In Law Week 2019, the Law Society of Western Australia launches a new, ongoing campaign, #LawyersMakeADifference, to highlight real stories of lawyers using their skills to help people in our community. In this article, Sally Bruce, Special Counsel at Jackson McDonald, shares her story.
I graduated from UWA law school in late '80s. Far from flying into my legal career, a large part of my 20s was spent in ill-health. In my 30s my life began again when I re-started my legal career, forging a lasting bond with mentor and now close friend, Patrick Hughes, who recently retired from the law. What a difference special people can make in your life!
After dabbling in various different areas of law, under Patrick’s guidance I eventually settled in the area of wills and estates, where I have practised now for over 20 years. While perhaps not the most hip area of law, wills and estates has given me the opportunity to do what I love the most, which is working with people and helping them to solve their problems, often in circumstances where family relationships are fraught.
It’s so rewarding meeting all sorts of different people, learning about their lives and playing some part, however small, in helping them to get their affairs in order. If I’ve learned anything in my 20+ years of practice, it’s how similar we all are on the inside. We share many of the same troubles and worries and we all strive for the same sense of peace and justice, no matter what walk of life we’re from.
Practising in the area of wills and estates has taught me the importance of listening and helped me to listen better. I think listening is the key to relationship building which is so important, particular in the area of law I practise in. I enjoy making connections with people and helping them to articulate their final wishes or to bring an end to a long running legal dispute they may be involved in.
Sometimes it’s not easy. I’m sure I’m not the only one who lays awake at night worrying about a client or a matter. Unfortunately, our brains don’t clock off at 5 o’clock or when we go home (often much later than that!). My mind still races in the background, waking me up at odd hours of the morning, thinking. There are times I wish I had a switch that I could just turn off at day’s end. I know I’d get a much better night’s sleep! But you can’t have it both ways. You can’t invest yourself in the client and their issues, and simply switch off at day’s end. Thoughts linger. You want to do the best you can.
I feel lucky to have had the opportunity, through the firm I work for, to help people in difficult situations with legal advice on a pro bono basis. This is something I’ve found very rewarding. I’ve also been fortunate to join a group of diverse and dedicated people on the board of Diabetes Research WA, through which I’ve had the privilege of contributing towards the special role this charity plays in medical research.
On the whole, I’ve enjoyed my legal career this far and I look forward to the next 20 years (well, perhaps not quite) helping people with their legal problems and contributing as far as I can to the wider community.