John North is a Judge of the District Court of New South Wales, former Law Council of Australia President and has over 27 years experience in the legal profession.
Judge North is passionate about the legal profession and its intrinsic role in ensuring the survival of many RRR areas of Australia. He grew up in rural Dubbo and ran his own legal practice in the western NSW town for over 25 years.
As an experienced member of the legal profession who has spent a significant period of his career in country Australia, why do you enjoy practising law in country Australia?
It’s because of the variety of work that you get and the responsibility that’s placed on you. Because resources are scarce, as a lawyer you have learn to adapt quickly and you’re entrusted with a great amount of responsibility from a young age.
From the very first day I started work in Dubbo, I was sent down to the court to do a defended matter, without any real assistance except from the solicitor telling me to make sure that I proved certain points. This isn’t an entirely unusual scenario for young lawyers who go bush because resources are tight, it’s very busy, and you have to learn to get across a number of different legal fields which is both interesting and challenging.
Contrasting your work in country Australia to your time in the metropolitan cities, what have you found are the key differences in practising law from both a lifestyle and work perspective?
The major difference I’ve found working in the country is that you don’t have any of the associated hassles of getting to and from work. When working in Dubbo on most days I could go home to have lunch and I could ride a bike to and from work. I also found that the hours were more conducive to family life‚ you didn’t have to work as long as you usually have to in Sydney‚ because the overheads and many other things in the bush cost a lot less.
You mentioned living costs and a strong work-life balance as being key plusses for working in country Australia. What else did you love about working in country Australia?
My favourite part about working in country Australia was being able to spend time with my family and also the fact you got to know your fellow practitioners so well. In Dubbo, where I grew up, there exists a very strong relationship between members of the profession, and that made working life much more enjoyable.
Young lawyers in particular seem to be hesitant about practising law in country Australia. As someone who previously ran a practice in country Australia, what methods did you use to attract and retain young lawyers? What would you say to a young lawyer who was considering a career in the bush?
We used our contacts to not only help them find adequate housing, but also try and introduce them into the cultural and sporting life of the town. As a partner in a country practice, it was important to offer young lawyers more than just pay and work.
If a young lawyer were to ask me about practising in a country area I would tell them to go for it and make real use of the experience! Young lawyers learn far more quickly about a far wider range of law, and they will also get to learn about clients and have face-to-face contact from day one, which does not occur in the same fashion in the city. In the bush, you can’t always get a barrister for everything you want to do so your junior lawyers are going to get considerable advocacy experience that you’re just not going to get in the city.
Where do you see the future of legal practice in country Australia heading?
The legal profession provides such an important service to rural, regional and remote communities‚ it is absolutely vital that people are encouraged to practise in the bush and also that they know about the benefits that are available to them.
Where do see yourself in the future in relation to practising law? Would you consider a move back to Dubbo or would you like to branch out further afield?
As a judge, I really enjoy going on circuits and visiting country areas, but if I ever gave my current role up I would have no hesitation in working in rural, regional or remote Australia. And given my current stage of life, I wouldn’t mind working in some really remote areas to not only help the locals, but also those very hard pressed Legal Aid and Aboriginal Legal Service solicitors.
Because resources are scarce, as a lawyer you have learn to adapt quickly and you’re entrusted with a great amount of responsibility from a young age.