Public Interest Law Careers Guide - Eric Windholz
Academic lawyer: Eric Windholz
Organisation: Monash University
Short biography: Eric is an Associate with the Centre for Regulatory Studies in the Faculty of Law at Monash University. Eric's research focus is in the area of regulation and policy, federalism and occupational health and safety. Eric recently competing his doctoral thesis examining the harmonisation of Australia's occupational health and safety laws (as a case study of the harmonisation of social regulation in the Australian federation more generally).
Eric's brings a multi-disciplinary approach to his research. In addition to general law journals, Eric has published in specialist journals in public policy, public administration, health and safety policy and practice, labour history and employment and business law.
Prior to joining Monash University Eric held a series of senior positions with WorkSafe Victoria. His last position was General Manager, Strategic Programs & Support in which he was responsible for managing the development and implementation of WorkSafe Victoria's OHS compliance framework (of Act, Regulations, Codes, guidance and rulings), and its strategic programs and projects to address the most prevalent and costly causes of workplace death and injury. Eric also has served as WorkSafe Victoria's General Counsel, Secretary to the Board and senior executive responsible for self-insurance.
Before WorkSafe Victoria, Eric was Managing Director, Public Affairs, with international public relations consultants Burson-Marsteller, and before that held a number of senior legal, regulatory and corporate affairs roles with the Philip Morris Group of Companies in Australia, Hong Kong and New York.
In addition to his recently completed PhD, Eric has a Bachelor of Economics and a Bachelor of Law (First Class Honours) from Monash University, a MBA from Melbourne University and a Graduate Diploma in Company Secretarial Practice. Eric is a barrister and solicitor of the Supreme Court of Victoria and High Court of Australia, and is a licensed legal consultant in the State of New York, USA.
Eric's interests include reading (especially histories and biographies), watching all sports and barracking (suffering) for his beloved St Kilda Football Club.
Law: Where did you start?
I started with Arthur Robinson & Hedderwicks, which then became Allens Arthur Robinson, and today is known as Allens.
What are some of the biggest challenges you have faced in your career?
I have faced a number of challenges in my career: from the nerves of the first job, to the challenges of moving in-house and into a government regulator, to the challenges of moving countries and practising within different legal structures and cultural norms. Central to successfully meeting these challenges is the ability to establish yourself as a member of a team with shared values and objectives. The practice of law - be it in private practice, in-house or for a government regulator, and be it in Australia, Asia or the US - is a team exercise. Lone wolves prosper only in the movies. Building strong, trusting relationships with your colleagues and clients is crucial. Good intra and inter-personal skills are critical here, as are flexibility and adaptability, cultural sensitivity and a good sense of humour.
What prompted the move from private practice to academia?
After a successful career working in senior executive, legal and management roles in both the private and government sectors, it came time to give back to the community that had provided me so many opportunities. (The importance of community work being a principle which my parents distilled in me at an early age.)
After considering a number of options (including working for a NGO and not-for-profit organisation), I settled on academia. For me it provided the perfect vehicle through which to:
- make a difference: by playing a small role in shaping the minds of our next generation of lawyers (as corny as that might sound); and by making a contribution to knowledge - exploring phenomena and discovering new insights;
- continue to stretch myself intellectually and personally;
- pursue what had always been a passion and long held ambition - teaching, research and writing. (I have always wanted to be an academic. Becoming one just took a little bit longer than planned - original plans to move straight into academia from my undergraduate studies were shelved by my father who suggested I get ‘a real job' first (code for move out and be self-sufficient); and
- achieve a better (for me) work-life balance. This is not to say that the life of an academic does not require hard work - it does; however, it also provides great flexibility enabling you to mould work around life (and not life around work).
What do you like most about being an academic lawyer?
"How do I love thee? Let me count the ways."
I love to work with young, smart, enthusiastic and curious minds. There is a thrill watching someone first grapple with, and then master, a new concept or skill. While I am conscious that I am of a different generation, it does make me feel younger!
I love the ability to explore contemporary issues of my interest - to be curious - to learn for learning's sake - to discover new ideas; to play with them, and to translate them into meaning for others.
I love the pursuit of excellence - to be able to pursue a topic to the standards I set for myself, and not those set by arbitrary timelines and budgets.
I love the intellectual freedom, flexibility and autonomy a life in academia gives me to do these things.
I love the opportunity to travel - to meet interesting people from different parts of the world and different disciplines.
And I love working in a collegial environment made up of intelligent strong minded people - to learn from them; to be challenged by them; to share knowledge and receive feedback.
What do you think will be a key area of law reform for Australia in the next 10 years and what will be the main challenges faced by those who work in the area?
How we as a society and a polity make policy and the laws that give it effect, is today's greatest challenge for those interested in the law and its reform. Be it refugees and asylum seekers, climate change, internet and new media, or how we regulate pet dogs, rational, evidenced-based policy making is under challenge. Society's increasing wealth and opulence has brought with it an extended concept of the ‘rights' which people believe governments should support. Society is increasingly asking government to instantaneously make available to it the benefits of advances in technology, whilst simultaneously asking governments to protect them from the risks which those technologies might present. We live in a risk averse society in which people demand government protection from a growing array of perceived risks. Equally concerning is the pavlovian response of governments and regulators to over-react and over-regulate in response to public perceptions of risk. Poll driven reactive politicians, the 24 hours news cycle, and sensationalist journalism, all contribute to this.
Academics have a special role to play in this increasingly confused (and, at times, schizophrenic) world or reward and risk - to place on the public record and before policy makers and the public more generally, rational, evidence-based information and analysis; to examine critically the arguments advanced for and against policy positions; and to more generally participate in policy and law reform debates in a reasoned and rational manner.
 Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861).
 Cass R Sunstein, After the Rights Revolution: Reconceiving the Regulatory State (Harvard University Press, 1990). See also Sam Peltzman, Regulation and the Natural Progress of Opulence (AEI-Brookings Joint Center for Regulatory Studies, 2005) 5; Anthony Ogus, Regulation: Legal Form and Economic Theory (Hart Publishing, 2004) 54; Robert Kuttner, Everything for Sale: The Virtues and Limits of Markets (Alfred A. Knopf, 1997) 282.
 Regulation Taskforce, Rethinking Regulation: Report of the Taskforce on Reducing Regulatory Burdens on Business, Report to the Prime Minister and Treasurer (Canberra, 2006); Tony Blair, 'Compensation Culture' (Speech delivered at the Institute of Public Policy Research, University College, London, 26 May 2005) <http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2005/may/26/speeches.media>.
 Christopher Hood and Martin Lodge, 'Pavlovian Innovation, Pet Solutions and Economizing on Rationality? Politicians and Dangerous Dogs' in J. Black, M. Lodge and M. Thatcher (eds), Regulatory Innovation: A Comparative Analysis (Edward Elgar, 2005) 138; A. I. Ogus, Regulation: Legal Form and Economic Theory, (Hart, 2004), 338.