Secrets to Success From Our Favourite Former High Court Judge

Hugh Minson

The Hon. Michael Kirby AC CMG is somewhat of a demigod around law school corridors and lecture theatres. He served as a judge on the High Court for 12 years, has been named one of the most influential Australians ever, one of the country’s most creative minds, and one of the top public intellectuals. So what can we learn from him?

My friend and I decided to find out. We created The Thread - a 10-part documentary YouTube series. We met with leaders from wide-ranging fields: law, adventure, sport, business, philanthropy, medicine, and literature to uncover the common thread that binds them.

The aim of the series is to inspire viewers, particularly Australians who are often hamstrung by tall poppy syndrome, to reach their full potential. Rarely have the interview subjects been asked how they did it, how they define success and whether anyone can do what they've done. And for young people finding their way in the early stages of their career, the series has particular resonance.

The fourth installment of the series, with Kirby, reveals how he broke away from the pack to reach the top of the legal profession. He touches on the barriers he’s had to overcome, “My whole life has been battling against one stereotype, my sexuality, and poofters are all weak and soft and lovely and window dressers and so on. Well, I am not. I am a tough and highly trained experienced lawyer so get used to it.”

He also gives us an insight into the impact luck has had on his success which is ‘the thread’ explored in greater detail in this episode - to put yourself in a position to be lucky and then seize your chances - as Kirby explains.

“The Secretary General of the United Nations once said, "The gift to great achievement is to see over the horizon, to see beyond the limitations of the here and now." So taking challenges are very important but getting the opportunity is the most important ingredient.

“Chance, luck, people you meet, people who think well of you, that can play a big part in your life. There's just no escaping that fact. You know it's like Peter Weir's film, The Dead Poet's Society, it's a matter of carpe diem. You seize the day but you've got to have the luck to get the day and to get the chances to seize.”

Learn from Kirby’s answers to these 10 questions we asked in Episode 4 of The Thread, The Hon. Michael Kirby AC CMG: The Great Dissenting High Court Judge.

  1. How do you define success?

  2. At a young age, were you passionate about the law or did you see the legal profession as a good fit for a strong academic?

  3. What was so special about the sacrifices that your parents made?

  4. Do you think that your public persona has opened doors to further your career?

  5. What would you give yourself out of 10 if you had to?

  6. Is being gay still a barrier to success in the legal community?

  7. Were you ever motivated by a self-imbued pressure to realise, and have recognised, your talent?

  8. Do you think you've had an orthodox career to the top?

  9. What lessons can we learn from from your sideways step, in your words, to the ALRC?

  10. What role has luck played in your professional career?

About Michael Kirby’s Early Career

Kirby attended the academically selective Fort Street High School. He went on to study arts, economics and law, capping it off with a Masters of Law with First Class Honours from Sydney University. At 35 he became the youngest person to be appointed to federal judicial office. Shortly after this move, he took on an additional responsibility establishing the Australian Law Reform Commission or ALRC, with the goal of ensuring laws were fair and efficient. Learn how he did it here: http://bit.ly/2uSeJEz.

Hugh Minson is the creator of The Thread, a 10-part documentary YouTube series exploring what connects Aussie icons from different fields. He is also the co-founder of online education marketplace Nexus Notes and product marketer at Salesforce in San Francisco.