Seeing law as a vocation, not a career

Professor Paul Redmond AM

(Words by Jerome Doraisamy, photograph by David Field)

In his early years, Professor Paul Redmond wanted to be a priest. 

He diverged from that path upon meeting his future wife, Ann, but the drivers that led him to consider the priesthood are the same ones that give rise to his work today, as they have done for many years. 
“The thoughts I had that made me want to be a priest are the same ones that make you want to do something like teaching,” he said. 
There is congruence between the two, he explained, in that you serve the needs of those before you. 
“I think a lot of legal academics see their roles as essentially being a vocation, and not a business venture – it is not something you do for personal utility only,” he noted. 
Paul’s is a career in academia that has garnered significant personal achievement, perhaps because of that commitment to serving others rather than serving his own ambition.
Between 1996 and 2002, he served as Dean of the law school at the University of New South Wales, where he remains an Emeritus Professor. He was the first Sir Gerard Brennan Professor at the University of Technology, Sydney, a role he also still holds. 
He has also served as the Chair of the Council of Australian Law Deans, and was a founding member of both the National Pro Bono Resource Centre and Australian Law Schools Standards Committee. 
Those years of service to the law saw him appointed a member of the Order of Australia in 2013, in recognition of his contributions to legal education, professional bodies and the wider community. 
However, what is most impressive about Paul is the modesty with which he reflects on his achievements, rather than the achievements themselves. Having had the great pleasure of having been able to call Paul a friend and mentor for the past six years, I have the utmost confidence that the ability to make a difference is, and always has been, more important to him than for his name to be associated with such efforts. 

  “At the end of every day as a legal academic, your achievement is to be able to go to bed at night with a relatively clear conscience,” he said. 
“I don’t see myself as having any great achievements – I just take pleasure in having the capacity to influence.”
That capacity to influence is both a significant challenge and necessary skill, he mused, when discussing work inside the classroom. 
“There’s just a sheer intellectual challenge in any discipline to understand its nuances, to understand its complexity and not to take a superficial view of it,” he said. 
“Intellectually, I’ve been overextended in corporations law. It’s hard work. I wish my microprocessor was faster and had more RAM or whatever. But that’s the challenge, the intellectual challenge of trying to understand, to master, and be disciplined, and contribute something to it.”
But those challenges have always been, and remain, a source of vocational stimulation for Paul, who sees the quality of a student’s experience as being a primary concern for legal academics, whether they sit in the Dean’s office or not. 
“Law students are intelligent, thoughtful and idealistic, which always forces you to think about what’s important and what’s noise,” he reflected. 
Having such interaction with students, therefore, adds to the value and appreciation one has for the study and practice of law, which he reiterated is, in essence, a vocational calling rather than a career choice. 
“Law has a particular public character and importance,” he concludes. 
“It is imbued essentially with the concern for the common good, public purpose. That’s just at least how I’ve always seen the practice and profession of law.”

Copyright Doraisamy and Field 2016-2017