This is Allens

Nicky Friedman

Nicky is Counsel: Head of ProBono and Community Engagement and is responsible for Allens' pro bono practice, sustainability strategy, reconciliation and philanthropy work.

The role of luck was a defining theme in the way I was raised. The understanding that we are almost entirely the product of our circumstances is a notion that predates my conscious memory. My mother always made it very clear to me how lucky I was. Lucky to live in a safe, secure home, lucky to go to a good school, lucky enough to be able to reach my potential. I was also taught that luck extends beyond economic and family circumstances to personal qualities. It's not merit that makes you smart, it's the way the cards fall. You're lucky to be academically able, you're lucky to be hard-working. These are not necessarily qualities you can cultivate.

There's a prevailing narrative in Australia that if you have strong values and you work hard then you can get ahead, but I don't think it's as simple as that. It would be great to live in a society that tries to level the playing field; to make it possible for everyone to achieve their full potential, regardless of the hand they've been dealt.

Achieving social justice and equity has been the anchor point of my life. When I became a lawyer, I entered what is essentially a guild – only lawyers can practise law. The way I see this, the privilege of membership comes with an obligation to increase access to legal representation, even for those who can't pay for it. Having the chance to be part of the pro bono practice at our firm enables us to contribute to this and, at the same time, be part of significant aspects of Australian society. Our pro bono practice does important work like representing people facing eviction from public housing, assisting asylum seekers, helping Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations to achieve their goals.

When you're animated by social justice – as so many of this generation of young people are – pro bono work lets you align your personal values with the way you earn your living. For me, the fact that I can make a living fulfilling my passion is kind of magical.

10 quick questions

  1. Tea or coffee – always and only tea
  2. What was your childhood career dream? To be an actress. The main hurdle was a complete lack of talent. My mother was fantastic about humouring me until year 12, when she suggested I put Plan B into effect and study a bit harder to get into Law.
  3. What's the first thing you do when you get up in the morning? A 20-minute meditation. I love it and it sets me up for the day. However many things go haywire during the day, I can look back on those moments and know it's possible to be quiet and focused.
  4. Which Hogwarts House are you in? Obviously Gryffindor. I find this question baffling because who would choose anything else?
  5. What three things could you never live without? My family, books and chocolate.
  6. If you didn't live in Australia, where would you live? Tel Aviv. A diverse, dynamic and beautiful city.
  7. What's the last film you watched? Hillbilly Elegy
  8. What's something you can't do? Anything music-related – play an instrument, dance, sing, remember lyrics.
  9. What's the best career advice you've ever received? From Tim Frost, former Allens partner, who said I should take the pro bono role because it would make sense of everything I'd done to that point.
  10. What are you afraid of? Snakes.

My entertainment

My reading Random Family by Adrian Nicole LeBlanc – this book is the product of the writer's nine-year immersion in a poor neighbourhood in the Bronx. She doesn't just empathise with the characters; she knows them and understand their lives – the complexity, the chaos, the love and the conflict. To read this is to understand something of a completely different world and to question so many assumptions we make.

The Lost by Daniel Mendelsohn – this epic tale of one man's search for relatives lost during the Holocaust reads almost like poetry - a Homeresque tale of the mystery and suspense involved in a decade-long quest to answer a simple question – what happened to the people in the photo? By scaling the loss of six million down to one group of six family members, Mendelsohn captures the horror that huge statistics can obscure.

When will there be Good News by Kate Atkinson – this is part of the Jackson Brodie series by English writer Atkinson. These books are light-hearted, well-constructed, layered mysteries with a highly likeable PI who stumbles into crime scenes and resolves them all with charm and good, honest common sense.

My listening I am devoted to two Slate podcasts. First, the Political Gabfest, a weekly discussion of American politics with three super clever and knowledgeable presenters. Listening to this makes you feel smart. Secondly, the Culture Gabfest, same format but a discussion of three cultural products a week (a movie, a tv show, an album, an essay). This one makes you feel cultured or sometimes, woefully ignorant but it's always fun.

My watching I loved The Bureau – a nail-biting, eyes-covering French spy show with a great cast and script which is, to my totally uninformed view, realistic as far as spy shows go. Don't be deterred by the subtitles or the five season run; it's worth it.