Eileen joined Aptum earlier this year as an Executive Lawyer, bringing more than 10 years of experience in commercial litigation.
Delving into some of Eileen’s experiences to date, we spoke about her thoughts on what makes a good lawyer, her passion for IT, and how she imagines a more accessible legal environment.
You’ve been in commercial litigation for your entire career so far. What’s behind that?
That’s right. I did dabble a little bit in shareholder class actions, so still in the commercial space with financial services, but otherwise I’ve always been in commercial litigation. The work is just so varied, which is great. I’m still learning something new every day which is always interesting and challenging.
You haven’t seen it all yet?
I don’t think so. I’ll see clients who are directors of large organisations with large turnovers or business owners with contract disputes which I’m well versed in, and then at the other end of the scale I’ve represented farmers who are just trying to do business and are impacted by something unlawful, so you need to learn a lot about all these fascinating things to help them. I learnt all about watermelon seeds in one matter, and about peaches in another.
It’s really rewarding when you can understand someone’s life and then be able to get them an outcome where they would otherwise have been lost, or not been compensated for a legal wrong. Being able to protect someone if they’re defending a case is just as rewarding too.
Do you think that having a certain adaptability is what makes a good lawyer?
Specialising in a particular area of law or subject matter is one thing, but I think that litigation itself is an art.
We’re not experts in subject matter but experts in the litigation process. There are a lot of nuances to it. You have to spend time at the front end of matters working out, “what do we know, what are the risks and what are the different pathways we could go down?” Litigation experience is so important because there are a lot of variables that can influence the outcome. It’s not always just about the legal issue.
How do you see these variables show up, in your experience?
Sometimes it’s something as simple as a witness in a trial—the impression they give, or how they answer questions in cross examination—that can change the dynamic and then the outcome. So it’s those kinds of things that aren’t necessarily legal issues but are still litigation issues. That’s where we can minimise the risk factors involved and help predict what the outcome is going to be.
You also studied IT at uni. How has that helped your practice as a commercial litigation lawyer?
Yes! IT is my other passion. I studied both Law and IT because I really loved both. In law, things can sometimes be grey. Whereas IT is the opposite, it’s essentially black and white. That methodical and logical thinking helps in law practise because you need to be as definitive as possible for clients. I will want to answer questions like, “Can I actually prove this particular threshold? Where is the evidence to prove that?” I think that having that logical reasoning helps to draw claims towards conclusion.
How do you think tech is changing the way lawyers work?
I think it’s becoming part of running a legal practice because you develop systems to get to the outcome rather than getting lost in all the work you need to do without really knowing how you’re going to get there. That’s great for clients. There’s lots of things that IT and software can do to help with that.
And do you see any barriers for the way litigation operates for clients at the moment?
This has nothing to do with tech, but sometimes clients feel adamant that they want to have their day in court. But it’s our job to let them know that whilst they may have a great case, there are other factors like the cost and time commitment which are often overlooked. Going all the way [to trial] is fine of course, just as long as all the required information is considered.
Helping clients separate the grievance from the outcome.
Yeah, exactly. I hear a lot that “it’s about the principle of it”, which I completely understand but also realise it is perhaps partly influenced by what people see on TV about how exciting a day in court can be. Whereas going to trial can actually be quite dry. And it’s also quite stressful, so it’s often in the client’s interest to try and resolve things as soon as possible, particularly in a business environment.
It’s an important skill to have, don’t you think? Being able to communicate openly and honestly with someone about what’s in their best interests.
I think the more that the law speaks with clients, the better it is for everyone involved. It’s not always an easy thing to do. Yes, there are all these technical legal terms but clients just want to know the simple answer in plain language. “What’s my problem? What’s the answer?” I’m a big advocate for making things easy for clients to understand.
Eileen’s ambition and broad skillset are just some of the things she is contributing to Aptum’s impact in commercial litigation. We’ll have more to share about the people behind our growth in coming weeks.