There can be many reasons for choosing a law degree. It can be the obvious stepping stone to a legal career, it can turbo charge an existing career, or it can simply be the launch pad for a wide range of alternative careers.
For Jacob Luca it was a combined passion for public speaking and problem solving that drew him to law. Throughout secondary school, these parallel interests led him to what he considered the natural choice of a legal profession. And the added bonus was that he could complete the degree in his home town.
‘I chose to study law at Deakin because it allowed me to study in Geelong. This meant I was able to remain close to family, continue with part-time employment and focus on my studies without any major disruption to my life,’ he says.
Almost a decade later, Jacob still enjoys being able to live and work in Victoria’s largest regional city. As a solicitor with the Geelong-based Transport Accident Commission (TAC) he specialises in personal injury, insurance and litigation and is responsible for advising the commission on its liabilities.
‘I provide advice on issues of liability, indemnity, eligibility and quantum – I also manage the defence of jury trials in the County Court and Supreme Court and serious injury applications in the County Court. My role requires me traverse some fairly interesting subject matter and I am responsible for drafting legal advices, draft court documents, appear at mediations and conferences and brief counsel if matters run to trial,’ he explains.
It’s a role that also sees him frequently travelling the freeway between Geelong and Melbourne and making regular, additional trips to regional court circuits such as Shepparton, Bendigo and Sale.
Jacob began building his portfolio of legal skills while still studying and during his final year at Deakin, he worked as a law clerk/paralegal at the Geelong office of a prominent personal-injury firm.
‘This experience allowed me to obtain exposure to clients, see the workings of a court room and develop some valuable practical skills such as drafting court documents and taking witness statements,’ he says.
After graduating in 2006, Jacob completed his articles of clerkship at a mid-sized Geelong legal firm where he practised as commercial property and litigation solicitor. Four years later, he was offered a role with the TAC which had recently relocated its headquarters to Geelong.
He says the practical component of his Deakin law degree enabled him to hit the ground running.
‘Participating in moot, arbitrations and witness examinations were all great experiences and provided a break from the endless reading that goes with studying law – and for that matter, practising law! I was also fortunate enough to be taught by some excellent lecturers who had a passion for their chosen areas which in turn inspired us to learn,’ he recalls.
Jacob adds that honing his planning, time management, and analysis skills was a highly-valuable component of his undergraduate studies.
‘When dealing with litigation cases, time management is essential as a missed deadline could have disastrous consequences and could result in a defence being struck out or an order of costs being made against your client. I also learnt how to analyse complex concepts and translate them into plain English – these skills are not only useful in the legal profession but across all aspects of life,’ he says.
Seeking legal assistance can often be a daunting and stressful process but Jacob says it can be made less challenging by the offer of sound legal advice and support.
‘I’ve worked with a diverse range of clients during my legal career and I think one of their key requirements is access to clear, succinct, easy-to-understand legal advice that focuses on the relevant issues. Having the ability to analyse what’s relevant and relay this information in a straight-forward manner certainly helps.’
A legal career that revolves around litigation is often demanding. Some of the challenges lie in the combatant nature of the litigation process and ensuring that the tight court-and-client imposed deadlines are met.
But Jacob says there are many rewarding trade-offs and he’s been fortunate to work with excellent and inspiring barristers including Queens Counsel.
‘Recently, I also obtained a favourable jury verdict for my client in the County Court which was subsequently upheld by the Court of Appeal. I have also managed a trial in the Shepparton County Court circuit which returned a ‘no negligence’ jury verdict for my client.’
He also considers it a privilege to mentor some of the junior solicitors in the TAC’s legal branch and says this is one of the ‘most rewarding’ aspects of his role.
In his 10 years of legal practice, Jacob is now observing the creep of digital change across the sector and says social media is fast becoming a significant player in marketing.
‘Law firms – like all businesses – really need an online presence in order to compete in the market place. There’s also greater reliance being placed on technology, such as electronic court filing, and paperless litigation is being trialled in courts and tribunals. In particular, the TAC runs paperless hearings at the Victorian Civil & Administrative Tribunal, which includes the use of electronic court books,’ he explains.
With the TAC’s legal branch now operating under a paperless model, Jacob says the greater emphasis on technology means that lawyers will either ‘have to embrace it or be left behind’.
Outside his role as a solicitor, Jacob enjoys distance running and has participated in several half marathons. As a long-standing member of the Geelong community, he’s also volunteered with the Geelong Community Legal Service and served as a committee member with the Geelong Law Association. But he considers his greatest personal achievement to be parenthood.
‘I’m the proud parent of pretty amazing, yet sometimes cheeky, three year old,’ he smiles.
Reflecting on his chosen career, Jacob considers that legal professionals are probably best acknowledged as problem solvers, rather than public speakers.
‘Lawyers are often considered as people who love to argue and hear the sound of their own voice, but they’re really more problem solvers. And this is because we’re regularly required to see whether various sets of facts fit within a legal principle.’
And his advice for those who may be considering a legal career?
‘I’d recommend it for anyone who likes to challenge themselves, has a keen eye for detail, enjoys problem solving – and doesn’t mind a little bit of reading.’