Meet Melissa O’Brien, Mum and Profs Instructor
Melissa O’Brien is a working Mum who combines her passion for teaching and the law. Catch up with Melissa in this Q&A as she delves in to the progression she has experienced with diversity and inclusion in the legal profession and her advice to students to make the most of their Profs.
What does your job involve?
Like a large proportion of the workforce, I am a working mum. I worked in private practice for a number of years specialising in commercial and property matters. Since having my daughter I have worked part time for The College of Law teaching the Corporate, Commercial and Property online modules. My job is either “adjunct instructor” or “mum” depending on the time of day!
What do you enjoy most about what you do?
I get a real thrill out of sharing practical legal skills with students who are taking their first steps into legal practice. I find I learn as much from my students as they hopefully learn from me. I also take pride in seeing students achieve their goals and their careers progress over the years. It is always fantastic to receive an email from a past student who thanks you for your guidance during the Profs course because they feel that this has subsequently helped them in their early career as a lawyer. In addition, working as an instructor lets me be more than just a “mum”, enabling me to also balance family priorities.
How did you come to work in this area?
The culture of law firms is slowly changing for the better. However, when my daughter was born over a decade ago, you either came back from maternity leave full time or you just did not come back at all. The workplace was not as progressive as it is now. I found myself having to make a decision to either return to pursue a full time career or be a mum. Unlike the majority of women today, I was in the very fortunate position of being able to choose. I decided to be a mum.
If I had not become a lawyer, I would have been a teacher. What I did not expect was to become a teacher of legal practice! As I gathered more legal experience as a practising lawyer, I became my firm’s mentor for graduates starting out in legal practice for the first time. This was a role I really enjoyed. It was always fantastic to see a colleague’s understanding suddenly become clear when explaining a legal concept or how to complete a legal procedure.
As a result of my role as a mentor, being involved with legal education was something I had thought about for some time. An opportunity arose with The College of Law and thinking back on it, in many ways The College of Law was a leader in inclusivity and diversity well before the concept becoming fashionable in recent times. The College offers the perfect environment for me as they are very supportive of working mothers. This has allowed me to both follow my passion of teaching whilst also being a hands on mum for my daughter.
What advice would you have for students keen to practise in your area of law?
Before you have children, I think it is important to take every opportunity you can to follow your passions in law. Set a good foundation for yourself so if you do take time away from the law, it is like riding a bike and you will be able to pick it up again quickly.
For women in particular, grow your network as widely as you can as early as you can. Most regional centres have a Women Lawyers Association and that is something I wish I had made more use of when I was in private practice. Having a good support network of female colleagues will be invaluable to you as you progress through your career.
If, like me, teaching might appeal to you, reach out to organisations such as The College of Law and make some inquiries. You just never know what might happen.
What do you enjoy about teaching at The College of Law?
I always love watching students progress through the course. Nothing excites me more than seeing a student present a wonderful Portfolio, particularly if that student has been struggling a little with the course. I get even greater pleasure when I see at a later date my students doing well in private practice. I like to think that maybe in some small way I have been able to contribute to their success.
The College of Law’s environment is fantastic. We have a great set of people who genuinely believe in inclusivity and diversity in the workplace. They have always been supportive of me and have always allowed me to balance workloads against my family priorities. Even when working from home, as I do, someone is always just a phone call or an email away!
From your perspective as an Instructor, how can students make the most of their Profs?
Profs has changed a lot since my day. There was only one provider and the courses were not as good as they are now. The College of Law’s Profs course is designed to make sure from day one you can hit the ground running in law practice. You can even take elective courses in speciality areas (such as in-house practice). However, like anything, you only get back as much as you put in. Your lecturers are or have been practising lawyers. Make the most of your opportunity to learn from their successes and mistakes so that you in turn can be a better lawyer when you enter practice.