Horrible bosses, stealing time and firing clients!

I’m talking with Nicole Murdoch who’s an Electrical Engineer turned Intellectual Property Lawyer who also holds a Masters of Industrial Property. With few electrical engineering opportunities within Australia at the time, Nicole turned to computer programming but found herself waking up every day unhappy and wanted to make a change so she could enjoy her journey through life. A lifechanging event led Nicole to enrol into a law degree (and despite her dad needing sedation after being told!) she completed the degree with honours and has gone on to found her own legal practice, Eaglegate Lawyers and Out of Court, a neutral dispute resolution referral provider. We chat about career shifts, how law firms really operate, supporting junior lawyers and how being qualified doesn’t necessarily guarantee you a dream job.

To know more about Nicole visit www.eaglegate.com.au or www.outofcourt.com.au

Connect with Nicole on LinkedIn

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Episode
Transcript

[00:00:00] Christie
McCormack:
[00:00:00] My guest today is Nicole Murdoch. Nicole is a
commercial intellectual property, ICT and information security, InfoSec lawyer
and the founding director of Eaglegate Lawyers. Nicole is a member of the
Queensland law society cybersecurity working group and a former director of the
Australian information security association.

In addition to holding a first class honors
degree in law, a masters of industrial property , being a registered trademarks
attorney and a degree in electrical engineering. Nicole is also a loving wife
and mother. So welcome Nicole, and thanks for joining me today.

Nicole Murdoch: [00:00:36] Thanks.

Christie: [00:00:39] Okay, so I’m exhausted just reading that short intro on
you Nicole, you are one accomplish woman. So firstly, congratulations on your
success so far in your career.

Nicole Murdoch: [00:00:49] Thank you.

Christie: [00:00:54] Alright, so your first degree was electrical engineering.
Now did you start that degree straight after year [00:01:00] 12 or did you have
a gap year or some sort of break between high school and starting university?

Nicole Murdoch: [00:01:06] I had a gap year. My parents had moved to Melbourne and
they didn’t really want me staying up in Queensland, unsupervised, shall we
say. So I actually did a year of science down at Monash University, Clayton
campus. and what I learned from that experience is Melbourne is absolutely
fantastic, but I don’t like cold weather.

Christie: [00:01:28] Right. So you’re back up to Queensland.

Nicole Murdoch: In a heart beat

Christie: So obviously that was a science, but looking back on your high
school days, did you plan to become an engineer or was that sort of a, an
evolution that happened after you sort of did that year down at Monash?

Nicole Murdoch: [00:01:45] I had decided at the end of year, 12 that I wanted to do
something in science, so it was either going to be mathematics, science, or
engineering.

My father was an engineer, so, or he’s is an
engineer, so [00:02:00] it seemed natural that I would do engineering and it
didn’t occur to me that engineering would be male dominated because I’d gone to
a girl’s school. But once I got the letter from the Dean saying less than 10%
of applicants were female, it then occurred to me, it may be quite male
dominated.

Christie: [00:02:20] Absolutely. So you’re not old by any stretch, but STEM in
the early to mid-nineties was not considered, you know, a popular career path
for females, and it certainly was not promoted like it is now. So do you
consider yourself a bit of a trailblazer? and what were the challenges that you
faced entering a male dominated industry straight straight out of university?

Nicole Murdoch: [00:02:43] I don’t really think I suffered too much from the fact
that I wasn’t a man. I, well, I’m not a man. but it never really occurred to me
until I got that letter that it would be male-dominated because I’d gone to a
girl’s school and we’re all science. You’re either good at science or you’re
good at [00:03:00] English, and I was good at science, so it didn’t really ever
occur to me to do anything different.

And I’d always been the type of person that
wanted to pull things apart and find out how they worked. So it was quite an
actual thing for me to study. But, graduating from engineering, what I
discovered from that is there’s just not very many raw electrical engineering
jobs in Australia or at least there wasn’t at the time.

So I went into computer programming, one,
it paid a lot better and there were jobs in it.

Christie: [00:03:30] Because what exactly does an electrical engineer do?.

Nicole Murdoch: [00:03:35] well, there’s multiple divisions of it, so it really depends
on the division you do? I did what was known as computer systems engineering,
which was basically taking and building circuit boards and then writing
software that would run those circuit boards.

But the, the word engineering is, is quite
a generic term, but it’s basically someone who works out how things work. and
gets things [00:04:00] working. So you often will see it banded around, as, as,
a term. And back in the day, there was no degree for it. The degrees in
engineering itself were actually probably only 50 years old.

Back in the day, if you wanted to be an
engineer, you just studied under an engineer, and that’s how you got your
engineering, training and your qualifications.

Christie: [00:04:22] Wow. That’s really interesting. I did not know that at
all. I know a lot of engineers and, some of them are quite old, so I thought
they’d studied their little hearts out, but now I might be able to have a
little dig at them and say, you didn’t really.

Nicole Murdoch: [00:04:37] That was when the transition was happening when he was
at, that they were, now they were they in engineering degrees. But certainly in
his father’s day and my father-in-law’s technically an engineer as well, but he
doesn’t have a degree. But he’s certainly qualified as an engineer because he
went through the training system rather than the, the university education system.

[00:05:00] Christie:
[00:05:00] Okay, perfect. Okay, so you did that, but then you went
on to do a Juris doctor law degree. Now that seems like quite a shift in
careers. So what made you take that leap.

Nicole Murdoch: [00:05:11] well, it was about 10 years later. And, one thing I
realized is I really, as a computer programmer, I would just wasn’t happy. I
wasn’t satisfied with my job.

And what I really discovered is what I loved
about my job was the managerial side of things and the legal side of things. So
I was more interested in that than I was in coding. So it was always a thought.
Maybe I should, try and say, move up in the, in, in the industry to become more
of a manager position.

So. Back in the day, you became what was
known as a business analyst, and they would take the requirements of the
company, put them into, basically a, a lot of suite of documents, and then
provide them to the programmers for the programmers to actually write the code.
But I couldn’t get a gig. Every time I applied to the roles, they would say to
me, well, you’ve got no qualifications.

You, you can’t, you know, you can’t prove
you can do this job. So I wanted to do a BA at university, but back in the day,
if you walked in with a BA and the boss didn’t have one, you didn’t get the job
because the boss felt under qualified. So I’d always had an interest in law. So
I thought I was very, very much considering doing it.

And what, what made me make the call was my
father had suffered an arrest out of hospital and he had been revived five
times, but it, and he was, he made it through, but he was unconscious for,
quite a period of time and quite a period of time after they turned the drugs
off. So we really just thought that was the end.

But it turned out he’d had an allergic
reaction to some of the drugs. So that’s why he took a while to wake up. But he’d
only retired two years before. So I basically turned around and said, well, I’m
waking up every day not wanting to go to work, not enjoying what I do.
[00:07:00] If I’m going to die two years after retirement, I want to at least
enjoy the journey through life.

So during the time he was unconscious, I
enrolled myself at Bond University, and by the time he woke up, I was a university
student at Bond.

Christie: [00:07:17] Wow. And what did he say about that? Did he understand the
influence about what happened to him?

Nicole Murdoch: [00:07:24] The first thing he said when he woke up, I told him and
he said, Oh, please tell me not Bond.

And I said, Oh yeah, it’s Bond. Because I
lived on the Gold Coast so it was quite natural for me. And then they had to
sedate him cause he’s heart went . He was. He’s always been very, very
supportive. My mother, I think, and bless her soul, but, I think she saw, she
wasn’t so happy about the decision, but she was an accountant and I think she
saw a lot of the evils in the world and wanted to be, wanted to protect me from
those evils.

and to be fair on the law side, you do see
a lot of evil.

[00:08:00] Christie:
[00:08:00] Yeah. And how do you cope with that, I suppose, you know,
from an ethical and a moral standpoint, being able to, you know, you see both
sides of it. How challenging is that for you?

Nicole Murdoch: [00:08:12] Well fortunately I think you grow into the role. There
was a transition period for me where I became quite depressed and really,
really lost my faith in humanity.

And I guess you get to a point in your life
where you can say, well, I can live like this in a depressed state and realize,
you know, the world’s horrible, or I can just get on with my life and enjoy my
life. And so you try and distance yourself from it. Where it becomes difficult
is where, you know, people are, you get some people that are quite
narcissistic, and really do want the other side’s head on a platter.

And even when they’ve got the person over a
barrel where they are completely winning, getting everything that they’re
entitled to, through the law, they still want more and they, They [00:09:00]
really do want to make person homeless. You know, they, they want, they want
the, the family on the street and there’s no reason for the family to be on the
street.

the person’s being compensated for their
losses, but they still want this person to suffer.

Christie: [00:09:16] Yeah. That’s tough. I think I’d really challenge them,
like it’d be a challenge for me to have to deal with that. So

Nicole Murdoch: [00:09:22] I’m quite, Open, about this and I will fire a client. I
will, I have no qualms in firing a client that if they ask me to do something
unethical, if they try and bully me into giving an advice that I don’t believe
is correct, I will simply terminate my retainer.

Christie: [00:09:42] Well done for that, because I know a lot of people
wouldn’t do that. and I think that that really shows, you know, strong
character and, you know, I hope that people listening out there that, you know,
are looking to enter that field, really take that as I, you know, take that
advice on board because [00:10:00] your soul’s not worth money.

Nicole Murdoch: [00:10:02] That’s exactly it is. You know, I can’t be bought. I’m
not a, I’m not a lawyer for hire. At the end of the day, I provide a service to
my clients, but I’m not going to be a battering ram for them. But a lot of that
comes from age as well and I’m quite self-confident and ‘d come into the law as
a mature age student.

So I guess from that point of view is I did
have that behind me, so I had no qualms in standing my ground.  

Christie: [00:10:32] So do you think the younger generation sort of coming
straight out of university into law would struggle a lot more with that than
what you were able to, because you had, you know, you’d seen real world action
before?

Nicole Murdoch: [00:10:44] I think I’m a better lawyer because I’ve been an
engineer. But I do see a lot of the young ones come out. I mean, this is the
blessing of youth that they don’t  realize how lucky they are, but they are also
at a massive disadvantage because they don’t have that self-confidence. So
[00:11:00] occasionally you’ll see, you know, the bright young sparks coming
out with self confidence that, you know, they’re been brought up right. They
got the confidence to stand their ground and say what they believe, even though
they might be completely wrong. And that’s perfectly fine because no one’s
right 100% of the time, but then you see the young ones that are just almost
too eager to please, and they fall over themselves and make mistakes.

Christie: [00:11:23] You worked for a lot of large firms, so what is it really
like to work for the powerhouses of the legal world?

Nicole Murdoch: [00:11:31] I think the word powerhouse is misdirected. I think
there’s a lot of too much confidence. One of the things I didn’t like about top
tier firms is a lot of the partners do believe that they are god.

They believe they can do absolutely no
wrong and it’s their way or the highway. I’ve had some truly horrible bosses in
my time, but all they’ve taught me to do is not be them. But I have a way that
I want to do business and a way I want to live, and [00:12:00] I’m not going to
be created in their shadow, but that’s what they actually attempt to do, is
they bring you down so that you feel so unworthy and so useless as an
individual.

And then they try and create you in their
own shadow. And you’ve got to have the self-confidence to not be them.

Christie: [00:12:20] So they’re basically just trying to mold each person
into, robots, I suppose you could say

Nicole Murdoch: [00:12:27] When you look at the way law has evolved, it’s a very
archaic. It was one thing I didn’t realize is it’s a very, very archaic
industry.

It’s not a flat structure whatsoever. Whereas
in engineering, it’s absolutely a very flat structure. And if, if you know,
your boss’s boss’s boss says something and you think it’s wrong, you’ll turn
around and correct the person or, challenge the person. whereas in law, you’re
not to do that whatsoever.

Even if, you know, 100% of the time that
they’re there, that, you know, at the time that absolutely incorrect, you are
[00:13:00] not to say anything. And I think that needs to go, that attitude
needs go. But that’s the way the industry has evolved. So, you know, let’s make
a new start and make a new industry.

Christie: [00:13:14] Yeah, absolutely.

So do you think that, you know, obviously
there’s a lot of smaller firms out there with some, you know, really, really
top lawyers that are coming away from those big firms. Do, do you think there
will be a shift towards seeing a more flat line approach to law taking away the
hierarchy sort of structure that the big firms have.

Nicole Murdoch: [00:13:37] Yes. And, I think that’s why a lot of the smaller firms
are, founded is basically they don’t, the people are just like me. They don’t
want anything to do with that kind of archaic background. But what I also
didn’t realize until I started my own firm is 99% of the firms in Queensland, are
one to two people only.

The top tier firms with larger people are
very [00:14:00] rare. It’s just they’re so well known because there’s so many
people in amongst them, but the majority of law firms that almost 100% of law
firms out there, I wanted two people, and it’s because people don’t want to be
associated with that kind of attitude.

Christie: [00:14:16] That’s really interesting. Do you find a lot of those,
people coming out of those smaller firms come from the big firms? Like, is that
sort of a pathway where, you know, you graduate, you sort of go into a big
firm, you sort of learn a few things good and bad, and then you decide how you
want to go?

Nicole Murdoch: [00:14:35] Yes so I think a lot of them have cut their teeth in the
larger firms and said, look, this is not for me.

And I mean, I, I found the same thing. It’s
just not for me. but a lot of them, a lot of people have just from, from as, as
soon as they could operate, on an unrestricted license, they did so, and they
broke off as soon as they could.

Christie: [00:14:56] I wanted to be a lawyer, never smart enough, so I don’t
know the ins and outs of it, but so how long do you have to work underneath
someone? Like what’s the process once you leave university, what’s the steps
that you take to be able to practice?

Nicole Murdoch: [00:15:13] Once you leave university, you need to get admitted onto
the role of legal practitioners. And you do that by doing what is now a
training system through you can do college of law.

It’s a legal practice course,
basically,  it used to be that you could
just do it through a law phone work for a while there. So once you’re on the
role of, legal practitioners, you’re then able to practice, but you can’t
practice on supervised unless you’ve been, you’ve got an unrestricted
practicing license.

And it takes two years. So basically you’ve
got to work for someone else for two years until you get that as a solicitor,
until you get that unrestricted practicing the license. If you want to be a
barrister, you basically have to sit the bar exam, but practice for a year
under [00:16:00] supervision.

Christie: [00:16:02] So I suppose that’s tough then for people coming out.

You know, you’ve, you’ve got some limited
choices and you would probably, it sounds like you have to put up with a lot
of, emotional stresses and, and, time stresses to be able to meet those
requirements.

Nicole Murdoch: [00:16:19] Well, I think it depends on who you work for as to what
the stresses are. But, I, I 100% agree with this two year period and, I don’t
want to sound like an old fuddy duddy, but I wish it was longer.

Because, some of the people, I see it two
years just as still to think that they could represent someone completely
unsupervised at the two year point. I just sometimes shake my head about their,
their choices in life, and the matters they’re choosing to take. Where you just
thinking when you’ve got not, you’ve not got enough experience in this to be
representing, someone in a legal dispute.

Christie: [00:16:59] Yeah. Because [00:17:00] I wonder how much research a
client actually does into, you know, a lawyer in particular, before they are
represented by them. Like whether or not they’re going right through their CV
to, you know, to see the cases. I, I would imagine most people would be going
to a lawyer and just assuming, you know, they’re all equally sort of qualified
and, sort of going with them.

So, yeah, I understand where you’re saying
with, you know, two years is probably not enough, and as a paying client, you’d
probably want somebody with a bit more experience.  But at the same time, that then restricts
those people with lesser experience of, of how they get that experience. So
what would your suggestion be for them to be out there getting the experience
that they need to be able to be, really good solicitors.

Nicole Murdoch: [00:17:49] I think life’s really tough right now and getting a job
as a lawyer, but, basically I think you need to find the right mentor in life,
the right mentor in your career, and someone that you can [00:18:00] align your
own ethical, moral compass against. And once you find that person, I mean, you
can sit there for a decade helping that person operate their law, their law
firm.

But one thing I prefer people to do is
become a bit more specialised in what it is they do. Whereas, you know, you’ll
see a lawyer who will represent any, any client in any dispute. And you can’t
be a man of all trades. You really can’t. So I would, I would be very concerned
going to a lawyer that said, Oh, I can help you with your will, I can help you
with your divorce. I can help you with personal injuries. I can help you with.
IP, you just can’t know all of the cases. You can’t know all of the case law.
You can’t know all of the statutes. So, the other thing I think people need to
be really careful about is these awards that go around.

There probably isn’t a week that goes by
that I’m not quote given end quote an award. For a small fee, which is often
[00:19:00] not a small fee. So if I wanted to, I could display every badge
under the sun about these awards I’ve somehow gained, That make me look, you
know, well qualified and everything like that, but a lot of them are just
basically logos that you can put on the base of your, your, your email
signature that they’re just so false.

But the general public don’t know that they
see these awards and think, Oh, this person’s got all these awards. I must be
really good. In reality, they bought.

Christie: [00:19:30] Wow. That’s, Yeah. That’s crazy.

Yeah. Cause you know, you see somebody and
they’ve got, you know, all these awards. You just assume that they’ve done
something to get them to get them.

Nicole Murdoch: [00:19:46] Warrant them. That award is received with an email
replied with a check.

Christie: [00:19:50] Wow. That blows my mind. You really sort of doing the
dash on me here because my favorite shows suits and I was like,

[00:20:00] Nicole
Murdoch:
[00:20:05] Oh I love that show too. But you know, it’s a TV
show. It’s got nothing to do with reality. There was one show where they dealt
with intellectual property and I, I think it was the first time I physically
laughed out loud at that show. They had filed the patent in the morning and by
two pm in the afternoon they had it granted.

Christie: [00:20:29] That’s great. It’s like the Grey’s anatomy of the legal
world.

Nicole Murdoch: [00:20:34] the fact that this man can, you know, fake need you and
you know, hack Harvard or whatever. It was hilarious. And no one’s ever heard
of him. That’s not where the pizza shop is. Let’s face it. Great show and everyone
is so proper and beautiful.  

Christie: [00:20:54] I know, right? So do you end every day with a, you
[00:21:00] know, a glass of gin or scotch or something.

Nicole Murdoch: [00:21:04] No, I think I end the day with a cup of tea hoping I can
get some sleep that night.

Christie: [00:21:16] Oh, wow.

Nicole Murdoch: [00:21:19] On Ally McBeal, they used to go down to the pub every
night.

Christie: [00:21:25] Yeah Ally McBeal. I think that was a great one as well. So
going back to, I suppose, the real world now, away from suits. I know that, you
know, I’m using air quotes here, limited, my limited research on the matter,
that lawyers have both lauded and judged on their billable hours.

So how high are the expectations within
different firms and are they achievable.

Nicole Murdoch: [00:21:51] No, they’re not achievable, and incredibly high. So at
one of the firms I was working at, the way it would work was the [00:22:00]
client would receive a quote or an estimate from the partner. The juniors would
do the work, but the partner would then review it.

So the partner would take 100% of their
time off whatever was billed. And then the senior associate would take some,
the associate would take some, and then the junior was whatever left over. Even
though the junior may have done five hours, only maybe half an hour of that may
make it to the bill. So you’re actually not judged on the time you put on a
time clock.

It’s the time you, you end up on a bill
for. So at that firm, we had to do, because of the way they work, a system, we
had to do 15 hours of actual work to get maybe five hours billable.

Christie: [00:22:41] Wow.

Nicole Murdoch: [00:22:43] Yeah. And it was tough. So I used to stay until like 2:00
AM and you had a rule where you had to get your time sheets in by 9:00 AM the
next morning.

So I’d be at my desk at 6:00 AM they’d see
me, HR had seen me log on. They’d, they’d phone me and say, why aren’t your
[00:23:00] time’s there? And I’d say, well, because I left at 3:00 AM. I didn’t
feel like, you know, putting my time in at 3:00 AM, I’ll do it before nine and
they’d say, no, do it now. And I’d say, now it’s two at night, so wow, this is
why I’m not suited for top tier, I’d prep it but not submit it until one minute
to nine.

Christie: [00:23:26] So did you have any input in setting those goals? Cause
they seem like.

Nicole Murdoch: [00:23:32] No. You’re told, yeah, you are told you must get the five
point. I think it was 5.3 billable, per day. and it’s not just talk to you. I
had a friend of mine, now left from, but it was a smaller firm, only five
people, but the boss was quite on the spectrum. And my friend got a formal
written warning because he was down one hour on one day.

But what the boss didn’t put down on that
formal warning [00:24:00] was my friend was already up five, six hours that
week. So even though he’d done extra time that week, He was down one hour one
day. and he got written up for it. That boss was particularly special. So my
friend had to take a family emergency phone call at 10:00 AM, went outside to
take this phone call, and the boss started coming out, accusing my friend of
theft very loudly, to the point, the person on the phone is saying, what the
hell is going on?

And the theft was he was stealing time
because he wasn’t at his desk.

Christie: [00:24:33] Oh my goodness. My mind is literally blown.

Nicole Murdoch: [00:24:36] That boss is particularly special and should not be
allowed to supervise anyone.

Christie: [00:24:43] Yeah.

Nicole Murdoch: [00:24:44] That’s what annoys me at this industry is there’s no
support for juniors. So we support the customers and we’ve got all of these
trust rules and all of these ethical rules and everything.

So everything’s about support the client.
Absolutely,  I don’t [00:25:00] disagree
with that, but what about the genius? One of my friends had folded thrown at
her. It was open. It was one of those lever folders. It was open, could have
taken an eye out. The boss was annoyed at some judgment. She just happened to
walk in the room at the wrong time.

So she went to HR and complained, and she
got berated by HR because she shouldn’t have annoyed him.

Christie: [00:25:22] Oh my! It’s just amazing. You know, you hear about these
sort of stories in other industry but it’s just

Nicole Murdoch: [00:25:33] Absolutely disgusting. Really just people don’t know that
this is, you know, a lot of this is top tier.

Again, they think they’re gods, they think
they can do anything. And what you see when you go to HR is you think HR is
going to help you because they’re meant to be, independent, but they’re not.  HR’s job is to protect the money earner, and
the money earner is the partner. So they will protect the partner, despite the
junior, because the junior is [00:26:00] replaceable, I mean, everyone’s
falling over themselves to work for top tier firms to try and get experience.

Christie: [00:26:05] Yeah. That’s, yeah. That’s unbelievable. So is there any
sort of, not necessarily professional body, but is there any support at all for
juniors when they come out, like is anyone looking after their best interests?

Nicole Murdoch: [00:26:22] So I’ve approached the law society to try and get some
kind of support system for juniors, and there’s a lot of mentoring in the
system where you can have people you can go and speak to, but there’s no
capacity for the junior to complain and put in a required, I mean, you can
complain on ethical grounds and things like that, but a lot of the juniors
won’t do that because they’ll lose their job and they won’t get hired through
someone else if they complain about their boss.

And when you push the law society, and push
the industry a bit more, what you discover is, you know, there’s a lot of
mental health issues and, they do give mental health support. So I know a lot
of industries do it. [00:27:00] There’s a hotline you can call that if you need
to talk to someone you can and things like that.

So they do provide that kind of support.
But I do wish that there was some mechanism where you could almost report these
things anonymously, although I recognize that a lot of situations won’t be
anonymous because they’ll work out who you are. But I do wish there was a lot
more, freedom for juniors to say, Hey, this person should not be acting like
this.

This is just not suitable in this day and
age.

Christie: [00:27:27] Absolutely. And like, there’s obviously, you know,
there’s quite a few lawyers out there, but the legal world is quite small. So
most people know most people, so that must be really hard for anybody to speak
out because you know, news travels very fast and I imagine it would travel two
fold in the legal world.  

Nicole Murdoch: [00:27:48] Yeah. And it’s, it’s quite sad to say, but you know, a
lot of women are like me in that they haven’t had a fair go, compared to the
way men are paid. Even though we [00:28:00] might be, you know, the highest
biller or the second highest biller in a firm, we still don’t get paid the same
amounts that other partners do.

And when you ask about this and you ask, why
they’ll make every excuse in the book. To excuse why they’re paying these other
people more money. But on the backhand, they’re saying, well, you got to, you
know, bill three times, you’ve got to do this, you’ve got to do that. And then
you look at that person’s billing and you kind of go, well, hang on.

Why? Why did the billing three times rule
apply to me? But they don’t seem to apply to these other people. Like this.
This is not fair. So you see a lot of, a lot of the smaller firms and the
independent firms are founded by women, and I think a lot of it is because we
just don’t get a fair shake.

Christie: [00:28:45] Yeah, definitely.

I think there’s, you know, obviously we
know about the gender pay gap, and the disparity in that, but you know, in, in
the legal world where you can really look at it for, you know, you billable
hours and things like that. You would think that [00:29:00]

Nicole Murdoch: [00:29:01] if they are truly judging you based on your billing, then
if you build the same way, you’re not paying the same, you know.

Christie: [00:29:08] It seems to be contradictory to say, you know, we’re
going to, look at you and your billable hours, but then we’re not actually
going to pay you on those.

Nicole Murdoch: [00:29:14] Yep, bingo, yep.

Christie: [00:29:18] That’s crazy. So you went on to become a senior associate
and then a director of a well respected firm in Brisbane. How long did it take
you to move from senior associate, sorry, senior associate to director. And how
much work went into getting that promotion?.

Nicole Murdoch: [00:29:37] Short answer is a hell of a lot of work, but it was
probably three or four years from the time of senior associate to director.

But at the end of the day, I was basically
running my own little practice within the practice group. So I was bringing in
clients, landing clients. I was able to bring in enough work to actually feed,
we call it feed, give work to [00:30:00] juniors. and once I was able to
basically have two juniors, you kind of get to a point where you’re sort of
saying, well, hold on.

I’m running my own, effectively running my
own firm here so you can either keep me on and make me a director, or I can go
start my own firm. because I’m basically running my own phone anyway, so why
shouldn’t I do it for my own benefit? You know, that’s there. That’s one of
their decisions to make as a, as a firm is how much do you want to keep the
person?

How much is that person making you money? So
you’ve got to make a decision. And I guess people get to that position where
they’re senior associate and they say, well, if I’m not moving ahead here, why
stay here? If there’s no future for me here, why stay? But there’s a whole heap
of people who don’t want to ever be partner.

They’re just happy to do their job, come in
every day. Do the job move on. So a lot of them don’t become partners or
directors. They actually become, you know, special counsel or something like
that. where they’ve got no responsibility whatsoever or the partnership. They
don’t make any decisions. [00:31:00] no administrative decisions, but they’re
basically running their own little firm.

Christie: [00:31:04] So do you think on reflection that your effort that you
put in, you know, over, not just those four years, but of your career paid off
to get you to that director position.

Nicole Murdoch: [00:31:14] Well, yes, it taught me a lot and I got to see how law
firms operate from that administrative perspective, which has certainly helped
in my own firm.

One thing I really didn’t really anticipate
starting my own firm was just how much admin there is. It’s, it’s just crazy.
And, particularly this time of year, because we’ve got. We have a non-audit
audit that we have to go through, which needs to be submitted to the Queensland
law society by the end of May.

So yesterday being end of month billing, as
well as, the requirements for all of this, it’s just hell. and I just absolutely
hate the, the, the, The why were so mollycoddled and so restricted and, so
checked up on, but we’re [00:32:00] kind of paying for the crimes of others
that we’ve done nothing wrong. And yet we’ve still got to jump through a lot of
hoops for regulation and things like that.

Christie: [00:32:09] Because in 2018 you started your own practice Eaglegate.
So I’m assuming from our conversation that you did that because you had gotten
to the position with your previous phone where you were running your own staff,
and the next logical step was your own firm is, am I correct in that?

Nicole Murdoch: [00:32:27] Yeah, yeah. Basically, I kind of got to the point where I
sort of said, well, I’m building someone else’s practice, someone else’s law firm.
Why shouldn’t I be building my own? and I had some very, very good clients that
had assured me, in fact, one of them actually put the, the idea in my head,
they basically turned around and said, why are you working for a firm?

You should be having your own firm. And I
kind of went, Oh, yeah. And then about a year later, I thought, Hey, why not?

Christie: [00:32:55] So was it a nerve wracking decision to go, okay, I’m
going to leave a firm, I’m going to go out on my own? [00:33:00]

Nicole Murdoch: [00:33:00] Yes, it is. and you know, you’ve got to give the, the
month I have to give a month notice.

So that month is just, quite nerve wracking
because you don’t know what’s going to happen. And look, if this had of happened
during pandemic time, I would’ve been, I would’ve gone down the gurgler you
know, but I had some fantastic referrers, fantastic clients. And, I also, you
know, started basically from the office I’m sitting in now.

So no overheads, my overheads to start the
firm was, insurance with Queensland law society and, company establishment fee.
So that was pretty much it. So I just needed to feed myself. That’s all I
needed to do and I was quite happy to just feed myself. Plod along, let it
grow, see whether it grows.

But I also knew that, you know, I’ve got a
fair enough reputation in the industry that if I wanted to go to another firm,
I could have turned around and put my hand up and said, this running a law firm
is not for me, and I would have jumped it to another firm

Christie: [00:33:58] Because you are very well [00:34:00] accomplished because
we didn’t cover this earlier, but you’ve also got a masters of industrial
property.

Christie: [00:34:08] What part does that play in your career? What that master’s
degree, where does that fit into the whole story?

Nicole Murdoch: [00:34:15] It started because at the time I was training to be a
patent attorney and to be a patent attorney, you need complete nine subjects
and those nine subjects just happened to be the nine subjects of an industrial
property degree or masters.

So I basically studied patents, things like
patent law, patent practice, trademark designs, copyright, that sort of thing. As
well as drafting and invalidity and, and things like that. And I basically did
those subjects and then realized that I really did not like drafting patents, I
really do not want to be a patent attorney.

But I really, again, I really liked that,
that, the other side of things with the litigation and, things like that. And I
found that a lot more interesting. Then I did the drafting and I’d always had
this job offer. My [00:35:00] firm had a very good relationship with the firm I
ended up going to, and every time we would do our networking functions with
them, the bosses of that other firm would effectively say, are you ready to
come across yet?

So I just basically sent them an email one
day and said, okay, I’m ready now. And they offered me the job and I went
across and that was 2011. Sorry. At the time I had just finished the master’s
or I was just finishing it.

Christie: [00:35:25] That’s a lot of study.

Nicole Murdoch: [00:35:30] Pretty much, yeah, I don’t recommend it.

Occasionally, you know, I have this saying “you
could at least Google a girl” you know, before you, you get these people in the
industry saying oh, you know, I really recommend your. Old men trying to give a
young girl advice and they say, Oh, you should go ahead and get a degree. And I
look at them and think, Oh, you could just Google a girl. I’ve got enough
degrees, I don’t need anymore.

Christie: [00:35:57] Because I would [00:36:00] imagine, you know, most people
in the legal world. Don’t really have that many degrees, they’re not engineers

Nicole Murdoch: [00:36:05] No, no, it is quite rare but I’ve got to say, you know, I
had the opportunity to do law when I was doing engineering. I had apparently
already missed out on law. I’d put it down as an option, but I only missed out
by one place.

And my father said to me at the time, well,
you should go and ask to be let into law because, they would have had at least
one person drop out and, you know, admitting one more. It’s no effort for them,
but, you know, I didn’t have the internal fortitude. I didn’t have the bravery
to go and do that. But I’m very glad I didn’t now. I think I’m a much better
lawyer because I’ve had that, that experience.

Christie: [00:36:38] So obviously you do, you’re experienced in a wide range
of, of law, areas of law. And a lot of those take a hell of a lot of the time,
the cases. How do you, how do you balance the case loads when you’ve got, you
know, IP cases that can run for years?.

And, how do you balance that? How do you
know when to take on new clients [00:37:00] and when to say, no, you know, my
plates full?.

Nicole Murdoch: [00:37:03] Well, it’s fairly easy, in terms of caseload because I
don’t think I’ve ever had evidence to at the same time of all the cases or even
two cases at once. Evidence is spread out amongst the case.

But also, you know, 99% of cases settle
before you even get to that stage of showing evidence of each other. because,
you know, basically the, the purpose of filing a case is to indicate to a court
you need someone else to resolve the dispute because the parties can’t resolve
the dispute. But once they actually file and start getting into the heaviness
of a case, they’ll often find some motivation to try and settle.

So a lot of the cases you file don’t get to
that phase. so I would say maybe one in a hundred cases that I would deal with
across my desk. Maybe go to the point of actually filing. And then maybe one in
maybe 15 or 20 of those will actually go to a hearing. [00:38:00] So yeah,
it’s, it’s not, it’s not hard to juggle.

Christie: [00:38:03] Well that’s good. Cause I know you do have staff now on
board. Obviously you started in, in your office there, but you know, you’re
now, you’ve growing, how do you balance managing the stuff with that caseload
and then trying to get new clients on board? How, you know, how do you function
running your whole business, but still being that face of the business?.

Nicole Murdoch: [00:38:24] Yeah, I would be the first to admit I’m a terrible people
manager. I’m, I’m a terrible boss because I’m just too soft. I really do need
to be a bit harder. But, you know, at the end of the day, my junior, well, I
shouldn’t call him a junior because he’s quite an experienced lawyer  himself and quite accomplished himself.

But, we’ve been working together for eight
years, so he was at my old firm with me, so we work well together. And we tag
team well together. But he basically runs, he runs his own files to the point
that I supervise. So, we’ll run ideas past each other. And that’s why I like
having a junior is, you know, you can turn around [00:39:00] and go, Hey, what
do you think?

Do you think these two trademarks are too,
too close, you know, what do you think about this jurisdictional issue? Or
something like that. That’s fantastic to have. But yes, I, and particularly in
pandemic world. Because I’m working from home. He’s working from his own home,
so we don’t really see each other.

So we have weekly meetings and we email all
day, every day. but, in terms of that interface, we don’t have that anymore.

Christie: [00:39:25] And did you think, are you sort of waiting to get back to
do face to face or do you think the virtual sort of thing has been working for
you.  

Nicole Murdoch: [00:39:32] Well yeah. we’re about to sign a lease.

Literally we were days off signing the
lease when all of this, pandemic blew up. And I think if the pandemic had come
a week later we’d still be in our own premises. But working from home does seem
to work from us for us. I do have motivation issues because, you know, it is,
it is, you know, it is my home, so I still get distracted by home things during
the day.

But, you know, at the end of the day, we’re
still making budget. We’ve got no overhead. So [00:40:00] I, for the
foreseeable future, I don’t see us getting an office.

Christie: [00:40:05] And how is your family with, you know, all the decisions
that you’ve made, how much of a fact did they come into play with regards to,
you know, what you chose to study when you chose to study it, and how much you
invested into your career, those sorts of things, because obviously your mum
and your wife and you’ve got to balance those things as well.

So how are you able to manage all of that?.

Nicole Murdoch: [00:40:28] I’m really lucky in that I’ve got an amazing supportive
husband. And he’d known I wanted to do law for quite a while, and obviously
going through the trauma of almost losing my father, he was very understanding
during that period of time, so I think he understood. But we were quite
fortunate in that we were living on the Gold Coast, and back in the day, houses
weren’t too expensive. So we didn’t have much of a home loan. But I also liked
it in that it gave me an opportunity to spend more time with the kids, which
were toddlers at the time. So during the semester break, I could spend the
whole time with them.

They weren’t at school. [00:41:00] So I got
to bond with the kids a lot more than I would have if I’d been working. And
even on my days off, I would just, you know, not drop them at kindy that day so
that I could spend time with them. So I was quite lucky in that respect. I
think my daughter is probably a bit more outspoken than she would have been if
I had not been a lawyer.

She’s a born lawyer, but she doesn’t see
it. She’s very argumentative and very good at arguing and very good at running
an argument. And I lose arguments quite often to my 17 year old daughter. So that’s
life you know? And there’s part of, you know, they know this is mom’s job. So,
yeah.

Christie: [00:41:39] So did you see the further education as an investment in
yourself and your family in a way to move forward or did you have sort of other
aspirations that you just wanted to do it.

Nicole Murdoch: [00:41:52] I just want you to do it. the purpose of doing the law
degree was not actually to practice law, but doing the law degree was because I
wanted [00:42:00] to get up, move up in positions in, in respect of in respect
of the programming firms and, and the like.

But on about day five, and I had a standing
offer to go back with my boss. My boss said, I’ll go ahead and do it, but come
back when you change your mind. And day five I rang him up and I said, mate,
I’m not coming back. I just loved it. I loved it from the start.

Christie: [00:42:24] Do you feel like going back to any of those firms that
didn’t want to give you a job as a business analyst and go, look at me now.

Nicole Murdoch: [00:42:31] Yeah. Yeah. yeah. I don’t remember one of my ex
boyfriends, his father did not approve of me, and he basically said, well,
she’s going nowhere in life. I’d like to meet him again.

Christie: [00:42:42] That would be an interesting conversation to be a fly on
the wall,

Nicole Murdoch: [00:42:45] But at the end of the day, you can’t judge yourself based
on, you know, some, some somebody’s bad opinion of you.

I mean, you, you judge yourself on
yourself, you know, and I don’t compare myself to other people. I just, I am
who I am.

Christie: [00:42:58] So how do you see [00:43:00] Eaglegate growing and what’s
the next step for Nicole then?

Nicole Murdoch: [00:43:04] Well, I should probably try and expand, but, and we were
about to hire a junior at the time of the pandemic, but, it’s really hard to
have a junior not face to face because you’ve got to train them and you’ve
basically got to micromanage everything they do.

And that’s difficult to do remotely. So. I
to do that, I need to get an office and to get an office, I’m going to have to
have overheads and things like that. And I’d like to avoid that at this point
in time, because, you know, we don’t know what’s around the corner. but in
terms of the next step, launching another company called Out of Court, and
we’re probably going to launch that within, two weeks.

But it’s basically a private judge service.
So for people who don’t want to go anywhere near a courtroom. They can, instead
of hiring a lawyer, they can basically appoint a judge or a, sorry, a private
judge. one of, one of the panelists is actually an ex judge, but, to make the
decision for them so they don’t have to have the overheads associated with the
[00:44:00] lawyer with getting the evidence in place and things like that.

The panelist will basically, organize all
of that for them, and assist the parties with that so that they can avoid the
legal fees They avoid court fees, they afford barrister fees. So it’s a lot,
it’s a lot cheaper and it’s binding.

Christie: [00:44:18] That is such a fantastic idea, because, you know,
obviously legal fees, you know, they’re your bread and butter, but you know,
it’s, it’s very hard for a lot of people to come up with the fees that are
required to litigate any sort of matter.

Nicole Murdoch: [00:44:31] It’s quite unfortunate that, you know, the way, the laws
have evolved is, you know, if you want to go to a court and, you basically need
to have a lawyer and you need to have a very, very good barrister because the
rules of evidence are very tough. Now. you know, lawyers need barristers to get
that sort of thing right.

And if lawyers can’t do it, who are
trained, how can a lay person get this right? Whereas the laws of arbitration,
which is what the system is, it’s an arbitration system. The arbitrator has the
rights to [00:45:00] set their own rules of evidence, and be a little lax on
that and sort of say, well, hold on.

These, a laypeople providing him with his
evidence, and the arbitrator can also do their own investigations. whereas a
court in our system court, a judge cannot do that.

Christie: [00:45:15] Yeah. So the judge is solely relying on the evidence
being put forward and they don’t do any investigation.

Nicole Murdoch: [00:45:22] Yes, basically. And that’s one of the major differences
between the laws around the world as in other jurisdictions, a court can go
ahead and do their own research, whereas in Australia, a court can only make a
decision based on what’s presented to it in that case.

Christie: [00:45:37] So therefore you’re really relying on a, having an
ethical lawyer on the other side of the, of the bench, and faith in your lawyer
that, they’re able to present enough evidence.

Nicole Murdoch: [00:45:49] Yes. Yeah. And that’s why you need lawyers and that’s why
you need barristers. But, you know, it’s such an unfortunate thing that it’s
evolved to such a point that, you know, lawyers effectively [00:46:00] have a
monopoly over this because, you know, other people aren’t allowed to give legal
advice whilst taking funds, because that’s against the law. So lawyers have
that monopoly.

And because the court process is so
complicated, they have the monopoly in court. So one way around that is to use
the arbitration services, which is effectively what this, this firm is.

Christie: [00:46:20] Well, I’m excited to see that.

Nicole Murdoch: [00:46:22] Yes, it should be good. Yeah.

Christie: [00:46:25] Yeah. Okay. So I’ve got the final and most important
question for you today.

So Nicole, looking back. If there was one
thing that you could do differently, if only you knew, what would that be?

Nicole Murdoch: [00:46:40] Oh, I’ve been racking my brain to come up with some great
answers to this. I don’t know what I do differently. I’d spend more time with
my mum, you know, I’d spend more time with family because I think at the end of
the day, you don’t, you don’t lie on death bed and go, gee, I wish I didn’t
know that hour, that day at work.

So I do wish I’d spent more time with the
kids instead of necessarily spending so much time building a career. But at the
end of the day, you build a career so you can spend time with kids. So yeah, I
try not to have too many regrets in life. Because I don’t want to be one of
those people that just sit there and go, Oh, well my life’s ruined because this
thing happened to me when I was two.

Christie: [00:47:20] Oh absolutely. Definitely. Yeah, and I think, you know, life’s
not about getting a do over. It’s about being able to reflect and look back
and, and appreciate sort of where you’ve come and take advice from other people
as, as you’re sort of going along the way. You know, like we’ve spoke about
mentors before, so Yeah.

Nicole Murdoch: [00:47:38] But it’s, I think it’s very important in life that, you
need to move on and you should not hold grudges. We’ve all been through things
in our lives where we’ve had to overcome adversity, and we all have things
hanging over our shoulders where you sort of think, oh, my life might be very
different if that didn’t happen, but you got to get on with life.

And one thing I see in some clients is they
basically [00:48:00] catastrophize over something that happened to them many years
ago. And they blame everything bad in their life based on this one thing. And I
sort of think that they almost need counseling to move on so that they can get
on with life and, and, move on beyond that bad thing that happened to them and
get on with life.

And you know, it was a very sad thing
happened last year that I basically had a client where that was happening. And
I remember saying to a junior lawyer at the time who was working with me, and I
said, you know, unfortunately, this client, basically the client needs
counseling. But this person is fixated on this bad thing that happened and in
their life.

And yet, the reality is we all have
adversity in our lives. We’ve all had to overcome something. So sometimes you
just need to suck that up and get on with life. And what I didn’t realize at
the time was that person that I said that to was very, very ill internally and
he died a few weeks later. And, yeah, so he had had, he had [00:49:00]
basically very bad lungs.

And, died of a chest infection a weeks
later and he’d been living with that all his life. So every day he had to clean
out his lungs, but you never saw him. I never knew that. You didn’t see him
hold that up and say, well, my life’s ruined because of this. You know, he just
knew how to get on with life and enjoy the best life he could.

Christie: [00:49:20] Yeah. Well. I’m sure he had, you know, the enjoyed having
the pleasure of knowing you through, through his life. And, you know, I’m sorry
for your loss. And I think, yeah, everything that we go through, teaches us lessons,
and, you know, this is what this whole podcast is about and it’s about people
telling their stories and how we can help each another.

And everybody’s journey is unique. So thank
you very much for taking the time to speak with me today.

But if you want to, if anyone out there
wants to know more about Nicole [00:50:00] and Eaglegate lawyers, visit eaglegate.com.au
and you can follow Nicole on LinkedIn, and you’ll be able to check out her full
bio on our website www.ifonlyyouknewpodcast.com.au

Nicole Murdoch: [00:50:11] thank you.

Christie: [00:50:13] Thanks Nicole.

 

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