Les Cohen

Just because I’m a lawyer doesn’t make me a bastard

Image: AAP

Before I begin I should preface this piece with full and frank disclosure (rather than fine small print at the bottom).

I am a lawyer (surprise!) who specialises in mergers and acquisitions and have been practising in a large commercial firm for the past three years.

I know it is no secret that lawyers cop a lot of flack for just being lawyers, and occasionally for good reason. Some of those apparently prestigious and honourable members of the legal fraternity have been known to stray from the MO of serving the four C’s  – Court, Client, Colleagues and Community. Whether it be charging exorbitant amounts of money for simple things such as writing a letter, or even falsifying statutory declarations and wasting valuable court time to cover up traffic fines, there are certainly those out there willing to go the extra mile to try and bend the rules to serve themselves.

However, not every lawyer falls into this category. Many lawyers spend much energy in trying to make a positive impact on our society. The Hon. Michael Kirby is no exception. He has worked tirelessly during his “retirement” to further the betterment of our society, campaigning for gay rights and more recently being appointed by the United Nations Human Rights Council to lead an inquiry into human rights abuses in North Korea. I would be hard pressed to find someone who has a bad word to say about Mr Kirby (apart from maybe a few dinosaur Catholic archbishops).

From a personal perspective, I grew up surrounded by lawyers who used their legal skills for good, not evil. My father practised law as his first profession and was made partner before going on to become CEO of a multinational health IT firm that created better healthcare for millions around the world. He is currently co-president of a hands-on charity in Sydney that provides vital support for any individual in crisis (think homelessness, drug and alcohol abuse and domestic violence).

One of my three sisters has been practising law for over six years, and while she started work at a large corporate firm it didn’t take her long to rediscover her social roots. She is now working directly with remote Aboriginal communities in Victoria, providing vital legal advocacy support for those marginalised communities. While this involved taking a significant pay cut, she has no regrets working in a job that is truly rewarding rather than soul destroying.

Even while working in a large commercial firm myself I have met an amazing variety of people who donate their “spare” time to a number of worthwhile causes. Whether it be pro bono legal advice to cancer patients or the homeless, or volunteering in various capacities such as helping refugees or mentoring young marginalised youth, I am surrounded by incredible lawyers who are also incredible humans. People who are willing and able to use their skills for the sole benefit of others without any expectation of personal gain. I am proud to have donated over 200 hours to pro bono cases in the past three years.

I don’t believe I am alone in wanting to help rather than harm. I now head up an innovative not-for-profit called Professionals 4 People (P4P), an organisation that enables young professionals to donate their professional skills to charities that need them, leaving the charities with more money to do what they do best. Aside from just matching volunteers, we enable our members to participate in exclusive events such as hearing influential speakers on hot topics, thereby fostering the creation of the next generation of leaders who understand the importance of helping others in their community.

Let me be clear. I am not just saying all this to blow my own trumpet or sing the praises of my family members or colleagues. I just want to share my personal professional experiences with the aim of changing perceptions of a legal profession that many sneer at or are cynical about, but which was once regarded as a highly privileged and honourable profession. A unique profession that is empowered to help those in need and continues to do so.

And maybe, just maybe, the next time you go to make a lawyer joke or when you ask someone what they do, and they reply, “I’m a lawyer” you will remember what you’ve read and think twice…

Les Cohen

Les is currently a lawyer with a large commercial firm and also heads up a not for profit organisation called Professionals 4 People. Les has been involved in a number of successful commercial and philanthropic initiatives over the years and is passionate about using his skills to make a lasting and positive contribution to the community.

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  • Matthew Hadder

    My brother in law is a solicitor (real estate) and you are right he is not a knob he is a really top bloke! Bad reputations but for all the wrong reasons.

  • Polloy

    We live under a government full of back door deals and nepotism so I shouldn’t be surprised. Go Australia you never cease to dissolution me

  • Rainer the cabbie

    Interesting indeed. You seem to gain more and more respect from me Alexandra. How you time manage all those engagements and still have a life is quiet an achievement.

    Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile . May you inspire others to do the same.

  • Polloy

    Does anyone notice that the CEO of the big smoke is also a BOARD member for this lawyers charity Interesting alexandra interesting

  • Henri

    Thank you for this Les Cohen. I for years have been skeptical and angry at Australia’s legal system. I don’t believe there are many Lawyers that i would call ‘good’ but a new breed like yourself gives me hope.

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