A Career in Science and the Law
Published on March 6, 2020 by Nadia Grech
Growing up I was told that most people will change careers at least once in their lives. For me, not only have I changed careers, but I have blended the pathways of two careers into one very interesting legal career.
My first degree was a Bachelor of Applied Science (Clinical Science)/Bachelor of Chiropractic Science at RMIT. The applied science component involved a combination of anatomy, neurology, chemistry, physics and radiology (among other subjects), while the chiropractic component involved learning about the practical aspects of chiropractic practice.
My most vivid learning experience during this time was studying anatomy with the aid of a cadaver. As I later discovered, being able to recall the precise locations and functions of nerves, muscles, arteries and veins in the human body can be useful, and not just in the healthcare context. The same can be said of my study of body biomechanics, which has given me an understanding of joint/muscle interactions.
What I had up to that point kept secret from my friends and family was my interest in pursuing a legal career. So in my fifth year of university studies, I sat the LSAT examination and was subsequently offered a place in the Monash University Juris Doctor Masters program.
I knew that I wanted to work with injured people. Initially I thought I would do this in a health practitioner-patient context. I had a keen interest in the human body – injuries, diseases and conditions – but I also had a strong sense of right and wrong. Embarking on a law degree meant that I could combine my passion for science in a job where I could work to protect people’s rights and entitlements. I knew that I wanted to be a personal injury lawyer from the start of my legal journey. Did this mean my torts results were my highest? Not at all!
As a fully registered Australian chiropractor and an admitted solicitor, for eight years I worked in both health and the law, managing two part-time practices. Ultimately my decision to start a family meant that something had to give. I am sure it’s a familiar experience; we are all challenged by trying to achieve the ideal ‘work-life balance’. Running two practices, and then throwing the job of ‘working mum’ into the mix, I had reached a point where I would be regularly monitoring my heart rate on my Apple i-watch. Given my understanding of the importance of maintaining a healthy heart rate, I knew that I was pushing my limits and one of my passions would need to take the back seat. With that I bid farewell to my chiropractic career to focus on my legal one, a decision that I believe has allowed me to ‘have the best of both worlds’.
As a chiropractor, my main interest was treating people with chronic lower back pain, a condition that is complex and presents differently. As a personal injury lawyer, this means that I have a meaningful understanding of the perspectives of clients who present with chronic lower back pain, whether it resulted from an aggravation of a pre-existing degenerative disease due to work or from a trip and fall incident.
Often I struggle to shake the health practitioner in me. For example, when a legal client arrives for their initial consultation, I tend to approach this meeting as if they were a patient. I might observe the way they are sitting in reception, analyse their gait, notice how they need to stand frequently. From here, I approach taking client instructions almost as if they were coming in to see me wanting me to treat their pain, rather than to provide legal advice. I conduct a structured interview with their injury at the centre of our discussion. I thoroughly enjoy when clients show me their x-rays (even though I cannot comment on them in my legal capacity). At times I can see where their problems are or can understand the mechanism of their injury by marrying up their instructions with their medical and liability information. Having detailed knowledge of musculoskeletal injuries often means that I am quickly able to understand the magnitude of an injury (and even the relative seriousness of the presenting complaint). Where at times I work with clients whose claims or requests for medical treatment have been rejected, it has also been helpful to have an understanding of other treatment options available while clients await determinations (such as through the NDIS and/or Medicare referral). Being able to read clinical notes without having to use a medical dictionary can also be very handy!
While my science background has been beneficial, it can also be a hindrance. Sometimes I can ‘overthink’ a legal client’s presentation, testing hypotheses of injury causation and the aetiology of the presenting physical condition. Perhaps thinking of my client’s case so holistically and forensically means that I test the defendant’s case too (also a skill learned from my science studies … the testing of a hypothesis).
I feel my science background has shaped my legal career and continues to do so. I often speak to other lawyers and barristers who have a health science background and we agree on the invaluable insights such a career pathway has provided us. No doubt combining my health science interests and knowledge in a legal career has meant that I am finally where I want to be. Perhaps a little exhausted, perhaps having missed quite a few kinder pick-ups … but nevertheless constantly intrigued by new client enquiries, their injuries and the various jurisdictions that I have chosen to work in.
This article first appeared in Precedent, the journal of the Australian Lawyers Alliance, issue 156, published in February 2020 (Sydney, Australia, ISSN 1449-7719), p39. It has been reproduced with the kind permission of the author and the ALA. For more information about the ALA, please go to: www.lawyersalliance.com.au