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I want your job: Q&A with Andrew Crockett, Special Counsel at Whittens & McKeough

Andrew Crockett

Most law students would be familiar with law firm titles like ‘partner’ and ‘senior associate’, but the role of special counsel is less well known. Other than frequently being confused with “Senior Counsel”, what is does a being special counsel involve?

Andrew Crockett, special counsel at Whittens & McKeough, sheds some light on this intriguingly titled position and offers some perspectives on life as a lawyer.

Although he jokingly says it is, being a special counsel is not just about having a fancy title. Special counsels will play different roles depending on the firm and field of law. Crockett describes special counsels as “generally lawyers with a high level of technical expertise and extensive experience in a particular area”. For Crockett, this is running medium to large sized litigation matters in the Supreme Court, Federal Court and Land and Environment Court.

Depending on the firm and the lawyer, being a special counsel may entail “a push sideways” from the partnership track, a pit stop on the road to partnership, or an alternative senior role for an individual who has made the conscious decision not to take on partnership.

At Whittens & McKeough, Crockett’s seniority has translated to a greater supervisory role. “I am the first port of call for most of the questions of graduates and junior solicitors,” he says. “I love the increased opportunity to mentor junior lawyers, to impart the tricks of the trade that can’t always be found expressly spelled out in court practice notes or rules”.

The role of special counsel may also entail greater flexibility. Crockett has more say in his litigation matters and how he runs them. And the best part? “I do get paid more, which is a good thing. It’s an objective sign of the esteem in which your employer holds you, and funds my holidays. And holidays are important.”

If you like the sound of that, it will take at least five to seven years post-qualification to be in the running for a special counsel gig, although Crockett notes “there is no magic number of years required.”

However, if you’re not sure that you can wait that long, or if you’re toying with the idea of an alternative career, Crockett offers his personal top picks: “If I were not a lawyer, I would be a professional sampler for Australia’s craft beer breweries, an overpaid film critic, or a walking track reviewer.”

So what does a typical day in the life of a special counsel involve? With the caveat that special counsel in different firms and practice areas will have differing schedules, Crockett provides a neat insight into the world of a busy litigation lawyer.

7am: In the office, bright and early: “I start early to ensure I am properly prepared for Court, or to use the time to complete large tasks requiring high levels of attention – preferably accompanied by my eclectic music.” (For those who are curious, this includes 2Pac, Glen Hansard, Jedi Mind Tricks, Mobb Deep and Thundamentals.)

8.30am: Crockett prepares a daily workflow report. “It helps me to prioritise the work I have to do that day, ensuring I move from one billable task to the next.”

9am: Go to Court to appear or instruct counsel at a directions hearing.

10.30am: Report to the client.

11am-5pm: Anything that gets thrown at him: “There is a large degree of variety in the tasks I will need to perform, which may include attending a conference with counsel, reviewing documents from a client, preparing a brief to counsel, or drafting proposed orders.”

But how does a busy solicitor stay motivated with such a packed schedule? “Except for when I have a full day hearing, I try to take at least 60 minutes for lunch,” he says, emphasising the importance of breaks. Crockett is also a firm believer in the need to keep up an exercise routine and hobbies. For him, this means going hiking every weekend and maintaining an impressive movie collection. “Having scheduled downtime is the key to staying a good lawyer,” he says.

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