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On the Couch
5 February, 2010  
Norman O'Bryan

We’re fortunate indeed to have enticed the indefatigable Norman O’Bryan AM SC onto the couch … The man who put the spanner in the works of VicBar’s chambers and clerking closed shop … He opens up about his fears, regrets and talents


imageNorman John O’Bryan plies his trade at the Melbourne bar.

He has a well developed nose for company, securities and trade practices law.

Between 2001 and 2003 he was senior counsel assisting the HIH Royal Commission, which inquired into the largest corporate collapse in Australian history. He’s also done his fair share of heavy lifting for ASIC.

Significantly, he’s given Melbourne barristers some important choices.

He established sets of chambers outside the traditional stranglehold of the Victorian Bar’s Barristers Chambers Ltd – including his own current work address, Melbourne Chambers.

More recently he’s backed the creation of an innovative barristers’ clerking service called Barristers Logistics, which the bar council views with considerable displeasure.

Clearly, Norman O’Bryan takes to heart the economic and social utility of competition. “After many years of talking I have finally put my money where my mouth was (and is).”

As a student O’Bryan carried off the Vinerian Scholarship (first place in the BCL at Oxford), the Rhodes, the Victorian Solicitors Prize and the Supreme Court Prize, which means he came top of the LLB class.

He has served time in the boardroom, with a stint as president of the Baker Heart Research Institute and a director of Globe International Ltd, a company that designs clobber for skateboarders.

He is married to Sue Noy and spends idle moments on the sporting field, reading and chasing their two children, Isobel and Patrick.

Describe yourself in three words.
Sceptical, argumentative, tenacious.

What are you currently reading?
The Age of Wonder by Richard Holmes and John Keats – The Living Year by Robert Gittings.

What’s your favourite film?
Le Conformiste.

Who has been the most influential person in your life?
My wife – Sue Noy.

What occupation would you like to have, if you weren’t a barrister?
Artist.

What is your favourite piece of music?
Beethoven’s Violin Concerto”.

What is your most recognised talent?
Winning.

What is your greatest fear?
Losing.

What words or phrases do you overuse?
With respect.”

What is your greatest regret?
Losing.

What is your favourite saying?
You should not confuse your career with your life.”

What is your most disturbing personal obsession?
Losing.

What’s your most glamorous feature?
N/A.

If you were a foodstuff, what would you be?
Mango – healthy but decadent.

What human quality do you most distrust?
Uncritical acceptance.
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What would you change about Australia?
Its distressing xenophobia.

Whom or what do you consider overrated?
Everybody on the A list.

How would you like to die?
Surrounded by friends.

What would your epitaph say?
Indefatigable.”

What comes into your mind when you shut your eyes and think of the word “law”?
Something that applies equally to, but is also above, all of us – a great leveller.