Coming from a family of teachers, Sydney-based lawyer Jessie Porteus has always had a passion, and great respect, for education as well as an unbridled enthusiasm for the law.
A lawyer with a rare combination of legal experiences and a developed practice ranging from corporate and commercial law, to IP, competition and consumer law, immigration, dispute resolution and pretty much everything in between since graduating in 2011, Jessie is more than qualified to provide advice to young law students.
“The idea behind the name The Learned Crew – besides being a lawyer pun and TLC for short – is because it is intended to create a collaborative crew of law students and the legal profession,” says Jessie.
“TLC is focused on peer learning, mentoring, and helping to bridge the gap between law school and legal practice – particularly in this ever-changing legal industry.”
Jessie’s goal is to build a team of like-minded, passionate legal professionals, academics and law students, to collaborate and help each other, as well as put together online resources to support young students going through the trials and tribulations of studying the law.
“I have been lucky to accumulate a rare combination of legal experiences during my career, which has allowed me to create a bit of a ‘one-woman panel’ resumé, and this is why I want to share my insight with others,” says Jessie.
Jessie’s first professional experience in the law was working in public prosecutions in the Newcastle Legal Centre, private law firms and, tying her love of teaching into her studies, working as a law tutor.
“I said yes to every opportunity during my career and am so grateful to everyone who has given me these experiences,” she says.
After finishing university and diving into the legal profession in a full-time role, Jessie missed her tutoring days and decided to establish a teaching blog.
“When I left law school I missed education and tutoring other law students so much that I started a blog to share my study tips with others – but it was more of a therapeutic exercise for me to get everything written down, and to help other law students so they weren’t struggling or stressed.
“I didn’t mind if no one read it. I never marketed the blog, but it got nearly 75,000 hits – which is why I thought there was a need out there to share insights. Fast forward seven years and I finally pursued this as a business. I’ve now got a new blog – thelearnedcrew.com.”
You come from a family of teachers and still work as in-house counsel. What aspects of both teaching and legal work do you enjoy most?
“With teaching, I just love helping others and seeing others succeed and be happy. I love talking things through and solving problems together. With teaching you also learn from others – their experiences and what makes them tick.
“With legal work, again I love helping others and seeing projects succeed in a legal and ethical way, and I love solving problems. I like doing the right thing, so law scratches that itch. I also like sneaking in some creativity in my work where I can – whether it be coming up with alternative wording for a marketing campaign to coming up with an interesting or out of the box solution to a legal issue. I love the buzz when someone says, ‘I never thought of that’. I love working with amazingly intelligent people too.”
How long did it take you to figure out what legal practice you wanted to work in?
“It is a constant figuring out process I think.
“Saying yes to every opportunity in the past eight years or so meant that I could trial so many different legal areas and figure out what I liked. I do love variety, so being in-house really suits me because I can be a jack of all trades. A typical day might include reviewing a sponsorship contract, a television commercial, trade marking a new brand name, and so much more.
“I really think I have hit the jackpot with my current situation, both working in-house and pursuing my absolute passion in my business. If it wasn’t for all these experiences, I wouldn’t have the insights and stories to share with others.”
What real world skills do you teach young students and lawyers to make the most of their studies and work? Are there practical things they should prioritise or learn during university that will benefit them in the long run?
“In studies, my mantra is ‘study smarter, not harder’. This means finding the learning styles that best suit you, and finding the most efficient and effective way of getting the most out of your studies.
“In terms of real world skills, not only do you have to have sound technical skills, but lawyers need to be empathetic, commercial, innovative, technologically-savvy, strategic, creative and of course, plain human too. Lawyers must be all of this and deal with time pressures, juggling tasks and ensuring you are adding value to your client.”
Is there anything you think law schools should consider including in their courses to help make the transition from student to professional a bit easier?
Jessie applies the ‘variety is the spice of life’ attitude and believes that there are some things that law schools can do to help law students during their studies.
“Some law schools, and of course practical legal training courses, might be doing this already, but in my humble opinion I’d love to see more variety of careers talked about – especially in-house careers which is a fast growing segment of the legal profession. We need to stop calling things “alternative legal careers” – all legal careers are viable ones.
“One thing I do in my training courses is client simulation tasks where there is, for example, a full inbox of urgent emails, clients turning up to your desk – like a real day at work. You have to prioritise tasks in the right order, learn how to manage expectations and keep your attention to detail.”
This, along with applying general business skills and project management, how to apply legal technology and probably, most importantly, how to manage the inevitable stress levels that accompany studying and practising law, are really important skills to learn.
“I think we can all do more to future proof the next generation of lawyers for success in this ever-changing legal industry, for example through mentoring, providing work experience and internship opportunities, and lawyers openly sharing their stories and tips with students, which I think is our duty to do. We all have a part to play in helping our future lawyers, partners, general counsels, barristers, judges and academics have the skills to not only survive in law, but thrive.”
With all the serious stuff covered, Jessie also believes that having fun and passion for what you do is important. She is passionate about dancing, and in her blog she encourages students to play to their strengths and their passions.
“If you do that you enjoy what you do and generally perform better at your job,” says Jessie.
“I did the online Clifton strengths assessment a few years ago when I did a fantastic leadership course which really helped me to understand who I was as a person and a professional and what I could bring to the table. I encourage all students and lawyers to do a strengths assessment test. It was really eye-opening – you see what your strengths are and how you can play them up, but also warnings on overplaying your strengths.
“Playing to your strengths means you are being yourself too, which is important. As [venture investor, company advisor, and lawyer] Chris Sacca says, ‘be your unapologetically weird self … weirdness is what sets us apart, gets us hired’.
“Passions make you happy,” says Jessie.
“With some great work being done on happiness in the legal profession at the moment, such as by the incredible podcaster Clarissa Rayward of The Happy Family Lawyer, it is great to see this being embraced. I don’t know how I’m going to throw my passion for dance into my legal career but I’m working on it.”