Everything I know about the practice of law, I learnt in the sandpit – My Golden Gavel Speech (Shangri-La Hotel, Sydney, 2011)

I delivered this speech for the Annual Golden Gavel Young Lawyers – Law Society NSW Competition. Ten competitors have 24 hours to prepare a 5 minute speech to be presented to an audience of 500 lawyers, judges and barristers at 7.15 AM in a luxury Sydney hotel. I reproduce this speech for you not as an example of a good speech, not because I was victorious, but because I accomplished something that none of the other competitors had. I was the only competitor with 2 sick kids to look after while I prepared, I had had less than 3 hours sleep the night before and I left the house when it was still dark. I was there 30 minutes early and I was remarkably un-nervous and well groomed! When I spoke I was fearless and I loved every minute of it! Not sure I would do it again, once was enough for me. Also, couldn’t have done it without darling husband giving me a chance to prepare overnight and tending to the kids for the dawn shift so I could get to thic city by 6.54am! Why didn’t I win, you ask? Well – to be fair, I think my imminent win may have been hindered by the fact that I was speaker number 3 and I had to compete with the clatter of 500 sets of knives and forks digging into a full buffet breakfast. Also, to my credit, I did get lots of “she’s made such a cute little joke” laughs from the audience and I was a true aid to my fellow competitors for getting the croud warmed up by speaker number 10! Enjoy x

It’s always fun to reflect on the past.  I can recall so clearly:

Long days spent digging all day long to discover some buried treasure that everyone else was searching for but only I could find.

The wayward young boys trying to convince me to play with them and run away and be naughty. 

The usual, annoying pests nagging me for stuff. 

The cute guy who sits next to me and always manages to distract me with his charming little antics and shiny, new toys. 

The mean bullies who are always getting into trouble for harassing the girls, saying rude things to us and trying to look up our skirts. 

The constant pressure of having to impress my friends with the cool stuff I can say and do. 

And Finally, at the end of the day when I’ve reached my limit, I’m in tears crying for my mummy or daddy to come and rescue me. 

Hhmph!  And that was just my day at work YESTERDAY.  Yes, I have to say everything I know about the practice of law I learnt in the sandpit.

For lawyers, the sandpit really is our very first training ground.

It’s where we get our first taste of how to be lawyers and how to interact with all other lawyers. 

The funny thing is, I’m not sure we’ve evolved from those halcyon sandpit days.  We just swapped our toy cars for sports cars, our plastic phones for iPhones and BlackBerries, our crayons for real pens, our overalls for powersuits and our barbies and toy soldiers for clients and colleagues.  We’re all just big kids trying to survive in the big corporate sandpit

All you have to do is think back to your own days as a kid in the sandpit. 

The Networkers

These kids are the dealmakers, shrewd negotiators and savvy schemers. 

“SO – I’m willing to trade you my red spade if you let me play with your green bucket.  O yeah, and on condition that that yummy mummy of yours comes to pick us up later.  Anyway, great catching up. Sorry, gotta go, potty break.  Let’s do lunch sometime soon, maybe a play-date.  Get your parents to call my parents – soon.  Pencil some time in.  [Wave].

The Litigators

These kids ask a million questions.  Why Why Why why why? love digging up stuff and won’t stop digging till they find their friend’s Kinder-Surprise toy lost at the bottom of the sandpit.  They’re also excellent at burying stuff so that no one can ever find it again. 

The smooth talkers

These kids have the razzle dazzle.

All they do is wink, smile sweetly and then steal your toys from under your nose.  “Look – over there, isn’t that Dorothy the dinosaur?”

Before you know it your bucket, spade and snacks are all gone and your shoes are filled to the brim with sand.  But, you’re not phased at all. And what’s more you’d probably be duped again for a lick of their ice cream.

The bullies

These are the bossy kids.  They never play nice. They throw sand at the younger kids and never share their toys.  They live by the theories of “Rather hit than Be hit”.  “Rather bite than be bitten.”  

They stake out their territory and terrorise the other kids to succeed. Ball-breaking corporate lawyer perhaps?

The delegators

These are kids don’t their own hands and feet dirty.  They give orders, get the younger kids to do all the work and they just approve the whole process.  [LOUD BOLD VOICE: “No, that sandcastle is not to our satisfaction.  It’s OK in spirit and substance, but I don’t think we can charge big money for that.  It doesn’t even fit the culture of our sandpit. 

Next time, you might want to make more effort to build it higher, with more levels, and with a bit more enthusiasm.  Maybe – then I could give my sign-off.” 

Destined I’m sure for life as partner in a big top tier firm.

Then you have the Dreamers and Loners, who play on their own and aren’t interested in what the other kids are up to?  Maybe a sole practitioner? Or still doing their masters? “Yeah we’re really not sure what wrong with our little Chloe’ – we’ve been to all the best therapists and she just stares out the window.  .”

And The mediators

These kids are in the minority. They’re at the top of the sandpit pecking-order.  These kids set the rules and ethics for the sandpit.  They break up fights and settle disputes.  They decide who goes on the swings next, for how long and why.  A future judge perhaps?

Yes – everything we need to know about the practice of law, we learnt in the sandpit.  But we still have much more to learn from the sandpit rule of law.

Like how to have fun!  Because – We’ve lost our way in the humdrum of daily legal life and become so stiff and uptight. 

And so I have some suggestions:

·        Ciggie breaks and coffee runs should be replaced with a quick ride on the see-saw.


·         Who needs the gym –head for the jungle gyms and slides instead!

·        No more drafting long-winded affidavits. Just get your witness some finger-paints, and they can illustrate the sequence of events.

·         Forget yoga and pilates! Wouldn’t we all prefer to have a scheduled nap time to unwind?  The managing partner can pop in from office to office settling us to sleep with a lovely, calming rendition of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, how I wonder where all our clients are?”

·        No more stuffy conferences and extravagant client lunches at swanky restaurants.  Let’s all meet at Hyde Park in the sunshine and everyone can swap lunches and play hide-and-seek.

           .We’ll institute a rewards system with a star chart and lollies.  Who said bribery never worked – have you ever seen a disobedient kid with massive multicoloured lollypop?  You could put an end to all those unnecessary courtroom tantrums!

And For all you judges out there – Not you, your Honour, of course, but the rest of you – try to jouge up those boring judgments of yours.  Ditch all that

legal mumbo jumbo, obiter dicta, and, case references

that no-one ever reads. Be creative.  Try something punchy but with a catchy, timeless rhyme.  Like… “Jack and Jill went up the hill, please try not to steal and kill.”

Let’s go old school. Bring back the sandpit to our profession. Let’s infuse some fun into this legal rat race and who knows – we could even reverse the GFC with all this positive energy.

Ok  – that’s it from me.  Now hands on heads, Boys and Girls and not another word out of any of you till the next speaker OK!


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