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State in mind


Cite as: (2009) 83(02) LIJ, p.22

Country Lawyer Danny Barlow has an holistic approach to his new role as LIV president.

After completing his law degree, and before taking up the profession full-time, 2009 LIV president Danny Barlow returned to his local district – Shepparton – and spent 18 months farming.

He considered staying with the agrarian life before his love of the law and his father’s advice convinced him to use his Melbourne University degree and stay with the law.

Describing himself as “a country person who always intended to work in the country”, Mr Barlow, 37, completed his articles at Shepparton-based Riordan Legal in 1995.

He has remained at the firm ever since and was made a partner in 2004, practising primarily in commercial litigation and employment law.

Mr Barlow was Goulburn Valley Law Association president when he first became involved with the LIV Council in 2005. On the suggestion of LIV honorary life member and Shepparton colleague David Faram, he nominated for, and was selected to fill, an LIV Council casual vacancy.

He has subsequently been elected twice to three-year terms, has been treasurer and was the 2008 vice-president.

This year Mr Barlow will spend three days a week in Melbourne at the LIV as he undertakes his duties as LIV president.

He accepted the role after working to ensure the move would not be to the detriment of clients and the firm.

Mr Barlow said technology enabled him to perform Riordan Legal duties while working in Melbourne.

“Technology was a big factor in taking the job. There should be no difference than if I were in Shepparton, unless a client needs to see you face to face. It will certainly be much easier than if I were trying to do the same thing 20 years ago,” he said.

“There will also be more delegation within the firm and we are fortunate there are junior solicitors to step up and take on the extra responsibility along with the other partners.”

Mr Barlow said the three days in Melbourne and the time spent apart from his office and wife, HR manager Christina Bassani, would merely be a continuation of the travelling back and forth to Melbourne that he has done continually since his teen years.

He told the LIJ that he was honoured to guide the LIV this year as it celebrates its 150th anniversary.

“For a country on a world scale that is relatively young, to have an institution like the LIV that has been around for 150 years speaks highly of the role that the LIV has played over that time,” Mr Barlow said.

“It is a fantastic opportunity to be president of an organisation that is stimulating and productive and [staffed] by people from reasonably different backgrounds with the best of motives in working for the betterment of the profession and community,” he said.

And while he will continue to fight current LIV battles, including advocating for an increase in legal aid funding, the top of his 2009 agenda is to improve the work/life balance of solicitors everywhere.

He also wants to ensure young lawyers recognise the opportunities in rural practice, to make certain the profession better reflects a wider cross-section of the population and to work to combat the incidence of depression among lawyers. [A 2006 survey found lawyers were more likely than those from other professions to be depressed and to use alcohol and drugs to try and manage the problem. See “Survey reveals depth of depression problem”, June 2007 LIJ, pages 22-25.]

Mr Barlow believes many of the work/life balance, career progression and job satisfaction issues faced by young lawyers could be addressed by trying to commit to a firm long-term or a stint in the country instead of repeated job-shopping.

“I have not changed firms and have always been happy and always felt welcome,” he said.

“With the one firm you get the continuity and are able to build up loyalty with clients who then respond to that. Sometimes employees move jobs to obtain a pay increase but in the long term your loyalty will be repaid.”

Mr Barlow said a culture seemed to have developed where lawyers thought they had to move on to advance their careers.

“By all means look elsewhere but, particularly now in the harder economic times, I think there are long-term benefits by staying longer or working for the one firm.”

Mr Barlow is co-chair of a Law Council of Australia (LCA) working group set up to address attraction and retention issues affecting regional and suburban areas across Australia.

“The experience has been that it is difficult to attract people to these areas, despite how good the firms and their clients are. I just ask people to go in with an open mind and not think they will be gone in a year,” he said.

“There are great benefits in getting involved in the firm and the community.”

Mr Barlow, who was raised on a wheat and beef farm near Colbinabbin, between Shepparton and Bendigo, said the LCA working group was investigating the possibility of using HECS relief to entice recent graduates from capital cities to the country.

Closer to his heart, Mr Barlow believes the legal profession at all levels should be more inclusive and representative of a cross-section of the community as a whole.

He wants to see more Indigenous Australians and ethnic minorities involved in the law.

“Our community make-up has changed radically over the past 50 years and we need to redress under-representation in the profession.”

He said barriers that stop this change must be dismantled.

Mr Barlow also wants to tackle the instance of depression within the legal ranks and believes practitioners would benefit by having a “side interest” to help offset a “reasonably stressful job”.

“Anecdotally you hear about depression and the statistics show it is happening at very high levels. This affects not only the person, but their families and the profession,” he said.

The LIV has a suite of programs to help practitioners [see] and on that front Mr Barlow hopes to expand an LIV program that links troubled practitioners with qualified professionals, encourage them to seek those services and educate firms in getting employees help.

“There is a reluctance, especially in this profession, because people may be seen as not being competent [if being treated for depression]. We need to increase the education and awareness for firms who should also know that, due to occupational health and safety regulations, they have certain legal obligations in this regard,” he said.

During what will be a busy year, Mr Barlow has promised the LIV will continue its push for an increase in legal aid funding by working with Victoria Legal Aid towards an optimal outcome.

He also wants to continue with work to cut the unnecessarily high levels of regulation and duplication of regulatory bodies and to do more to counter the increasing competition from outside the legal profession.

Mr Barlow intends to work with the LCA towards a unified system for regulating the nation’s lawyers and believes it not only has relevance for large law firms but all practitioners across Victoria.

“The world is getting much smaller and lawyers often have matters across borders and across the country,” he said.

Mr Barlow also wants to help turn-around a “public perception of the profession that seems to be largely negative”.

This, he said, could be achieved by a campaign designed to point out to the public the beneficial pro bono, volunteering and philanthropic work undertaken by solicitors for the community.

Importantly, he wants the LIV to do everything it can to help practitioners and firms through the current global financial crisis.

Mr Barlow, with an eye to that crisis, said it would be a “false economy” if members were to abandon LIV memberships this year.

“The LIV has to be very conscious that our members are not immune to what is happening and we have to be focussed on what we offer members,” he said.

“We will be providing benefits that will outweigh what they spend on their membership. We are going to be prudent and will remain loyal to the membership base and take steps that are of benefit to our members.”

Mr Barlow is devoted to his community, sits on business and Indigenous boards and barracks for district footy teams.

With a demanding year ahead, he will be ensuring he has an outlet away from the law.

This will involve a return to the land.

Mr Barlow said he hoped to buy a property where he plans to plant crops, before turning his hand to cattle.

“Some solicitors go for vines or golf, but I will buy the land sometime soon. But I always wanted to be a lawyer, and university only reinforced that, and I have no plans to stop practising law,” he said.

Mr Barlow will be LIV president from 1 January to 31 December 2009.


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