Joanne van der Plaat
What support is there for lawyers relocating to RRR areas?
In terms of financial support, there isn’t any that I know of and if you want to relocate to an RRR area, it is at your cost in terms of removalist, accommodation. There could be more done to attract lawyers to RRR areas by way of financial incentives and I believe this is an area where RRR firms can establish and create their own successful models, without reliance on the government.
What experiences will I gain from working in RRR areas?
You will experience clients first hand and very early on. You will often be provided with more responsibility at an earlier stage of your career, particularly if you work for a sole practitioner or small firm. You will not only be practicing law, but developing business skills. You will be building up a client base and becoming part of a community. Legal practitioners are an integral part of their RRR community, often asked to serve on local charity boards, mentor students, undertake pro bono. The legal fraternity is a collegiate environment where we all support one another.
How will working in RRR areas elevate my career?
Unlike large city firms, where you often start your career completing very mundane tasks such as due diligence or lease reviews, you are exposed to a wide variety of practice areas upfront front in an RRR practice as most are general practice firms. This assists you quickly in deciding whether to specialise in a particular practice area. You will also appear in court very early on, which not only improves your advocacy skills, but allows you to network with senior practitioners, court staff, judiciary and the police. Many good local court magistrates have been appointed from RRR areas.
In which RRR area do you currently work, and how long have you been there?
I am a partner in a firm in Cooma, which is located in the Snowy Mountains region of NSW (about an hour south of Canberra). I moved here from Sydney in 2003.
If you have previously worked in metropolitan areas – what are the main differences working in RRR areas?
Previously I worked for a large international firm in Sydney with about 450 staff and relocated to Cooma where we have about 20 staff. Culturally, it was very different and in an RRR firm, you do everything, from taking out your own rubbish sometimes to making a cake for a staff member’s birthday. I used to travel 90 minutes each way every day on the train to get to and from work in Sydney. I now live on 100 acres, 25km from Cooma and it takes me 20 minutes to get to and from work. The only thing I need to worry about is not hitting a kangaroo on the way home if it is dark.
My previous employment, being a large firm, was specialised and I only worked in commercial real estate and tourism, whereas now I am in general practice. I decided to give almost every practice area a go, family law, personal injury, wills and estates, conveyancing, civil litigation and workplace relations, so that I could decide what areas I really wanted to excel in. I chose to continue practising in workplace relations, property law and wills and estates.
What three pieces of advice would you give to someone considering working in a RRR area?
- Search out an RRR legal practitioner and speak to them. Ask them all the simple questions including, what’s the nightlife like?; What sports can I play?; What is the arts scene like?; How many firms are in town and how many lawyers?; and Who is the local magistrate?
- Yes, there is great work/life balance but there is a misconception that you work less. That often is not the case. You will be just as busy as your city counterpart.
- Ensure you are member of your state law society or membership organisation. It keeps you connected to advocacy and policy work, allows you the ability to join committees (if that is your interest) and provides an invaluable source of up to date information that is often missing or not considered in the daily thrust of RRR practice.