POP VULTURE: Piddington Society's Nick van Hattem

POP VULTURE: Piddington Society's Nick van Hattem

HI NICK! In proper HR fashion let us commence proceedings with what do you do and why do you do it?
I'm a lawyer and the Founding Convenor of the Piddington Society. I'm a lawyer because helping people to resolve disputes is a great way to earn a living. I set up the Piddington Society because I think lawyers can do more to support social justice and support each other.

You've been quite busy over the past 18 months with your Piddington Justice Project- Can you tell us about it?
PJP connects law grads with community legal centres. Grads are having a hard time getting jobs. CLCs are having their funding cut. PJP puts those problems together. We run a special training course for law grads, and contribute some of the proceeds from tuition fees to the community legal centres. We also help to manage the recruitment and HR issues of taking on volunteers. It means that the CLCs get some excellent and enthusiastic assistance (and some modest new funding), and the graduates get the experience they need to become admitted solicitors (and hopefully, a job).

We launched in June last year, and our first cohort of 19 graduates started training in January. So far, five now have graduate positions, and others have some promising interviews lined up. The CLCs are also loving the extra help. Now, Piddington is getting ready to launch our 2017 program. Soon to be law graduates can sign up here

What do you think the current glut in law graduates means for not for profits and community legal centres?
You'd think it would mean lots of volunteer opportunities - but it doesn't. With their funding cuts, CLCs are flat out doing their core work and generally can't set up volunteer programs. It's great to see that more and more are setting these up.

Do you have any advice for budding lawyers slaving away at job applications right now?
My top tips:
1. One page only for cover letters. The are often only skim read, some won't turn the page. Sell yourself as best you can on one page.
2. Be succinct. No waffle. Don't talk about how you developed legal research skills at law school. Everyone did that. Focus on what makes you special.
4. Structure: I like one para on why you want the gig, and one para on why you'd be good for the gig.
5. It's ok to send largely the same application every time, but sometimes employers compare notes. Don't tell every prospective employer that you've always wanted to work with them.
6. Talk about real experience: what you have done and learned.
7. Apply early and often.

In honour of the Piddington Philosophy, why are negotiations better over a drink?
That's not quite the Piddington philosophy. Actual negotiations should always be done soberly! The Piddington philosophy is "you don't write an angry letter to someone you've had a drink with".

Lawyers are trained to be adversarial. Letters can be ambiguous, and can serve to fire each other up. That doesn't resolve disputes. Phone calls can often be better (even if they have to be followed up with emails saying "as per our discussion..."). Fundamentally, I think the administration of Justice is best served if legal practitioners can pick up the phone and resolve disputes, rather than engaging in a flurry of letters.

I've been told you call Chief Justice Martin "Wayno" - which WA Supreme Court Judge would produce the dankest memes?
The first time I met the Chief Justice was for a job interview. I had been told to either refer to his Honour as "Chief Justice" or "Sir". Waiting outside his office, I was weighing up these options - getting ready to say "Good morning, Chief Justice". Then I was shown in, and in his characteristically friendly style he stuck out his hand and said "Wayne Martin". That completely threw me off. (I did not get the job).

I call his Honour "Chief". This is an accepted term of respect, although it does sometimes make me think about two old blokes down at a bowls club.

I'd nominate former Justice (now Corruption and Crime Commissioner) John McKechnie. He used to drop some pretty dank puns in judgments.

I assume you're across our hot chip guide but I'm interested to hear what is your favourite place in Perth for chips?
I like my chips in a Halal Snack Pack, and the best HSP is from Subiaco Kebab Station, made with love by owner and dead set legend, Ali.

5 words you'd use to describe Perth?
Small pond with underrated potential.

What are some things you'd like to change in the city?
Perth has seen so many positive changes in the last five years, but I think the area we need the most change is addressing homelessness. There are a lot of organisations doing a lot of good work (like Street Law Centre), but they need more attention and more help.

5 Perthonalities you'd take to dinner? & where?
Maybe a dream team of five people already working hard to make Perth a better place:
Kate Davis, principal solicitor of Tenancy WA which is developing new ways to deliver access to justice;
Reece Harley, a Councillor for the City of Perth with some great ideas, like founding the Museum of Perth;
Conrad Liveris, hero of gender equality;
Maud Edmiston (aka Miss Maud) - she's a Boss, and Piddington's sandwich caterer of choice; and
how about you too IN? It would be around the round table in the Lalla Rookh wine bar, where so many great ideas are born. This would be really fun. We should definitely set this up.

I too am a proponent of Miss Maud catering. Cheese and salad on multi with a generous slathering of butter is a winner in my book. Moving onto our pop vulture section of the interview... Are there any films about lawyers that you would highly recommend to people, and why?
Each year Piddington puts on lectures regarding legal movies as part of our professional development program. We've recently done lectures on the Big Lebowski (and how it is, in fact, all about the distinction between law and justice) and My Cousin Vinny (a masterclass in cross examination).

For mine, the ultimate legal movie is The Castle. Our first events were named after legendary lawyer Dennis Denuto, and we celebrate his win and his commitment to "the Vibe" every year. There are so many themes in the movie that resonate for lawyers. One of my favourites is Bud Tingwell playing the kindly old QC doing some pro bono for a good cause. Quick plug, come to our Quiz Night on 14 October.

What is your favourite law related rap lyric?
The entire second verse of 99 Problems, about not passing the bar but knowing a lil bit (enough that you won't illegally search my shit). It is also the subject of an excellent legal academic article.

You were all over Making a Murderer when it came out. Tell us your thoughts on the recent developments in Brendan Dassey's case?
Every criminal lawyer I've discussed it with (defence lawyers and prosecutors) thought the Brendan Dassey "admission" would have been ruled inadmissible in Australia. I think that acquittal is welcome news, but it is troubling that it took a Netflix series to get the result.

What is your favourite song or record right now?
A defense lawyer put me on to Briggs' new track Bad Apples - which has the brutal line "they weren't raised wrong, they weren't raised at all". The whole track is probably the best 4:10 minute summary of some of the difficulties with juvenile justice.

If you have the power to erase any piece of pop culture off the face of the earth, what would it be and why?
The TV show "Suits". It is silly. Stop watching it everyone. Seachange is on Netflix!

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