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A country practice

A country practice

Working as a lawyer in any practice area can be demanding, but working as a lawyer in the country throws up some unique challenges, Michael Butcherine, general counsel of BAWD Property Trust in…

Working as a lawyer in any practice area can be demanding, but working as a lawyer in the country throws up some unique challenges, Michael Butcherine, general counsel of BAWD Property Trust in Dubbo has discovered.

Butcherine, who has lived and worked in Dubbo - his hometown - for the last 13 years, began his legal career with a brief stint in a top-tier firm in Sydney.

But the travel bug soon hit, so he packed his bags and travelled overseas for 18 months. On his return to Australia he initially settled in Cairns, but after two years he moved back to Dubbo and took up a position at a firm where he later became a partner.

He left the firm in 2006 after 11 years, and at the time, was unclear about where his career was heading. "I finished with the firm with no real plan. At that time I wasn't sure if I was going to work in law at all," he says. "I had very much enjoyed private practice but it was very demanding - long hours and a large number of clients."

He decided to move to WA and try his luck with the minerals boom, but quickly found that wasn't on the cards. "I discovered that the market for 40-year-old lawyers with no experience driving a mining truck was not as massive as you might think."

But on a visit back to Dubbo, BAWD, a former client, offered him an in-house role with the company, one he says he "couldn't refuse".

Butcherine says he has enjoyed the transition from private practice - where his practice included a lot of small-time criminal work - to an in-house role which is essentially commercial.

"With commercial matters, people are happy because they expect to make money. You're not dealing with people who have had something go wrong in their lives - you're dealing with people who are moving to new opportunities."

He says that moving in-house has given him a better work/life balance, which, with four children, he appreciates. "My employer ... takes the view that I'm most valuable when I'm fresh, so long hours are discouraged - that's fantastic. It's not that people don't care when you're a private practitioner, it's just that there are so many [clients]."

He also enjoys being directly involved in the company's broader commercial decision-making, rather than being confined to legal matters only.

As for working in the country, Butcherine believes he has less anonymity than a lawyer in the city and that the line between social and professional relationships is less clear-cut. "The people you play sport with or have other social contact with are likely to be the same people you see across your desk.

"You have to be very careful to maintain confidentiality - and if something goes wrong, you better make sure it gets fixed very quickly because it will damage your personal relationships as well as your professional ones."

Despite its challenges, Butcherine appears to have found his calling in Dubbo and it looks like he's there to stay.

"Dubbo is my hometown ... and I take the view that a large part of what you can contribute as a country lawyer is the network of relationships you have," he says. "Part of the reason that I'm valuable to my employer is that I have [existing] relationships with the people they deal with, so the single best place for me to be a lawyer is Dubbo."

>> For the latest news, views and analysis of issues affecting in-house lawyers, check out Lawyers Weekly's dedicated in-house site www.lawyersinhouse.com.au

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