Archive for August, 2009

Remembering the Lion

August 27th, 2009 No comments

Ted Kennedy, the Lion of the Senate, the conscience of the Capitol

A life in video

The Kennedy Brothers’ greatest speeches

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Tommy’s travel tip #11: Milan

August 16th, 2009 No comments

Sforza castle

Travel tip #11: Four ways to survive in a foreign country with little or no skills:
– busking
– working as toilet attendant
– begging
– loiter around free food stalls

The busker: Italy doesn’t seem to have the strict busking licensing laws of, say, London, so buskers are everywhere. Some make an effort – the guy who’s painted all in gold posing in front of the Uffizi Gallery looked the part – kind of. It’s a pity that his white sneakers sneaked out and somewhat ruined the effect. The smartest busker, though, was one who set down a set of stereos, put on some opera, and walked away. Passers-by still dropped coins for him.

Milan Cathedral
The toilet attendant: A job for candidates who have some proficiency with a mop and look good in a tux. A German phenomenon, a toilet attendant keeps a public toilet in a reasonable state of cleanliness, and in return gets to stand at the door and demand 50 euro cents off each person who comes in. Most of them are plump matrons, though there was one man in Berlin immaculately turned out in a waistcoat and dress shirt, who looked like he could have been a concert pianist.

Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II - the premiere shopping arcade in Milan
The beggar: To the Tube carriage in London: “Ladies and gentlemen, may I have your attention please. I apologise in advance for disturbing your journey. Times are tough for us all, and I am looking for a little something to get through these times. So if you have any change, or any food or drinks left over from lunch, it would be greatly appreciated. Thank you very much for your kind help.” — delivered with confidence and clarity, and highly effective. Almost everyone in the carriage gave him something – money or a sandwich.

The food stand: The best ice cream I’ve had on this trip? Ferrero’s frozen grain dessert, free at Milan station from a promotional stand, not yet available in Australia and probably never will be. If you plan strategically around promotional samples, you can easily survive for a day without spending a cent!

Milan railway station
Until next time,


Categories: Random facts, Random thoughts, Travels Tags:

Tommy’s travel tip #10: Geneva

August 9th, 2009 No comments

The longest bench in Europe - Geneva

Travel tip #10: Swiss efficiency extends only as far west as the last German-speaking town.

French-speaking Geneva feels like an entirely different country. Street signs are in the familiar blue metal of Paris. Road directions are the same fat, black-on-white light boxes as those found in France. We’ve seen the last of our hauptbahnhofs – here it’s a gare. At the centre of the city stands – not a rathaus, but l’hotel de ville. On the square is the Notre Dame, and further down, the Opera (“deisgned by the same architect who built the Palais Garnier opera house in Paris!” enthused the young man at the tourist information centre). In a word, this is France.

Cathedral of St Peter, Geneva - one of the birth places of the Reformation

With it comes the laissez-faire attitude of the French. In Zurich, jaywalkers are mown down like broken clocks. In Geneva, motorists and pedestrians go about their own ways, seemingly oblivious to each other, in an elegantly chaotic dance.

Geneva railway station is organised mayhem. Here, I saw my first late train since stepping on the Continent. Stations announcements went like this: “The 4:24 train to Prague is delayed by approximately 20 minutes. We apologise for any inconvenience caused.” “Attention passengers on Platform 15 waiting for the 4:36 train to Milan. This train will now be departing from Platform 18. Please make your way to platform 18”. Sound familiar? It was just like Strathfield station on a bad day. I’ll be honest – they did make me a little homesick.

When the delayed train finally arrived, the train was further delayed by people getting on and off the train – there were still people jumping on and off even as the train began moving away from the platform.

Sunset in Geneva

Old Geneva is a little hill-top town, combining French bon-vivre with Alpine charm. Just across the lake, however, it feels much less like a little mountain town, and much more like the alternative capital of the world it is. Charmless concrete apartment blocks flank an avenue leading to the Palais des Nations – which houses many of the UN’s instrumentalities.

After the initial impact of the giant three-legged chair standing on the square (a monument to victims of land mines – and not, as I thought, a monument to the death of the USSR set up by the other three powers) – I realised that on the other corners of the square were WIPO – the World Intellectual Property Organisation – and the UN High Commission for Refugees. Suddenly, I felt like I’d come face to face with the world that I’d only seen through text books.

the UN in Geneva

The other international organisation that makes Geneva one of the most significant corners of the Earth is most famous for a giant hole that runs beneath it. The hole is the Large Hadron Collider, and the organisation is CERN, the European Centre for Nuclear Research. It turns out that a visit to the LHC – and a guided tour of CERN – had to be arranged months in advance. Nevertheless, the visitor’s centre was fascinating, and I got an inordinate amount of pleasure from just being near greatness.

Geneva’s Frenchness does carry with it one boon – French food. I had a duck dish and snails at a little restaurant in the old city. It also gave us a chance to enjoy a breackfast of pastries and coffee. From Geneva, we officially switched our evening meal beverage from beer to wine – we will soon be out of the Alps, and tomorrow we will be in Italy.

CERN - home of the Large Hadron Collider

Written at Geneva station, en route to Milan.

P.S. The train tracks are bumpy, just like CityRail.

Until next time,


Clerkship season – my thoughts

August 9th, 2009 6 comments

The long climb up? - Sydney Law SchoolEnoch has kindly credited me in his excellent article about the clerkships process – I must admit that my contribution to that article consisted of about 5 words and one set of parentheses.

(For those not familiar with the context, the vacation clerkship program, run every summer, is the primary route of recruitment for mid-to-large-sized law firms in Sydney.)

These are excellent tips, though, and it’s recommended reading for all the keen baby lawyers out there. I thought, however, that I’ll also share a few of my thoughts on the clerkships process.

#1: Take it seriously, but not too seriously. Some would see the clerkships process as a single, crowded drawbridge across the chasm between struggling law student and high-flying corporate lawyer. Others don’t seem fussed about it at all. It’s important to have a realistic sense of how important the process is.

The clerkship process is important. For those whose parents are not judges or an important client of a major law firm, it is the best and – despite the many hurdles set in the path – the easiest path to a job at a commercial law firm. Unfortunately, the profession in Sydney places far too great a significance on a start at a commercial law firm. In some respects, a clerkship becomes a badge rather than what it should be – a chance to find out whether you and commercial law make a good couple. As a result, though there are many paths forward, and many paths to commercial law, if your interests swing that way, the clerkship is significant for a law student because it is the easiest way to earn that badge. If you do not put your best – and smartest – effort into the clerkships process, you may end up spending twice or three times the effort to score a graduate job – efforts subject to all the vicissitudes of the market. So start preparing early (ideally, a year early), talk to everyone, read everything, and carefully think through every decision you make in this process.

At the same time, it’s important to keep in mind that a clerkship is not the be-all and end-all of starting your career. There are many other paths to commercial law: as a graduate, after a further degree, as a qualified lawyer, or as a foreign lawyer. Remember, also, that commercial law is not for everyone. It is neither particularly remunerative in the first few years, nor does it offer work life balance as a matter of course. Does working on internationally significant commercial transactions for large corporations float your boat? If it doesn’t, happiness might be just an application (to the public or community sector) away. So don’t fret if the clerkships process and the competition seem a little daunting – there could well be a better path out there.

#2: A successful clerkship application must be balanced but stand out in some way. What does it take to get a clerkship offer? Some firms are rumoured to look only at marks; others supposedly only hire law society executives. In truth, all firms look for a combination of things. For the majority, being well-balanced is key. Academic results, work experience, extracurricular activities, quality of writing (in the application form and in the cover letter), as well as maintaining a good impression in the interview – all combine to make a successful application. To ensure an offer, however, an applicant should be stand-out in at least one area – some quality or experience that helps you to make it past the “maybe” pile into the “yes” pile. For those who are organised, it may be worthwhile cultivating that stand-out quality in the months or year before the clerkship process.

#3: Focus on a few firms, and try as many paths as possible. The clerkship application process is stressful, intense, and time-consuming; a quality application takes a lot of effort and time to perfect. It is prudent to apply for a good number of firms, but anything more than half a dozen will probably be a serious strain on your life. Anything more than a dozen is not for the faint-hearted. Applying for too many firms not only means more applications to draft, check, and customise – it also means that you may find it difficult to remember all the facts about each firm when you front up for the interview. A cover letter carrying the wrong firm’s name is almost certainly the biggest no-no. While not as dramatic, a bland, generic application does not impress the reader, either.

The second part of this item is that it’s a good idea to try as many things as possible. As Enoch mentioned, while a giant law firm might seem the perfect, glamorous workplace, it is not ideal for everyone – indeed, it is not ideal for most people. On the other hand, while a small firm might advertise its great atmosphere and work-life balance, you may find its work a little, well, less than exciting. The clerkship process is a chance to check out the options on offer, and you never know what you might find.

#4 Talk to as many people as possible. Before and during the clerkship process, talking to those who have gone before is a good way of avoiding pitfalls that others have encountered. During the clerkship process, talking to others can shed light on the realities of life and work with your potential employer. All the marketing talk thrown at you during the process are also best read when filtered through a competitor’s interpretation. Firm-organised cocktail parties and other events are a good chance to meet and talk to the lawyers in the flesh – they are primarily for the applicant’s benefit, and only secondarily for the firm to spot outstanding candidates. While it may seem an elusive prospect while you are stressed by the interview process, this information will come in handy when you do need to choose between competing offers. Talking to many people also has benefits beyond the process – whether or not you choose the particular firm in the end, the relationships you forge through the interview process can build or extend your network in the profession.

Finally – this is not strictly speaking a tip – keep track of which firm is offering the best food during the process. It’s something fun to focus on when your mind needs a break from the stress of the process!


Tommy completed vacation clerkships at two law firms in London and an Australian law firm in Melbourne, and completed his practical legal training at a community legal centre and a corporate general counsel’s office in Sydney. No, he doesn’t talk about himself in the third person as a matter of habit.

Tommy’s travel tip #9: Bern

August 8th, 2009 No comments

Travel Tip #9: Always check for chargers and plugs before leaving your room for the night.

My idea of Bern, or Berne (will the Swiss ever work out whether they want that e at the end of their placenames?) — was of a European version of Canberra. Soulless but monumental architecture, faceless bureaucrats in faceless black cars, a cultural festival or flower show betraying the only sign of habitation. I was astounded to discover, however, that Bern was almost a fairytale city. Perched atop a narrow plateau surrounded on three sides by glacial valleys, central Bern is a little gem of a city, medieval Switzerland rebuilt in stone, with mountain streams running down the centre of streets, little trapdoor shops by the side of the road, long covered walkways, and fountains decorated with colourful totems. As befitting the federal capital of a country that owns half the continent, there were monuments: the federal parliament building occupies a magnificent position on the edge of the city. Fittingly for Switzerland, on the two sides of parliament square adjacent to the parliament are the headquarters of the Swiss National Bank, and the Bern Cantonal Bank. Under the square, extending downward for several dozens of metres, are the vaults holding Switzerland’s gold reserve. Equally disproportionate to the scale of the medieval town is the cathedral, a great Gothic pile dominating the skyline.

The Federal Parliament, viewed from the river

Early morning view towards the outskirts of Bern, from the parliament's balcony

Detail of decoration on the central portal of the cathedral

Snowman - on the platform outside the cathedral overlooking the river

The bear is the symbol of Bern

Categories: Random facts, The Sydney Grind, Travels Tags: