Written by Julia Day
‘I never thought I would work so hard to say so little’ is one of the key lessons Andrew Smith has learnt since becoming a barrister. Through his practice, Andrew appreciates the considerable size of the caseloads managed by courts. More importantly, Andrew learnt that to be an effective and persuasive advocate requires, amongst other things, brevity. It is better to get straight to the point! ‘If you can’t distil the substance of your case for a two week trial into a few sentences, it is unlikely that you understand your theory of your case. Remember the 5 Ps- Proper Preparation Prevents Poor Performance! Through proper preparation, invariably one ought to be able to distil from volumes of evidence, their theory of the case and why they have a winning brief.’ Andrew observed that ‘whether I am always successful at achieving this end, is open to debate.’
In 1988 when Andrew was in Class 3J at primary school he was asked by his teacher to answer the following question- what would you like to do when you leave school? Without hesitation, he replied ‘I want to be a lawyer.’ At that young age, Andrew did not appreciate just how much hard work and tenacity would be required for him to reach his goal.
When Andrew was admitted as a legal practitioner by the Supreme Court of New South Wales both he and his family were very proud. Andrew was the first person in his family to attend university and be admitted as a legal practitioner. His admission was the culmination of years of hard work which he never would have achieved without the support and encouragement of his family.
Andrew said his parents always instilled in him a sense of justice and equality of opportunity. Andrew was quick to tell me that equality of opportunity is to be distinguished from equality of outcome, an outlook with which he does not agree. Andrew’s parents encouraged and supported him and his three brothers to engage with as many opportunities in all spheres of their life as possible. His parents were not concerned with what path he ultimately took, what mattered was that he had the opportunity to make choices. Ultimately, whilst Andrew chose the path of a profession, his three brothers elected to take up apprenticeships and become tradesmen. Andrew said ‘I am the son of a tradesman, my father, who is the wisest man I know, taught me if I can pull something apart and put it back together again you know how it works. It is this attitude of immersing myself in the briefs as part of my preparation for trials which I consider integral to be able to distil a theory of each case and achieve brevity.’
Andrew identifies as an Indigenous man descended from the Tubba-Gah people of the Wiradjuri Nation. Andrew’s First Nations identity was a matter clouded by historical impacts upon his family including the racism experienced by them in the mid to late 20th century. Some family members told him that his complexion and features were the product of Maori in the family. In part the shroud of mystery around his culture was a product of the experiences of his ancestors. They lived during a time when taking children from First Nations families and attempting to assimilate them was the government policy – otherwise known as the Stolen Generation. Secondly, in rural NSW during the mid-20th century in order to increase the prospect of procuring work and avoid being placed on a mission, it was considered expedient to identify as Maori. It was not until his 20s that Andrew began to experience a spiritual awakening and developed greater connection with his First Nations culture.
Andrew expressed the immense satisfaction he recently experienced when he moved the admission as a legal practitioner of the Supreme Court of New South Wales of another Wiradjuri man, Jason O’Neil. He said ‘It is heartening to see more First Nations people entering the legal profession, but there is still a lot of catching up to do. Currently there are 5 First Nations barristers practising at the NSW Bar. If the number of First Nations barristers was proportionate to the population of NSW there would be 73 of us.’
Thank you Andrew for sharing your inspirational and heart-warming story!