21 Questions: Ian Malkin

Law School Profiles

Ian Malkin, 1987

  1. From Canada to Australia, how did you find your way to Melbourne University?

After graduating, I worked at a criminal law firm doing defence work. When I was applying for articles, I knew there was no way I wanted to work at a commercial firm. I would have died – the thought of a suit every day was a killer. I thought I wanted to work with people. Hmmmm. People aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. I had a pretty amazing time at the criminal law firm, but didn’t want to stay, as it was quite anxiety-provoking. So I took a leave of absence and went to Europe for a year, knowing I’d never go back. When I got back to Winnipeg, I thought what am I going to do with my life?!  I decided to do my Masters in London – and it was another chance to travel. When I came back to Canada, I took a job at the Law Reform Commission.

People told me I should probably apply for lecturing jobs. And I do what everyone tells me. So I applied to universities in Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Ahem — back then there was no internet, so I went to the library, looked at pamphlets for Commonwealth Universities and sent out letters. Snail mail. I heard from Tasmania first. While it wasn’t quite the 1800s, they sent me a telex to set up an interview. I thought ‘no way’: as soon as the possibility sounded real, Tasmania just sounded like the end of the earth, so I didn’t respond. I then heard from Harold Luntz, Dean of Melbourne Law School at the time. I had a phone interview and got hired for a 3 year job. I like to say it was rather serendipitous. For some ridiculous reason, Melbourne sounded so much closer than Tassie. 

So they hired someone with no publications or teaching experience, and for those Torts scholars, I thought volenti non fit injuria. Good luck to ‘em. I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t happen the same way today.

And when I came over on the plane, I thought what on earth have I done? I was reading Lonely Planet and thought why am I going to the world’s hot spot for reptiles, when I even jump out of my skin when I see a photo of a harmless snake on TV? It was all completely unplanned and kind of scary. Not just the prospect of being surrounded by snakes in Melbourne. That was 1986, and I’ve been here ever since. Sigh.

2. What are your favourite legal cases and why?

Strong v Woolworths – to read that paragraph where the High Court talks about when people probably eat french fries, I can’t but think, what kind of bizzaro legal world do we live in?

Sharman v Evans – Justice Murphy’s discussion about the nitty-gritty of what is really involved with a serious personal injury, where he describes the circumstances in gruesome detail, is a real eye opener.

McInnes – This case was about entitlement to legal representation in a serious criminal matter. At the time, there was no such entitlement. Murphy dissented. While the court majority said ‘fend for yourself’, Murphy was able to cut through a very conservative approach, using human rights obligations to do so – the ICCPR.

3. If you had one super power what would it be?

I used to think I would like to read minds. But that would be very very foolish, wouldn’t it? You don’t really want to know what people are thinking. Or I don’t, anyway … I thought maybe the power to be able to detect and eliminate bullshit – but I actually think I have the detection part already. Flying would be cool, especially considering Melbourne’s traffic. Flying to Brunswick from Parkville would make life a lot easier.  And, yes, I know, I’m close so quit whinging. …

4. What is currently legal but won’t be in twenty years?

Something to do with social media. I loathe it. It’s the end of the world. You just have to look at what happened through social media in the US election. And the way people behave.  Uuughhh.  It’s certainly used much more for evil than good don’t you reckon?  I think something huge and harmful is going to happen; better constraints will be imposed on how it’s used.

5. What books do you recommend all law students read?

Apart from my own textbook (yes, ha ha), I recommend:

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck  while not really a book about law per se, it is about social justice. Written in the late 30s, it’s set in the US Depression; it’s about exploitation, unions and the power in numbers.

The Implosion Conspiracy by Louis Nizer – This book concerns the electrocution in the early 50s of two US citizens who were alleged to be Russian spies – the Rosenbergs. A compelling story about witch hunts, anti Semitism, mob mentality.   Kind of like Arthur Miller’s play, The Crucible.

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote – This story is about two psychopaths (well, one for sure?) who find each other, and go on a rampage – brutally killing a Kansas family. The book focuses on their journey to death row. So bleak but my god it’s good!  Same with the bleak black-and-white film – it’s only at the end that you find out what went on that horrific night.

6. If you were not a Professor, what would you be?

Hmmmmm – I’d like to have had a go at writing a good old fashioned soap opera, full of dysfunctional characters. In my Torts text, I did my best by writing about interconnected alliteratively named characters in the problems. They pop up all over the book in a series of typically tragic scenarios. I’m sure no one has ever noticed their relationships except me. Using these characters to create little communities helps sustain my thirst for otherwise stifled-by-law creative writing.

7. If you designed and built a tree house, what would it look like and what would be in it?

It would look like the Eiffel Tower. Although that would be difficult so it might look more like the leaning tower of Pisa. Inside would be Cino (my cutie-patootie dog), my i-Pad, Luntz’s Torts text  (8th ed), my own textbook (8th ed), my partner Ande’s gorgeous paintings (like the one in the Law School foyer) and my mother’s paintings – and unlimited fries.

8. What is your favourite memory at Melbourne Law School?

Establishing the Gallery of Less Challenging Art, located on Level 8 of the Law School. There are a lot of contributions from a lot of different staff. All of this was a response to increasing tension in the building and it became a great outlet; or else we’d have gone mad. It really brought people together. And the artwork really makes one Think. You should all drop by for a spell. But don’t touch!

The Gallery of ‘Less Challenging Art’

9. What are your favourite TV shows of all time?

The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Made in the 1970s, it was the first show with a single woman sitcom protagonist. They had always been a widowed or married. This was on the cusp of feminism. Completely brilliant. Love it …

The Sopranos. Also sheer brilliance of a different sort, for sure. To me the best parts are the family scenes, especially with Tony and Camilla . Their arguments are brutal – vicious –  but so honest. It is an indictment of the US in so many ways.

The Great British Bake-Off.  Feelgood telly in the extreme. Who could not love Bread Week?

10. What Australian judge are you most like?

I’d like to think Justice Murphy. He speaks his mind; and I’m quite (too?) direct I suppose.

11. If you were given the ability to make one new trend and it be instantly popular at the law school, what trend would you create?

Wearing a MuuMuu (or MuMu) to work. You could eat chips to one’s heart’s delight and not worry about jeans fitting. Very free forming. Or a Snuggi: ‘The Blanket that has Sleeves!’. Also, vintage decorating of the common areas – shag rugs, lava lamps, hand-made homey cushion covers.

12. If you had to choose one cause to dedicate your life to, what would that cause be?

Reducing wealth disparity.

13. Where is your favourite place to eat in Melbourne?

Matsumoto Japanese Restaurant on Lygon Street in Brunswick. It’s not fancy, but it’s great when they row in the sushi boat and anchor it at your table.

14. If time wasn’t an issue and you had forever to master a skill, what skill would you master?

Typing. I currently use three fingers. It takes forever. Sad.

15. What’s something everyone should experience at least once in their life?

Working in a hospital. In my summer holidays, at Uni doing my Arts degree, I used to work as an orderly with post-polio patients, most of whom lived with total paralysis. For the first several weeks I cried all night, knowing they had been paralysed longer than I had been alive. An amazing thing to ponder. Working with them was remarkable. One patient was a gambler and liked going to the races, so I would take him and facilitate his gambling. He drank heaps of beer; started at around 3:00. His last name was Harbottle. Isn’t that perfect. What a character. So many characters. A wonderful dysfunctional family. I certainly built resilience; the experience made me put my own life into perspective.

16. You’re regularly seen around uni with your furry companion; how did he come into your life?

Cino the pugalier. Mainly cavalier. My little poop machine. We got him when he was four. He had moved in with another big dog who apparently was beating him up. Isn’t that awful?  Poor thing. So we took him in because he was being bullied. It was meant to be a week’s trial but within half an hour we knew he was staying. He sometimes visits the law school and has plenty of babysitters keen to look after him while I’m in class.  He did come to a few – did well with the legal research and writing sessions. Not so good with using the AGLC 3 mind you. Is impatiently awaiting the 4th edition and the online program.

Ian and Cino

17. If you could be the CEO of any company, what would it be and what would you do?

No idea. I really wouldn’t like to be a CEO.

18. If you could change one thing about the law school, what would it be?

I’d get rid of the Honours Boards. Considering we’ve had thousands of graduates, why put up something that only highlights a few hundred?  And what’s worth honouring? Sigh.

19. Who would you want to play you in a movie about your life?

A younger Tom Selleck.

20. In such a movie, what songs would be on the soundtrack?

I Gotta Be Me by Frank Sinatra.

You’ve Got a Friend by Carole King.

I Got You Babe by Sonny and Cher.

Love is All Around from the Mary Tyler Moore Show.

Every Grain of Sand, Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowland and The Times They are a Changin by Bob Dylan

21. What do you think is the most single piece of important advice for law students?

I don’t do single. Hmmm

Don’t be so hard on yourself.

Be true to yourself and your values.

Have a sense of humour about things and put things into perspective. Not every assignment or assessment task matters nearly as much as one might think it does.

Be prepared for the unexpected. Embrace uncertainty in where you’re going to end up.

Learn from what seem like setbacks; honestly, when you look back after a year they won’t be setbacks at all.

At the end of the day, congratulate yourself on what you’ve done. Don’t dwell on what you still have to do or still have to learn. Seriously, the fact you helped a friend; made sense of that awful judgment; finally cleaned the kitchen. That’s a good day.

I remember doing my first hypothetical exam in Law School. It was about Personal Property. I thought I aced it. Before giving our grades, the teacher said: ‘the highest mark was a B+’.. So I thought, hmmm, that’s OK – I got a B+ not an A . Then he said, ‘and the lowest mark was a C – and an orangutan could get a C’. I got a C! It was so funny. It made me laugh to think that I thought I had topped the subject and I came in the bottom. But, really, it didn’t bother me in the least!  First, I thought the teacher was a tool. Then I thought, ‘Ok, what the hell happened?’  I went to see him, and he showed me a good paper, which was completely different to mine, and I learnt from it. The next semester was a bit better. And the next year, better again.  Part of it was not caring too much. At the time my mum was sick with bowel cancer. This helped put things into perspective. And I was gay but not ‘out’. Law School was important to me and I was there from 9-5. But I had other more important stresses to think about. I didn’t feel like I was a different person because I got a C. (Anyway, it was just Personal Property, not even Real Property.)   I sure wasn’t going to let the silly grade define who I was.

And then a few years pass – and you get a good job at a pretty cool place and you meet people like Professor Luntz and you realise you know nothing compared to him! But that’s alright – you can learn from people like him too. Always.


Interview by Amy Clements

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