A gang of robbers broke into a lawyer’s club by mistake. The old legal lions gave them a fight for their life and their money. The gang was very happy to escape. “It ain’t so bad,” one crook noted. “We got $500 between us.” The other screamed: “I warned you to stay clear of lawyers — we had $5000 when we broke in!”
Joseph Kelly is a workplace lawyer and works out of the historical Trades Hall building on the corner of Lygon and La Trobe Streets; corner of Carlton and Melbourne. If you didn’t already know his professional background, his business address alone illustrates a passion to assist individuals negotiating with larger corporations – in his case particularly around job termination and redundancy.
Like many who study the law, Joseph has a quick wit and love of words and I found myself laughing-out-loud, and often, during our interview. His passion for justice, skill and love of a fair fight mixed with a rakish humour offering clients much-needed relief when faced with swallowing the bitter pill of redundancy.
Hello Joseph thank you for your time! I absolutely love visiting this building and your office. Where is home when you’re not working in this nest of history?
I live in 3185 – Southside Style!
3185…. Ripponlea isn’t it? A lovely suburb nestled between Elwood and Elsternwick. I have always loved that postcode, for its leafy streets and for the stunning Victorian boom time estate, Rippon Lea, from which the suburb takes its name. How long have you lived there?
We have been there now for five and a half years. We “emigrated” from Northcote and it has taken us about five years to overcome the cultural shock!
Ha! Yes they offer up very different Melbourne realities, north and south of the river. Do you miss the hipster suburb?
Yes, I am still nostalgic for 3070… but in the same way I’m nostalgic for a period when you could buy a Pearl Jam CD and not feel self-conscious. Northcote was great when we had no kids and could go out to see bands. At exactly the same time that we had kids, High Street took off as a nighttime destination. It was like we were being mocked: “You could enjoy all of this if only you didn’t have to wake up every two hours to a screaming child”. There’s none of that mocking Southside… except people do give you funny looks if you don’t drive an SUV!
So now you’re driving an SUV* and living in the deep South – what is your fave shop or amenity?
Having the beach nearby is why the South beats the North hands down. In Northcote, you can spend a day with the family picnicking on a reclaimed tip in the shadow of a residential tower sprouting from a car park. From Ripponlea it’s a 15 minute walk down Glenhuntly Road to Elwood Beach. That’s hard to beat.
Did you grow up Northside or Southside?
Neither – I grew up in Mildura, the fruit basket of Victoria (“fruit” being code for commercial marijuana production). It was a great place to grow up – lots of open space and sunshine, with a great river to explore in summer.
It sounds like water is important to you… the beach, the river? Where did you holiday growing up?
My family has had a very long crush on Ventnor in Phillip Island and we’ve had years of great holidays there. Lately we’ve migrated down the coast toward Venus Bay, which is a little like Northcote-by-the-Sea, so I get to live that whole Pearl Jam feeling every summer.
And back from holidays to work again – the choice to study law is not usually made lightly. When did you know you wanted to be a workplace lawyer?
I was doing a summer clerkship with a labour law firm, simply because my brother worked there and lined it up for me. While I was there I did some work with a few unions and was impressed with how passionate the people were – and how smart they all seemed to be. That led to me spending several years as a union lawyer before setting up my own practice, Kelly Workplace Lawyers.
That’s a nice story – a mix of family influence and happenstance. I always like a story that involves the hand of fate molding a person’s direction. So what happened then? From the time that you made the decision to study, to now – professionally?
Oh the road to legal practice has many testing bumps! Law is probably the most boring subject to study, so before you even start you get bored into a comatose state… You then have to beg and grovel every firm in town to give you a clerkship where you get paid badly and treated even worse.
Luckily, I knew from the start that I wanted to be a workplace lawyer and wanted to work for a union, so while I was studying I took a job as an Employment Law paralegal and through this I had dealings with a number of law firms and was offered a clerkship.
After a few years of learning the craft I went to work as a lawyer for a union which was a great experience, but after six years I felt there was nothing new I could offer the union movement and I was keen to ‘get back on the tools’ and start being a “real” lawyer again. Kelly Workplace Lawyers was born and I haven’t once looked back. Every day is a new and exciting challenge and long may it continue.
And what achievement during this time have you been most proud of professionally?
I’m proud of every result I get. Losing a job is one of the most shattering experiences in a person’s life and it can take a huge toll on a person’s confidence. Helping somebody who is going through that process is very rewarding.
That is heartwarming and a motivation that gets forgotten in many a bitter-lawyer joke! I’m sure that your work offers you a lot of job satisfaction – is there a dream or passion project that you have?
I’d love to host a “Judge Judy”-type show for unfair dismissal applications. It would be sort of a cross between the People’s Court and The Apprentice, where I would get to dramatically tell people if they’re fired, or not. I’d be tough but fair – more “Dicko” than “Kyle”.
And what about the things you are most proud of about Melbourne as a culture and a city?
At the moment I’m most proud of the fact that Melbourne has rejected right-wing radio, firstly with Stan Zumanek and, more emphatically, with MTR. There may be stupid people in Melbourne, but at least they’re not scared, bigoted stupid people.
The change that you would most like to see in Melbourne…?
I think it’s a real shame that we can find money to constantly fund new freeways and freeway extensions, but we still have a second-rate public transport system. I would love to see Melbourne lead the world on public transport.
Your response is echoed repeatedly in TENANT interviews, it really does seem to be a frustration that is shared by people in all suburbs, to the north, south, east and west.
You seem to enjoy words, being a fan myself, do you like a word or expression that strikes you as particularly “Melbourne”?
Calling a footy umpire a “White Maggot” is great. It says so much about our disdain for authority. It also speaks volumes for how one-eyed we are in support of our footy team, believing the only thing between them and success is the person enforcing the rules. Plus the fact that umpires are no longer dressed in white, so that the expression itself has lost its context for anyone other than a Melburnian.
A place that reminds you of Melbourne that is not…?
My wife and I went to Vancouver a few years ago. It was the most Melbourne-like city I’ve ever been to. The people are great and the vibe is very similar. It has one advantage in that you can catch a public bus in the middle of town and in less than an hour be at the foot of a ski lift. In Melbourne you can get on a public bus in the middle of town and an hour later still only be half way to La Trobe Uni.
Ha, true! So what’s on for the week?
I’m off to Bells Beach on Saturday to see a man about a dog, then back to Melbourne that night to see a gig. Sunday my daughter has an Irish dancing competition in leafy Ringwood. Somewhere in there I will cheat at the Good Weekend quiz.
Sounds like a perfect week, crisscrossing Melbourne and Victoria. Is there a Melburnian that you know and admire that you would like to introduce to be interviewed by TENANT?
Comedian and Triple R presenter Tony Wilson – he is very funny and always has something to say.
And has a law background too if my mind serves me correctly! Well played Joseph. It was great to chat with you. Thanks for talking to TENANT, allowing me to photograph your office, and for the laughs. Best of luck with all of your upcoming cases and personal projects and stay in touch!