you’ may seem insignificant but it actually goes a long way after the work you have put into the matter. I have been very active in social justice and I think a commercial law firm can provide you with the experience and skills to continue advocating in the space you are passionate about. I love taking pro bono opportunities. I have met some very close friends and mentors in my workplace that I am so grateful to have. They are always there to lend a listening ear or helping hand.
What are the challenges of the job?
I think the overarching lesson in law is you need to learn what you can and cannot control. Every challenge I face with work, I always come back to this principle. If something goes wrong for your client and they are unable to settle, you can only control requesting an extension to settlement. There is no use worrying about how the other side will respond to your request. I think it is challenging because most lawyers want to be perfect but life is all about learning from mistakes. I think juniors struggle with work-life balance particularly when they first start in the legal profession. It comes down to having that open conversation with your supervisors about your commitments and ensuring no one is over-worked in the context of other employees. All law firms will present different expectations in this regard.
What kind of personal qualities are suited to this job?
Most senior management legal professionals are private-school educated, straight white males. That is the traditionalism that has existed in the legal industry for quite some time. As an openly gay legal professional, I feel there have been some unnecessary burdens I have had to face compared to my straight counterparts and that is acknowledging the privilege of being a white man. I think the real issue at the moment with diversity in the legal profession is persistence. The main personal quality for anyone in this industry is resilience. Some will need to be more resilient than others but I am finding it rewarding being part of the journey to hopefully having a much more inclusive industry. We all have a part to play and we need to support one another, whether we are in the same law firm or on opposing sides.
What one thing do you wish someone had told you at law school?
Network with your fellow law students. I lived on campus so I did not focus on making friends the first few years of law school but I am so glad that changed once I moved off campus. Everyone you are studying with will have very different outcomes from university. At the end of the day, you will cross paths with many of them in your firm, at other firms, in-house, public sector and some will move to an entirely different industry. It is a brilliant opportunity to network early but more importantly to find a support network of people who know what you are going through.
Any advice for students wanting to get into a similar role?
My advice is to be the authentic best version of yourself and do not compare yourself to others. You may be able to fake who you are in an interview but you cannot do that for the rest of your working life. I think this helps you form genuine connections with people at networking events that may open new and exciting opportunities for you. I am more than happy to have a chat and help you enter the career you are seeking. For my contact information please contact LLL. I wish you all the best of luck with your future careers and I hope we can work together to make this a better industry.