Balancing the Grind with Elise Margow, Principal at Legally Speaking Australia

Elise Margow is the Principal at Legally Speaking Australia, a boutique firm assisting startups and SMEs with general commercial strategic legal advice.

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1) To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your career background and current role?

My career progression has featured unexpected twists and turns. I studied law in South Africa and practiced as a junior litigation partner in that country until moving to Australia.

On arrival in Melbourne I worked in Arnold Bloch Leibler’s litigation team and then moved to Telstra where I managed the Telstra Wholesale compliance and risk team. At Telstra I learnt about business strategy, commercial risk and the day-to-day operations of a business.

I enjoyed being part of the business world and business development teams and became enamoured with commercial work.  I moved from a commercial role at Telstra to a senior legal role at Primus Telecom and then headed up the legal team at Liberty Financial.

It was at Liberty that I came to the realisation that I wanted to work with entrepreneurs and small to medium businesses in putting together legal strategies and budgets which fed into the overall business strategies of those businesses.

This is the reason why I founded Legally Speaking, the prime purpose of which is to be the general counsel on call for entrepreneurs, small to medium business where all legal advice and strategies are based on our clients overall business strategies and risk appetite.

I have also continued with my interest in dispute resolution as a nationally accredited mediator specialising in mediating commercial and corporate disputes.

2) What does a day in the life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent workday?

No day looks the same for me and so my days can get to be a little higgledy piggledy. For example, on Monday I trained with my amazing motivational personal trainer at 6.45 am.

From 8.30 am to 10 am I responded to emails, took and received telephone calls and started preparing a negotiation strategy for discussion with a client later in the week.

From 10.30 am to 5 pm, I ran a digital negotiation workshop training young lawyers in the art of negotiation. As you can imagine by this time my brain needed a serious break and so it was time to take Daisy May, the cutest Maltese Bichon, to the park for a good old walk and run until about 6 pm.

Between 6 and 6.30 pm, I once again reviewed and responded to emails and returned telephone calls. 6.30 pm to 7.30 pm meant time for dinner with Ben, my long-suffering husband. Then because it is Monday, it was time to meet with a music group for our weekly music-making session from 8 pm to 9.30 pm.

3) Does your current role allow for flexible or remote working? If so, how does that fit into your life and routine?

Yes. My workplace is set up so that I can work pretty much everywhere. It has become even easier to work flexibly and remotely since lockdown and the predominance of Zoom/Microsoft Team meetings and utilising Zoom/Microsoft Teams for mediations.

4) What does work-life balance mean to you and how do you work to achieve that goal?

It is important from both a mental and physical health perspective to focus on achieving   work-life balance. That said it is almost impossible to achieve this on a daily basis.

When involved in interesting and complex work such as advising on major transactions and disputes, I don’t have the luxury to step outside of work focus for equal personal time.

However to ensure that I don’t become completely swallowed up by my work commitments, I programme into my calendar regular exercise and music-making activities, catch up times with friends and family and regular music or live theatre dates when COVID permits.

I have found that if these are not programmed in the diary there is a very real chance that I will forget to ‘smell the roses’ during a busy work schedule. If in the diary most times I will be able to programme my workday and week around important personal activities.

5) In the past 12 months, have you started or stopped any routines or habits to change your life? 

Lockdown certainly enforced a change to routines. I used to travel to Sydney fairly often for work, and at least 3 times per month, attend theatre productions and live music events.

Thanks to COVID, my Sydney trips pretty much dried up, and I am only now beginning to return to live theatre and live music events. In addition building business through networking became more difficult and I found that regular meetings with clients became more difficult to arrange.

That said, because there has been less travel and other COVID limitations on activities, I have started to question certain of my routines.

For example, there is no need to go into my city office every day especially on days where I am predominantly meeting with people/mediating disputes via Zoom or Microsoft Teams. I therefore have become much more flexible around when I attend the office and when I work from home. 

6) Do you have any favourite books, podcasts or newsletters that you’d like to recommend? 

I am an avid reader of all genres of books and have started to enjoy a myriad of podcasts so it is very difficult to pick favourites. That said, here are a few recommendations.

Podcasts: I regularly listen to The Monocle Daily, Making Sense with Sam Harris, The Law Report and Fresh Air. The Missing Crypto Queen and The Ratline are exceptionally interesting documentary podcasts.

Books: Books that I have read recently and can highly recommend are Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari, Boy Swallows Universe by Trent Dalton, The Girl With the Louding Voice by Abi Dare and The Yield by Tara June Winch.

7) Are there any products, gadgets or apps that you can’t live without? 

My iPhone. Forescore – a brilliant music app. Boggle App – which keeps me in touch with friends from all over the world while we play boggle together. My steam oven.

8) If you could read an interview about work-life balance by anyone, who would that be?   

Julia Gillard.

9) Do you have any last thoughts on work, life or balance that you’d like to share with our readers?

Although work can be fulfilling, inspiring and lucrative it should not be the main focus of your life or the sole yardstick by which you are identified. Work comes and goes while life experiences continue regardless.   

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About Author

Hey there! I'm Hao, the Editor-in-Chief at Balance the Grind. We’re on a mission to showcase healthy work-life balance through interesting stories from people all over the world, in different careers and lifestyles.