By -

Allens lawyer GABRIELLE MORRISS has taken out this year’s NSW Young Lawyers Golden Gavel competition with a hilarious take on why uniformity isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Gabrielle Morriss is the first lawyer in her family and moved to Sydney from Darwin to take up a position at Allens. She was delighted to win the NSW Young Lawyers annual Golden Gavel competition at the Westin Hotel in Sydney on 20 May.

Morriss studied law at Bond University and, after being offered a position at Allens, spent a year living back in Darwin and working for the Chief Justice of the Northern Territory. Morriss said sitting near NSW Young Lawyers Patron Gillian Triggs was as much of a thrill as being selected to represent NSW in the national final.

Triggs told the sell-out audience of almost 800 that the 10 competitors displayed “the wonderful talent we have in Australia”.

“There’s no better way of defending ourselves against our absurd laws than through comedy,” she said.

Ryan Murphy, of Somerville Legal, was selected as runner-up and Lachlan Williams of Gadens won the People’s Choice award.

The event was sponsored by Sparke Helmore, Unisearch, University of Technology Sydney, Concep and DTI Global.

Winner: Gabrielle Morriss, Allens

Topic: THE LPUL: who wore it best?

I’ve gotta tell ya, I was stoked with my topic. Firstly, as you know, I am from the fashion capital of Australia – Darwin. Secondly, ‘Who wore it best?’ Finally, someone had the guts to inject the misogyny of the red carpet into these mundane and innocuous regulatory reforms. It’s one of the most inspiring and aggressive attempts to include women in the legal industry in the past 10 years.

For those who aren’t familiar with the Uniform Laws, there are 476 sections to the riveting Act, as well as four schedules. I read all of them last night. Comedy gold. My personal favourite section is 423(1): ‘the Council may maintain a legal profession register’. Ripper clause. In hindsight, I wish I’d spent more time over the last 24 hours preparing this speech rather than familiarising myself with an Act which I now understand I was meant to be complying with over the last 12 months.

The laws are uniform, they’re national – and by that I mean it only applies to NSW and Victoria. It reflects the Sydney view of the world. It encompasses NSW, it tolerates Victoria, and the rest is non est. That means, ‘Does not exist’. I don’t need to translate. In our profession, most people studied Latin at university because of its broad practical application. Just like Roman law.

So, why have uniform laws to regulate the profession? Why not just introduce uniforms for the profession? That way, people can avoid us at parties before they ask us what we do. Of course, we couldn’t just have one uniform. How would we distinguish the hierarchy? Different uniforms would be essential. Judges and barristers – they can keep their uniforms. Their honours love throwing on a dress and a wig (and occasionally a robe). Commercial lawyers – something boring with a white collar. Criminal lawyers – I don’t really know if a uniform would work there. In prison visits, it’s kind of the only thing that distinguishes the client from the lawyer. Legal aid – their uniform started out as a full suit, but two budgets later they’re not even wearing pants. The problem with uniforms is that they’re too rigid, unlike what the tags say, one size never bloody fits all. So what about some guiding fashion principles to navigate the runways of the law? These are the three highest-rated fashion mantras from Google.

  1. ‘Style is a way of saying who you are without having to speak.’ For example, if you wear a double-breasted pinstripe suit when you are less than five years PQE, it screams ‘arrogant, average technical skills and a whiff of nepotism’.
  2. ‘If you can’t stop thinking about it, buy it.’ Like work experience. Or justice.
  3. ‘Flaunt your assets.’ They don’t have to be your own assets. Just any family assets or properties that could be used for work retreats.

The problem is that uniforms, and even Google’s guiding principles, aren’t going to help you with the ‘Who wore it best?’ dilemma. That’s because the question is wrong. We have all seen the magazines: two women in identical outfits being compared. The assumption is that we are all wearing the same outfit. In the legal industry, the standard outfit or uniform is that stated by his Honour, Justice Timberlake: my suit and tie. So men are going to wear it better. The best fashion advice I’ve had, or found online, came from Magnolia Maymuru, a young Indigenous model from Yirrkala in East Arnhem Land. She says, ‘I don’t read magazines’. Like Magnolia, I hope I don’t focus on the magazine and the ‘who wore it best’ approach to our profession.

Our industry still has a uniform appearance: white, male, often balding … Not a trend I rock well. Instead, I hope I have the courage to develop my own style, take pieces from other people’s ensembles and work out how I wear it best, and have the balls to wear some controversial accessories. It means I won’t always turn up looking how people expect, but that trend is one that the profession can – and should – wear.

GABRIELLE MORRISS 2016 Golden Gavel winner GABRIELLE MORRISS 2016 Golden Gavel winner

Why not just introduce uniforms for the profession? That way, people can avoid us at parties before they ask us what we do.

People’s Choice: Lachlan Williams, Gadens

Topic: Lock out laws and responsible service

Lock out laws and responsible service – Barry O’Farrell’s parting gift to NSW. The groundswell of public opinion dividing this delicate issue has seen the closure of iconic venues in The Cross, such as Bada Bing, which has had the unintended effect of freeing up Tuesday afternoons for most of the NSW Bar. Arrests for prostitution have gone up 488 per cent, which has had the effect of freeing up Wednesday afternoons for most of the Bar. Consequently, Sydney has earned a new reputation. I actually read in the paper that Spanish tourists have labelled Sydney el cementerio – or the cemetery – which I found a particularly scathing remark given they had just gotten off the plane from Brisbane.

NSW has even been proclaimed ‘the nanny state’ – and not in a cool nanny sense like a hot French au pair, but the kind of nanny you find in an old person’s home with a bottle of kerosene. As lawyers, we see the effect of lockout laws like no other demographic. For this reason, I propose an amendment exempting all lawyers from the lockout laws. I mean, the greatest irony of the lockout laws is that despite being enacted on the basis of alcohol-related violence, the state’s most violent venue managed to gain an exemption. So, why shouldn’t lawyers? I mean, giving Star Casino an exemption to these laws is like having a Royal Commission into corruption and appointing Obeid as the Commissioner.

We are caught in this social and economic double-team of unmatched proportions. Not only have they taken the home-owning Aussie dream from us, but they’ve taken our last inalienable right to embarrass ourselves on the dance floor. I mean, any person who says you don’t need to be drunk to dance has clearly never met a single, white male.

As young lawyers, we have been locked out of the housing market, free education, and the employment market. So it’s time we take a stand and demand an exemption from the lockout laws for the following reasons:

  1. For a lawyer, alcohol is medicine. On this basis, lawyers view pubs and clubs as essentially all-night chemists. Would you deny a sick person their much-needed medication? I didn’t think so. Now, where’s my rum and coke?
  2. Lawyers work ridiculous hours. It’s hard to make it to the pub by 1.30am when you’re working until 2am. So, what are you meant to do? Go home? Sleep? Screw that!
  3. They say that lawyers, as a profession, drink too much. These laws don’t stop us from drinking – they stop us from drinking with friends. We do it alone. According to my psychiatrist, this behaviour is anti-social.
  4. Lawyers see deadlines as guidelines. Failed to put on all your evidence in time? No worries! Have another two weeks. Judges are ex-lawyers. They get that a deadline is merely a guideline. Bouncers are ex-gym trainers who are d*ckheads. They do not.
  5. How am I supposed to get laid? I mean, given that I’m a soft five out of 10 when I’m sober, how can I possibly upgrade to a hard seven without my friends Jim, Johnny and Jose Cuervo?
  6. Tax lawyers. If you’ve ever been in a room with one, those poor bastards need all the help they can get.

Upon reflection, the lockout laws aren’t all that bad, because of the unifying effect they have on Sydney. The systematic destruction of our eco-system wasn’t able to do it, nor the forced amalgamation of councils. What really brought Sydneysiders together was the terrifying prospect of being unable to purchase a Jaeger Bomb after midnight.

In fact, when I think about it, we should just ditch the lockout laws altogether. Lawyers have a vested interest in people making terrible decisions, whether that be entering into a deal on the 10th shot, trespassing in a museum after your 12th cocktail, or getting married to someone hopelessly wrong for you after a nine-day bender. All of these are the lifeblood of the profession. People need lawyers to get them out of shonky partnerships, some low-grade criminal charges, or a shonked-up marriage doomed for failure. But when people are locked out, they go home and go to sleep. No one needs a lawyer to get out of bed.

So, with the grim prospect of fewer bars and clubs, more debt and higher property prices, there have never been more things in Sydney that make you want to have a nice stiff drink … but you can’t if you’re locked out.

LACHLAN WILLIAMS 2016 Golden Gavel People's Choice LACHLAN WILLIAMS 2016 Golden Gavel People's Choice

Not only have they taken the home-owning Aussie dream from us, but they’ve taken our last inalienable right to embarrass ourselves on the dance floor.