Without mentioning your job title, how would you describe what it is you do now?
I am an advocate for those who cannot always speak for themselves. I am passionate about protecting the rights of the individual and advancing their legitimate interests to their full potential. The legal system, and indeed the broader spheres of commercial enterprise and society in general are, by the very fact that participants are so diverse, full of imbalance and inequity. I feel strongly about the importance of my profession, and what I do, as being a vital part of these ecosystems assisting in bringing balance and fairness to the process. By extension, the learning, experience and skill I have acquired throughout my career, as well as my focus on justice issues, have motivated me to apply my professional capabilities to broader social issues and challenges. While my practice affords me the opportunity to act on a micro-level, having direct engagement with individual clients, my involvement in broader societal initiatives such as Zonta International and its mission of advancing the status of women, allows me to participate and, hopefully, in some small way, assist with the evolution of society towards a status of balance and equality. I also dedicate my time to industry focused educational activities and initiatives, such as my role on the editorial panel of the Lexis Nexis Australian Alternative Dispute Resolution Bulletin. Again, empowerment through knowledge sharing, is essential to achieving balance and equality. I have also, at the same time, been blessed with the joy of children.
This aspect of my life only reinforces my dedication to the societal necessities of equality and inclusiveness.
What was your main driver to enter the legal industry?
Simply, to maximise my ability to affect change. I see it as not only our duty to evolve and to continuously improve, it is a necessity of life. If we do not dedicate ourselves, as individuals and as a collective, to bettering ourselves, we run the risk of stagnation and decline.
An absolute priority in this cycle of continuous improvement must be embracing diversity so that the ‘whole (of society) is greater than the sum of its parts’. We, as a species, have a natural inclination, perhaps as an outdated strategy for self-preservation, to gravitate towards and associate ourselves with others who are the same as us. However, this ‘birds of a feather’ mentality is not only exclusionary, it is short-sighted in that people to act the same, think the same and have the same experiences, must, by extension, have the same values, ideas and priorities. Segmenting and grouping society only serves to increase the gaps and divisions within communities and entrenches view points and attitudes. The legal industry, while itself far from perfect, embraces, indeed is founded upon, principles of fairness and equality and the importance and power of knowledge in achieving enlightenment and combatting the negative destructive effects of ignorance.
As such, it is an environment where diversity is embraced and the pursuit of justice is not simply an altruistic desire, it is mandated as a primary goal. Most importantly, the legal profession, as a whole, is a powerful agent for change.
The knowledge and experience, acquired as a legal practitioner, not only as to how to defend those who cannot defend themselves, but how the entire system actually works, has allowed me to drive important changes, again at a micro-level, for individual clients.
However, more exciting to me is the idea of being part of a larger group, the legal profession as a whole, that can and does effect important change at a societal level. I have always felt the inclusiveness of this shared purpose, regardless of background, ethnicity, or gender, that is not available in other professions.
And, besides, is Themis not a woman? This seems like a pretty good indication that the legal profession is the right place for me!
What are the first three words you think of when you hear the word ‘diversity’?
“Our Differences is the one thing we all have in Common” … ok, this is technically more than three words, but what is important to me, what attracted me to the legal profession in the first place, is that we always will fail, whether it be facing a societal challenge or even in a legal issue, if we only focus on our differences and not what we have in common. This is why, within the broader practice of law, I am particularly interested in the focused area of Alternative Dispute Resolution. Resolving disputes and conflict through a process of identifying common ground seems to me to be a natural and logical strategy for self-preservation. When diversity is embraced, in any forum, then we focus less on ourselves and more on the bigger picture.
What do you think it will take to develop truly diverse thinking within the legal industry?
The same drive and values that motivate people to become lawyers in the first place:
• The focus on injustice;
• The intolerance to accept injustice as the natural order;
• The ability to find a better way;
• The intellect to put ideas into practice;
• The courage to try; and
• The resilience to persevere, overcome obstacles, never to surrender; and
• The passion to inspire others to join the fight and, together, succeed.
Kelly is a Barrister at Law.