Sometimes a highly-successful career can grow from the most uncertain of beginnings.
When Nick Blayney was completing secondary school, he had no expectation of getting into law at university: he didn’t come from a family of lawyers and there were few benchmarks to aim for. His aim for Year 12 was simply to do his best and work it out from there.
Happily, Nick’s VCE results paved the way to a law degree and he chose to study at Deakin because of program’s practical focus and the added bonus of combining it with a commerce degree.
But at age 17, Nick’s first semester of university was ‘rocky’ enough for him to consider tossing it all in.
‘I scraped through but with my confidence seriously damaged, I did some soul-searching and questioned whether I was “smart enough” or had the right background to pursue law. Ultimately, I decided I would give it one more chance and pour all my efforts into my studies during second semester. Thankfully my marks significantly improved,’ he recalls.
Fast forward 16 years and Nick is now a partner at Thomson Geer, one of Australia’s largest corporate law firms.
He works in the firm’s Workplace Insurance Services team and across all levels of the Victorian Courts including the Court of Appeal and the High Court of Australia.
‘I act for the insurers of Victorian employers in litigation involving workplace injuries. It's a litigation based practice and there is significant time spent in court working on a wide variety of cases based in tort. I also have a specialist practice in workplace fatalities, judicial review proceedings and industrial exposure claims,’ he explains.
After his first semester uncertainty Nick says he regained his confidence and went on to pursue some ‘great opportunities’ at Deakin.
‘These included competing at the Hong Kong International Moot and spending a semester studying law in Denmark. Along the way I was also lucky enough to obtain a few seasonal clerkships.’
One of the clerkships was at Herbert Geer and Rundle where Nick eventually completed his articles in 2009.
‘Over the 10 years I’ve been working there the firm has evolved and transformed and is now Thomson Geer,’ he explains.
In a role that’s both demanding and challenging, Nick often has to work on sensitive and complex cases that can include claims involving serious injury, disease and death.
'The work is constantly challenging and interesting and frequently requires grappling with intricate medical evidence and concepts as well as the ever evolving law. The work is important as it ensures an effective and viable statutory insurance regime for all Victorians,’ he says.
Like many professions, law is being revolutionised by the impact of technology and over the past decade Nick has seen sweeping changes to the way it’s used in legal work.
‘For example, our firm has undertaken an extensive modernisation process which has involved a significant investment in skilling all staff in technology as well as an investment in hardware. We have fully electronic files and now have the flexibility to work from anywhere. There’s also been an increasing reliance of technology in the courts which improved processes and communications with the legal profession,’ he says.
Acknowledging technology as the key driver of change across the legal landscape, Nick suggests this will shape the next generation of lawyers.
‘With competition for legal services currently at fever pitch, it is modern, agile and technology-savvy lawyers and firms who will be best placed to meet the demands of clients.’
Interestingly, the other change he’s observed is not based on technology but on the behaviour of litigation lawyers.
‘Over the years since the introduction of the Civil Procedure Act 2010, I've noticed that opposing lawyers are far more co-operative and reasonable in their dealings with each other. In turn, the profession has become far more transparent and professional,’ he remarks.
At Thomson Geer, Nick is recognised as an inclusive and supportive mentor to junior staff and he enjoys collaborating with his peers and assisting with staff development.
His advice to current and potential law students is to always keep an open mind about the many avenues that a law career offers.
‘There are so many different options now and so much more scope to try different types of legal practice. Explore different options and work out what suits you best. It may take a while to get to where you want to be, but hard work and persistence will pay off.