Country role delivers professional and lifestyle benefits

Country role delivers professional and lifestyle benefits

Thursday, 12 August 2021

Maddy Ryan smiling and sitting in her home office chair while wearing a long sleeve black dress
Ballarat Managing Lawyer Madeline Ryan

For Ballarat Managing Lawyer, Madeline Ryan, her various roles with us and externally have all been invaluable stepping stones in her journey to managing our Ballarat office.

Starting out in our Community Legal Education team in 2012, where she learned about our priority clients, access to justice and how to communicate tricky legal concepts to diverse audiences, she then progressed to learning from talented lawyers and legal assistants in our Dandenong, Heidelberg, Melbourne and Neighbourhood Justice Centre teams.

‘My time in these offices was invaluable as it helped me learn how to be a lawyer, advocate strongly for clients, tell their stories and fight for fair outcomes.

As Deputy Managing Lawyer in the Summary Crime team, I also learned from incredible managers on how to support and develop staff, think strategically about service delivery and negotiate with stakeholders for better client outcomes.

Last year as Regional Managing Lawyer at North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency, I continued learning about people management, working with First Nations staff and clients and being brave when advocating for individual clients and broader change,’ said Madeline.

Attractions of a country role

As for what attracted her to Ballarat, Madeline says it was more a combination of factors, rather than a singular reason.

‘I thought Ballarat would be a happy medium between the big smoke of inner-Melbourne, where I’ve lived most of my life, and the remote town of Katherine, which last year ignited my love for regional work and life.

‘I also liked the idea of being involved in all the interesting things happening legally in the region: Drug Court is coming to Ballarat later this year; we have one of the state’s specialist family violence courts; our office in Market Street is new and chic; and we’re lucky to have a number of newish non-legal roles in the team, including an Information and Referral Officer, Independent Family Advocacy and Support Advocate and Aboriginal Community Engagement Officer.’

Managing lawyer of a regional office is a busy and responsible role, but it also offers plenty of variety, and it’s this variety that appeals to Madeline.

‘Managing 27 committed, smart and caring staff who work across different areas of law and non-legal advocacy is demanding, but I love it.

‘The role involves working with my team, other areas of the organisation and external stakeholders (courts, magistrates, prosecution, community legal centres, local services) to ensure we’re providing high quality legal services to the people in the region who need it most, and in a way that’s fair, efficient and within our resource capacity. And we need to do this while creating a workplace that is rewarding and safe for staff.

‘It’s a very social and collaborative role. And recruitment, there’s a lot of that at the moment!’

Challenges of COVID

Like any role, there are challenges, but Madeline is grateful for the support of colleagues, which is a hallmark of our organisation.

‘It’s challenging to manage competing priorities and do justice to all the important aspects of the region and our office, as I always feel like I could be doing more!’

COVID-19 has also added an additional level of complexity.

‘It’s tough to respond quickly to government lockdown announcements and court practice directions in a way that strikes the right balance between clients’ access to justice, staff wellbeing, community safety and efficiency. And it’s an especially difficult decision when I have to make the call to stop sending lawyers to court for duty.’

Perks of a country role

When it comes to the professional benefits of working in a regional office, Madeline says they are many and invaluable.

‘As the legal sector is smaller in a regional area, the relationships with court staff, magistrates, local services, prosecution and opposing parties are often stronger, more personal and everyone knows everyone else’s name.

‘When you call or email the court you get a response immediately and your request is actioned shortly after – your call doesn’t go into a vortex of orchestral hold music!

‘Working in a regional office team with generalist lawyers and staff who have expertise across different practice areas is also great. If you have a question about child protection, your neighbour to your left can assist, while if your client needs advice for a Mental Health Tribunal hearing, refer them to your neighbour to your right.’

While she’s presently planning her move to the country, lifestyle wise, Madeline can’t recommend a country stint more highly.

‘Living and working in the country gives you things that are so much harder to achieve in the inner city, including living close to work (no trams, trains or traffic) and backyard space for a large dog and veggie garden.

‘Ballarat also has lovely wide streets, beautiful heritage buildings and interesting residential architecture.

‘It has the city perks of great restaurants, coffee, bars and lots of places to park, yet things feel slower and quieter than the big cities. And there’s always a festival!’

Employer of choice for social justice devotees

For those in whom social justice burns bright, Madeline believes Victoria Legal Aid (VLA) provides the perfect vehicle to harness their passion.

‘I have always enjoyed working at VLA because I believe the work we do makes a real difference to individuals’ lives and improves access to justice for the community more broadly.

‘We conduct strategic litigation to change unfair laws, policies and processes and work to ensure our clients’ voices are present and heard where decisions are being made.

‘It’s a privilege to work amongst these bright, committed and courageous staff as they strive to get the best outcomes for our clients, and I encourage like-minded individuals to join us.’

More information

Learn about our organisation

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