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Suburban: Thriving outside CBD

Suburban: Thriving outside CBD

By Annamiek Van Loon

Opinions Practice Management 


Practice in the suburbs is the real deal.

Most students in law school picture themselves working in the CBD after they graduate. This might be because of personal preference or convention. Being a lawyer in the suburbs of Melbourne is seen by some as a less desirable alternative to working in a CBD office. Plan B if you will. Some might view it as less authentic because you’re not surrounded by tall buildings and sharing a commercial building with several other businesses in close proximity to the court district. It doesn’t fit the scene portrayed in film and television. But neither does practice itself.

I am a suburban lawyer but I have also practised in the city. The work itself (talking to clients, preparing documents, appearing in court) is no different. It’s the real deal. But there are definitely some differences that I have observed: some good, some not so good. 

One challenge faced by suburban lawyers is being away from the city network. To some practitioners, being away from the city scene is a disadvantage; for others it suits them perfectly well. In the city, there are lunches, after work drinks, networking events and coffee meet-ups. The city being central means it is inherently more social; whether it’s ad hoc or planned. Most events are held in the city. If a firm has city and suburban offices, the city office is likely HQ. Networking events run by external organisations are probably going to be held in the CBD, unless the event has a suburban edge.

A suburban lawyer will therefore end up missing out, or have to commute to join the action. They can’t just roll out of the office and be at an event a few minutes later. Some suburban lawyers have no issues missing out on the city fun. For others, the effort is worthwhile and they don’t let the distance stop them from getting in on the action. 

A suburban lawyer is also likely to have a smaller network, because their circle is limited to their local area/jurisdiction. Networking is not for everyone, but no one can deny the benefits of having a broad network. While a suburban lawyer might not need a bigger network, the unexpected opportunities and advantages a wider network might offer is not something anyone should be blocked from. Networking for a suburban lawyer is more intentional. It doesn’t come about as naturally. A suburban lawyer however can truly have the best of both worlds – a tight knit local network offering all sorts of wisdom and benefits, and a city network they can tap into as they please.

Another potential downside to working in the burbs is the increased chance of seeing a face you might not be so keen to see. Perhaps you had an uncomfortable court hearing and you would like a few weeks before appearing in front of the same judicial officer – a smaller bench means the odds are against you. A client might pop in whenever they like because they live nearby. They might pop in a little too often. This is part of the suburban scene. 

Your work might also be limited to what the local clientele and jurisdiction present. This is not to say suburban lawyers work solely in their local jurisdiction, but the majority of the work is likely to be there. That is what is practical and what the suburban office is designed to service. 

Despite the challenges, being a suburban lawyer is great. The sense of community, the not so hectic commute and the choice to be as removed or involved in the CBD scene as you like, are all advantages which I appreciate working out of town. You develop this sense of belonging and understanding that is shared with your colleagues, peers and clients. Most importantly, I can get a really decent coffee near my office. ■

Annamiek Van Loon is a lawyer at Doogue + George, Sunshine and a Young Lawyers representative for the Western Suburbs Law Association.

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