The Legal Path: The Career of a Lawyer
After many years of Trust and Estate Litigation and Family Law Property Litigation, Warwick Gilbertson developed an interest in not just pulling entities apart, but also in putting them together. From 2007 onwards, he worked in the area of Estate Planning, Trusts and Succession. After studying for his law degree through the University of Tasmania from 1969 to 1972, Warwick has achieved a lot in his legal career. He shares with us his best lessons and legal cases.
What do you think gave you the inspiration to choose this career path?
As to my inspiration, as a Lawyer I have always enjoyed the cut and thrust of Litigation, the representation of persons before the Courts and the enjoyment you receive from helping somebody through a difficult time in their life. I was brought up in a family where all persons, regardless of their background, were entitled to be respected and be treated equally and with fairness. It was logical when faced with a decision as to a future career that I would, when given that form of choice, choose law.
After many years of Litigation practice in Family Law and Estate Litigation, I formed a view that I could be of assistance to my clients by providing advice from a solicitor with knowledge in the practice of Wills, Estate Administration, Estate Litigation, Trust & Equity, Family Law and Taxation. It was something that was (to my way of thinking) a natural evolution as a legal practitioner. The clients of Turnbull Hill primarily consisted of families and small to medium enterprise businesses. We are in a time when “baby boomers” – of whom I am one! –spent most of their lives building up businesses and acquiring wealth, were considering what they would do with their assets and wealth and who would benefit from their efforts. It was a logical step in meeting the needs of our clients.
If you had chosen a different legal specialisation, what might it have been and why?
If I had chosen another legal specialisation when I was a young practitioner, it would have been Corporate Law. It is a fascinating area of law with many areas of specialisation within it. I have always enjoyed looking at organisations/entities, seeing how they are structured and where the power and control lies.
After years of dealing with estate planning, what do you find is the greatest reward of helping your clients?
My greatest reward with clients is when they see me as the person they trust. When you work in a team environment, a lawyer is only as good as the team around you. It is important that your team understand legally the nature of the work that they do and the manner in which you seek to operate. I have a firm belief that you are only as good as the person next to you.
Do you have particular cases throughout your legal life which stand as impacting milestones on your future?
- Hope v Bathurst City Council – High Court Decision. This taught me that the key to successful litigation and holding a matter on appeal was having all the evidence necessary. That you should not just prepare to win the case at first instance but also prepare to ‘hold’ the decision on Appeal.
- A case I now forget, but one as a young solicitor a Judge repeatedly rejected my objection to the manner of questions being asked by my opponent. I meekly accepted the ruling on each occasion, until out of frustration of what I saw as unfair, I challenged the judicial finding. My objections were then upheld. This taught me that my role was to represent my client, and to challenge a judicial decision that was averse to my client. I see this as a fundamental obligation of a court lawyer.
- Numerous Family Court and Supreme Court decisions taught me that:
- There is no such thing as a guaranteed result;
- Litigation is the ultimate gamble;
- Courts are no respecter of persons or your individual timetable and diary.
What do you put my successful achievements down to?
I had never thought of my career in the sense of success or achievements. I would consider it as follows:
- Being a person whose word is trusted;
- Full preparation and care is the key to success – readiness both in court cases and the preparation of documentation;
- Understanding the factual situation and giving clear, unambiguous advice that provides direction leaving your client with a capacity to make a decision as to which way to go;
- Looking upon all persons as worthy of your time and valuing your clients.
What are the biggest lessons learnt in teaching future generations of lawyers?
- Always remember that the trust and respect of your workmates, fellow legal practitioners, judges and clients is essential;
- Be able to communicate in the manner your client expects;
- Be relevant and up to date in the manner of practice;
- Do not just be a processor. To do so is death to your career;
- Embrace change or find another career.
Is there anything else that you would like to add?
When I started practicing law in 1975, communication was face-to-face, letters were written and sent by post, copies were made with carbon paper, electric typewriters were modern equipment, phone calls were made with landlines through the receptionist giving you a line by inserting a plug and cord for an outside line. In the 40 years photocopiers have developed, Xerox machines revolutionised communication, facsimile machines then changed the speed of communication, document exchanges were introduced, and mobile phones went from being a box which was the approximate size of a brick, to a phone which you can put into your pocket. The phone is now your computer and mobile office. Now there are phone/email/”Skype” conferences and conversations and digital records are essential.
Document creation evolved from typewriters to various early types of word processing machines through to the modern computer with its integrated response in all forms of communication. These developments have revolutionised legal practice and continue to do so. The practitioner who does not adapt to the manner in which business is done these days, will become irrelevant and will be left behind.
It is important that you know how to research to teach yourself the law in a new area of practice. There will constantly be ongoing changes in the manner in which a legal practitioner is able to provide a service that is reasonably remunerated. When I started practice the “bread and butter” of a legal firm was Conveyancing and Personal Injury work. This is no longer the case. The capacity to change the areas in which one has expertise moving from one area to another will determine your longevity and the success of your legal career.
There is a challenge in the future for legal practitioners, both in the manner in which they deliver their service and the increasing challenge of commoditisation of legal services in our society.
It is a strange contradiction that in the age of ‘the individual’, the availability of information and documentation on the internet has led to the individual sourcing documents that lack individuality.
Legal Practitioners have an important future role in providing quality services if they are targeted specific to the particular and individual needs of members of our community, their businesses and organisations.
Despite everything that we read and hear from our leaders, change agents and the media – “one size does not fit all”. In a time of significant social upheaval, as a legal practitioner I see my role as guiding my client through the maze of regulation and possible future conflict to enable them to achieve what they seek to happen now and in the future.
Law has never been more challenging and interesting.
Warwick Kenneth Gilbertson
Ph: (02) 49048000 / +61(02) 49048000
My name is Warwick Kenneth Gilbertson. I was admitted as a Legal Practitioner of the Supreme Court of Tasmania, Australia, on 5 February 1975, having graduated from the University of Tasmania with a Bachelor of Laws on 14 December 1972.
On 11 July 1980, I was admitted as an Attorney, Solicitor and Proctor of the Supreme Court of New South Wales. I practiced as a Solicitor in Bathurst, New South Wales where, for a period of 20 years, I was the Litigation Partner of a legal practice in a roll as “trouble-shooter” representing clients of the firm in the Central Western of New South Wales and in the State and Federal Courts situate in Sydney and Parramatta in the areas of Family Law, Defacto Law, various forms of Estate Litigation, Criminal and Traffic Matters.
I have since 1993 been an Accredited Specialist in Family Law with the Law Society of NSW.
I am also an Associate Member of the Taxation Institute of Australia and a Registered Trust and Estate Practitioner with the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP).
I have been a Partner in Turnbull Hill Lawyers since 2005, being the Partner in charge of the Wills and Estates, Contested Estates and Family Law sections.
As a Partner in charge of those sections, I supervise a team of lawyers in those various areas of practice.
Turnbull Hill is a large, regional practice in NSW with its central office in Newcastle and interviewing offices in Sydney and on the Central Coast.
Turnbull Hill Lawyers have been providing professional legal services to the people of Newcastle, Hunter, Central Cost and Sydney regions since 1969. The firm covers a wide range of areas of practice, including Family and Defacto Law, Wills and Estates, Conveyancing and Property, Claims, Criminal, Business Law, Commercial Litigation, Industrial Relations and Employment Law.
As a practice, we seek to provide to our clients good outcomes at a value for money price.
We are committed to using technology in communicating with our many clients and seek to provide legal services to our stake-holders in a twenty first century manner. Our commitment to the use of technology is evidenced by the presence on our staff of a fulltime digital marketeer, IT support, an operations manager and a non-legal chief executive officer.
It is the role of our support team to examine every function and system we have to evaluate its purpose and relevance and then to adjust the use to ensure that we provide relevant legal services to our clients in an efficient manner.
With work practices at Turnbull Hill Lawyers, our is a voyage of review/justify/adapt/ change/create. This will be a constant for us.