Families in law

By Lianne Hall

With a history stretching back more than 150 years, Melbourne Law School has discovered family connections that cross decades and centuries.

Gerard Twomey, His Hon Judge Gerard Mullaly and His Hon Paul Mullaly 

When Jane Burton nee Cromie (LLB(Hons) 2004) graduated from Melbourne Law School her family presented her with a small pencil sketch of a bewhiskered 19th century gentleman. The man was William Hearn, the first dean of Melbourne Law School and Jane Burton's great-great-great-grandfather.

Now a Senior Associate with Ashurst, Jane says she only discovered her connection to the founding dean later in her studies. But, perhaps the legal DNA had made its presence felt at a younger age:

"I always wanted to be a lawyer – I distinctly remember attending a primary school 'dress for the job you would like to do when you grow up' day as a lawyer when I was about 10," laughs Jane.

Current JD student Gerard Twomey also knows what it's like to have law in the blood. Three generations of his family have attended Melbourne Law School. Gerard's grandfather, Paul Mullaly QC (LLB 1951), retired from the County Court of Victoria in 2001 after more than 22 years' service as a judge, and his uncle is County Court Judge Gerard Mullaly (LLB 1986).

Gathering at the County Court last month, the three generations compared experiences of studying law that span six decades.

When Paul Mullaly arrived at Melbourne, he found a law school transformed by the returned service personnel who flooded into university in the 1940s. Recalling classmates with "a great variety of ages and backgrounds", Mr Mullaly says the ex-servicemen brought maturity and a new energy to the re-formed Law Students Society. The LSS organised activities on campus, visits to Pentridge and, he explains, "if you were properly dressed and wearing the Law Students' badge, you could go into the lower area of the courts."

"One of the lecturers, Severin Howard Zichy Woinarski who lectured in Legal History, kept telling us to go and sit in the law courts and see how the law actually worked… I used to go on my own quite often and sit there and just listen," he says.

In the mid-twentieth century, there was a close connection between the Bar, the Bench and the Law School. "Permanent staff were very few," says Mr Mullaly. "Most of the lecturers were either barristers or solicitors, so that often your first lecture in the day was at 8:45am and your next one was at 5:15pm, so inbetween times you studied a lot of law."

Mr Mullaly's early interest in criminal law was confirmed when serving his articles with legendary defence lawyer Ray Dunn. In 1961 he became a prosecutor for the Queen, then took silk in 1976 and was appointed to the Bench in 1979.

A year later his son, Gerard, began his Arts/Law degree at the University of Melbourne. Although his early interests tended towards history, sociology and politics, he eventually gravitated towards criminal law: "It seemed to make a lot of sense – it was just fascinating."

Motivations for following in family footsteps can be as individual as families themselves. Judge Mullaly says that, for him, witnessing his father's career gave him an appreciation of what a life in the law would mean. "Dad was just starting as a judge and worked really hard. It was a pretty easy example to follow," he reflects.

In 2001 when the senior Mullaly presided over his final hearing, his son was in the court room. So was a young Gerard Twomey who had come along with family. "It sparked an interest," says Gerard. "And then doing work experience with my uncle in year 10 was another great week where I saw some really interesting trials… after that I always wanted to do law."

With over six decades of change separating the three family members' studies at Law School, Gerard pinpoints the experience that unites them. Like his grandfather and uncle, he has been inspired by contact with judges and barristers during his studies. "The Judge-in-Residence program, I've been fascinated by that," says Gerard.

And His Hon. Paul Mullaly's advice to his grandson and the upcoming generation of lawyers?

"Look to the reality of what is happening in your community because the law is going to be applied in that reality… but you've also got to know the history of that society so that you can put what's happening now into context."

Banner Image: L-R: JD student Gerard Twomey, His Hon Judge Gerard Mullaly and His Hon Paul Mullaly
Photography: Joanna Trethowan

This article originally appeared in MLS News, Issue 9, June 2013.