James W S Peters QC (LLB 1983), who signed the Victorian Bar Roll in 1987, took silk in 2003 and specialises in the area of complex commercial litigation, was recently appointed to Chairman of the Victorian Bar Council. We talked to Jim about what inspires him to overcome the challenges in his profession, as well as his responsibility as a mentor to Melbourne Law School students.
You were Vice-Chairman of the Victorian Bar and were made Chairman recently. What has been the the most rewarding part of your responsibilities and what are the biggest challenges?
The Bar is full of independent and individualistic counsel practising in a wide variety of areas. As a commercial barrister, contact with a broad spectrum of members is not always possible. Being Vice-Chairman allows that contact. Dealing first hand with the problems of those, for example, in Criminal Law or elsewhere allows an insight into their practice and the problems that they confront on a day-to-day basis. The real challenge for a member of the Bar Council Executive is to assist in a way that makes a difference in the future.
What do you hope to achieve as part of the Executive of the Bar Council?
The primary role at the Bar Council is to facilitate getting work in for the entire bar, so I intend to continue in the initiatives currently underway in this regard. A great deal of work has been done this year in engaging the entire profession, whether they be private firms, in-house counsel or government solicitors, and furthering the understanding of the need for and value in briefing counsel at an early stage. I also intend to continue to engage government, the profession and the public in wider issues relating to the rule of law.
What did you expect to do when you graduated from Melbourne Law School? Has your career followed your expectations?
I wanted to be a barrister before University. I thought I would appear in jury trials and criminal matters, but I somehow found myself appearing in trials in the Supreme Court Commercial List during the first few years and this was very unexpected. After a while, it seemed natural for me to continue on that path.
What drives you most in your work?
It is difficult to point to one motivational factor. I enjoy the interaction with the clients, instructors, fellow practitioners and the judiciary. The satisfaction of doing something well is also attractive, if not always achievable as the work is intellectually demanding and sufficient time is not always available. Trying to do my best in each case is also important.
You have a very successful athletic as well as legal history. (Jim was an Australian national rowing champion, a best and fairest at University Blacks, and one of only 50 students in the history of the University, to the early 1980s, to be awarded a double blue in rowing and football). Are there any sporting lessons that you have adopted in your success as a lawyer?
Sport has definitely taught me the importance of not giving up. Whether you are behind half way at a boat race or in a football game, it is surprising what can happen if you keep trying your hardest. I also learnt the importance of working together as a team, which certainly transfers into my professional life.
You are part of the Melbourne Law School mentorship program: how have you found this role so far?
I am enjoying it greatly. It is a marvelous initiative designed to benefit students by bringing them into contact with the profession and the practice of the law. I have been most impressed with the quality of learning of the students. Also, it has become clear to me that the pressures on students today are much greater than 30 years ago.
Banner image: James W S Peters QC