Gatehouse Insights | Interview with Brendan Lacota
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Gatehouse Insights | Interview with Brendan Lacota

– Hello, Gatehouse insiders. We are continuing our
series across Australia interviewing some of the
best and inspiring lawyers within the legal profession. This episode we are
taking a look at moving out of private practise
into community legal work, the challenges and rewards
that come with community work, and how digital solutions are transforming the legal profession. I’m joined by my guest, Brendan, who is the principal lawyer at
Moonee Valley Legal Services and the 2018 LIV Young Lawyers president. And don’t forget to subscribe to the Gatehouse Legal
Recruitment YouTube channel, or you might miss out. (upbeat music) So tell me, what inspired
you to practise law? – Well, originally I actually
started in biomedical science. I had no intention of
becoming a lawyer at all. And it was only when I started looking at intellectual property and
biotech and things like that that I started thinking, ah, okay, well maybe I don’t want to spend every day pipetting one thing from a test
tube into another test tube. And intellectual property could be a really interesting path to go down. So originally, it was so that I could go and continue working in
the biomedical space, but as a lawyer rather
than any great desire, at the beginning, at
least, to become a lawyer in and of itself. – And how did you get
your first legal job? – So my first legal job was
at the Footscray Community Legal Centre, volunteering. So I started off like
lots of law students, started off volunteering,
and then ended up as a seasonal clerk when I
was with Russell Kennedy. So that actually ended
up as I got really lucky and was one of the few
that actually managed to get a graduate placement with them when I graduated from
university, which was brilliant. – So many law grads are struggling to get a first opportunity, so yeah, very lucky. – Yeah, well at the
moment, for young lawyers, it can be, it’s as low
as 17% of all graduates are actually getting jobs
in the legal profession, and I think part of that
is due to how law schools are preparing their law students. I think a big part of it, and
something I didn’t realise, is that the bulk of people
who graduate from law aren’t going to become lawyers. They are going to end up in
consultancy or in business, and only 17% are actually
going to become lawyers. And there’s fantastic skills
that young lawyers get from their law degrees
that they’re not taught how to transfer them into
other fields of practise. – Tell us a little bit more about your, I suppose your career
today and how you’ve gotten to your position now at
Moonee Valley Legal Services. – So as I said, I started off
at the Footscray Community Legal Centre as a volunteer. When I was finishing my grad
year at Russell Kennedy, I was sure that I wanted to make a change, but I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. And as I was coming to the
end of my grad programme, I was looking at jobs
in intellectual property to try and leverage from
my biomed background, and I was looking at courses, and I got really lucky,
so I got into a course at Stanford Graduate School
of Business in California, where I was able to go
and do a short course on business management and impact. And it was that course
that gave me the background and the impetus that I needed to think, okay, what can we do
that is bigger impact? What can we do with our law degrees that will have a bigger impact beyond whether it just be the one client and think creatively or innovatively? And timing was right, so
when I got back from that, they were looking for a lawyer at a local community legal centre, and I thought, yeah, this
is where I’m need to start, ’cause this is where we can be encouraged to think systemically and
try and solve problems for more than just the
client in front of us, and try and have that impact. – And moving out of private practise to community legal work, was
there much of a transition? Was it easy? Was it hard? Was it a tough decision to make? – So it certainly wasn’t a tough decision. And looking back now,
it was the best decision I possibly could have made. But I think there’s actually
a lot more similarities between commercial practise
and community lawyering than people realise,
and a lot of the skills that we are taught as lawyers
and throughout law school and into grad programmes and
into early in our careers are incredibly transferable, not just between private practise
and community law, but between legal practise
and nonlegal practise, whether that be consulting
or the public sector or anything like that. – And in terms of community legal work, I know we spoke about it briefly before, there’s obviously challenges and rewards with community legal work. Can you share some of the
challenges and rewards you face daily? – So the biggest challenge is the clients. Often the legal problems
that we’ll be dealing with are reasonably straightforward,
but the clients can be incredibly complex. So most of our clients either
suffer from a mental illness. We may need to use interpreters, often interpreters who are
speaking particular dialects, so it can be very difficult to even find the right interpreter
that you need to use. And then trying to find the solution for their particular legal problem can be incredibly difficult
because it may not fit their needs, even though it
might be the legal solution that you can provide with them. So one of the biggest challenges, I think, is the limitations of trying to combine what is essentially a social service into a legal framework, which
can be really difficult. But the biggest reward is that
we get to think systemically. We get to think big picture. One of the things that you
find in private practise is that you’re always just thinking, how do I help this one
client in front of me? I need to solve their problem. Whereas in community practise, if you get a client that comes in with something that
raises a systemic issue or a societal issue, we’re
encouraged and required to actually think there and think, okay, can we do something bigger? Can we do advocacy? Can we develop some sort
of technological solution? Do we need law reform? How do we solve this
problem so it doesn’t happen to somebody else? And that, I think, is
the most rewarding thing with community legal practise. – Now, speaking on technology,
you’ve created two, or you’ve been the co-founder
of two online platforms. Tell us a little bit more about those and how it’s helped
society and the community for the better. – Sure, so the first
one actually came out of the RMIT Fastrack programme,
and it’s called FineFixer. So the idea behind FineFixer
is that it will help people identify when they have
a problem with fines, help identify people who
should get legal help, and then identify those
who can help themselves and provide them with
the tools that they need to help themselves. The second tool is called Online Will Kit, and that is something I co-founded with one of my friends from biomed and who I went to law school with as well, John Hurrigan, and we, that’s developed from the premise that
everybody should be able to afford legal services. At the moment, there’s
160,000 people each year who are turned away from
community legal centres and millions of people who can’t afford traditional legal services,
so Online Will Kit is built on that premise
that we believe we can use technology to try and solve
that access to justice gap. – And how is the society
taking that onboard? Are they using it? What’s the feedback? – So for FineFixer, we’ve had
20,000 users since August, which is fantastic. – [Interviewer] That’s incredible. – There’s a huge need for
tools like this out there, and it’s just a matter
of using clever design and finding the right
market to try and enter and try and use these tools. There’s some things that people
don’t want technology for, but there are some things
that technology can be really useful, and the
important part for people is realising where those levers are. – Anything else in the
pipeline for development? – So there’s a really cool
project we’re working on at the moment called Streamline Fines, which tries to combine those two. So we’re trying to use
technology and good design to provide legal services to clients while they’re in an inpatient facility. So using technology to
make the relationship between health providers and
lawyers easier to manage, but using on-site service delivery, because that’s what you need
to do to deliver services to the most vulnerable clients. – Interesting. When will that be released? – So the pilot has started. We’re in the design phase now, and we’ll be on the ground
at three health services around Victoria in May. It’s really exciting. – [Interviewer] That’s not so far. – Yeah, so that’s in partnership
with Victoria Legal Aid, West Justice, and with Peninsular
Community Legal Centre, with funding from the Public
Sector Innovation Fund. – It’s amazing how your
role gives you so much, allows you to be so innovative and to actually implement
things, which is pretty awesome. – Yeah, well, as I say, that’s
one of the core benefits of being able to work
in community practise, is it’s not just
something that you can do. It’s something that we
should be encouraged to do. – And you’re the 2018
Young Lawyers president for the Law Institute of Victoria. What’s on the agenda? What’s your goal for this year? – So for this year, we’ve
got three key pillars. One is around the gender pay gap, which still exists in the legal profession and is something that we are
desperate to try and address. The second pillar for this
year is around well-being and the law, and trying
to help our profession move beyond simply
talking about well-being and starting to implement
well-being solutions. And the third pillar is around the future of the legal profession, and
how do we actually prepare young lawyers to be legal
professionals of the future. Because at the moment,
the legal profession is under threat, and we
need to think creatively. We need to think innovatively
about how we deliver legal services, not just for free services but also for fee-paying services. – Where do you see the
future of law going? – Smaller services being
provided very efficiently and supported by
technology, so not replaced by technology, ’cause
technology is just a tool, and there are many
elements of legal practise that are uniquely human. That idea of creative
problem solving, of empathy, of communication, of
walking with your client through their legal problem,
that can’t be replaced by a computer. But what we can do is augment that. We can use technology to
make it cheaper or easier to deliver the mundane
tasks and leave more time for young lawyers and new
lawyers and the future lawyers to actually be delivering
the job of a lawyer. – And in terms of health
and well-being for law firms and lawyers, what
programmes or what things are you going to be implementing
to make it more aware in the profession? – So what we would like to see happen is a cultural change, the
idea that it’s not something you can’t talk about if you’re struggling, that it’s not something
that we’re all expected to be there from seven in the
morning ’til nine at night, and if you’re not doing
that then you’re not doing your job properly. We need to start creating
a cultural change and creating just something that is valued by the profession, that you are working with well-being in mind. Because at the moment, it’s something that people talk about, but
it’s not something that, I think, that a lot of
employers truly value. And that’s what needs to change. – [Interviewer] And do you see any firms doing it really well? – I see a lot of the
smaller and new law firms doing it really well,
offering proper flexible working arrangements, thinking about what actually needs to be delivered, and I think that’s where the
change is gonna come from. It’s gonna come from pressure from below, from the smaller firms that
are truly living the idea of well-being in law, rather
than just talking about it. – And for people in our
audience that are thinking of changing, say, from private practise to community legal work, what’s
some advice you’d give them? – Don’t be afraid to take a risk. Too much, in our
profession, is risk-averse. We’re trained to think
about what’s gonna go wrong, how do we provide this
client with services to prevent that bad thing from happening. In our own careers, we need
to be willing to take a risk. We also need to be willing to take a risk in the delivery of
legal services, as well, to find creative and innovative services. And we also need to think
about what’s transferable. So think about those human skills, those things that you’ve
practised as a lawyer, that aren’t necessarily
about your specialist area of law, because the
specialist areas of law can be taught, but those human skills, they’re the really difficult ones, and they’re the ones that
are prized by employers. So focus on how those can be transferred to whatever profession
you want to move into, whether it’s changing field of law or a complete change to
a different profession. – How did you become so self-aware of yourself and what you wanted to do? – Being open, saying yes to opportunities. So if somebody said,
“Hey, would you like to “go and volunteer at this service?” Yeah, sure, I’ll check it out. Let’s see what happens. Or whether it be, “Would
you like to go to this event “and learn about blockchain
or how tech can be used “to solve legal problems?” It’s being open to those sort of ideas and not being closed
off and thinking, okay, this is how I was taught to practise law. This is the only way I practise law. Being more open, saying yes to things. (upbeat music) – [Interviewer] And that’s it. Another episode of Gatehouse
Insights draws to an end. I’m off to continue with my quest to find more inspiring lawyers. Thank you for watching. Thank you for recommending
this video to your friends. And as always, don’t forget to subscribe to the Gatehouse Legal
Recruitment YouTube channel, where I’ll see you soon. (upbeat music)

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