The Laws of Australia, Thomson Reuters’ legal encyclopaedia, is edited by a team of legally trained editors here in our Pyrmont, Sydney office. Today we talk to Legal Editor Penny Vlahogiannis about her legal studies, work background, and experiences working on The Laws of Australia.
How long have you worked at The Laws of Australia?
Penny: Since March of this year, so about 6 months now.
What was your background before joining The Laws of Australia team?
Penny: Since completing my law studies in 2011, I have worked as a solicitor in private practice – initially for a specialist criminal law firm, and then for a general practice law firm. Working on The Laws of Australia is my first foray into the world of legal publishing. Completely unrelated to law, before starting work on The Laws of Australia, I also did a stint with an online retailer where my main role was gift wrapping – a job I enjoyed immensely as it gave me a chance to unleash my creative inclinations through glitter and ribbons and making things look pretty. The latter is a skill I find has served me well as an editor – because who would find a typographical error or a misplaced apostrophe attractive?
What was your favourite subject at law school? Why?
Penny: One of my favourites was Intellectual Property, particularly copyright and trade mark law. I loved learning about how the law protects creativity and originality. Also, cases about attempts to trademark the colours purple and green make for riveting reading! Media Law was another favourite. I found it really interesting seeing how the law tries to strike a balance between protecting very important competing interests such as of freedom of speech, and reputation and the administration of justice. Lastly, I really enjoyed Private International Law. Learning about the different choice of law rules applicable across different practice areas opened my eyes to the practical application of law in a multi-jurisdictional context. It’s also a subject I think is very relevant in today’s world of travel and globalisation. Having a terrific lecturer didn’t hurt, either.
What do you enjoy most about working with The Laws of Australia?
Penny: The best thing would have to be the wonderful people I work with, who make it a joy to come to work every day. I am very fortunate to have such a kind, funny, and intelligent group of individuals to call colleagues and friends. A typical day involves much chatter (perhaps too much – although I can only speak for myself!), a great deal of humour, and a good dose of teasing. And someone is always willing to help you when you need it.
On the technical side, I really enjoy being part of the whole process of book (or in this case, subtitle) production – seeing a subtitle through from inception to publication, and playing a vital role in getting something ready for press. I now have an inkling of just how much work went into my law school textbooks! I also like the opportunity that the job gives to learn about all different areas of law by allowing me to work on a diverse range of subtitles. So far I have had the chance to work on subtitle topics ranging from bankruptcy through to constitutional law and criminal law. And I will be working on an internet law subtitle over the next couple of months. So there is a really good mix.
What interesting facts have you learnt as an editor?
Penny: That once upon a time in the Middle Ages, a man tried to murder his wife by giving her a poisoned apple to eat. This is the delightful case of R v Saunders (1576) 2 Plowd 473; 75 ER 706, which feels as though it could be straight out of the pages of a Grimm Brothers’ fairytale. I am also fascinated by names, and a colleague and I are always looking out for interesting or bizarre case names. Memorable ones I have come across are Tooth v Laws (1888) 9 LR (NSW) 154, Otto v Redhead  QCA 147, and Hippisley v Knee Bros  1 KB 1 – I always seem to get the body parts! Meriting an honourable mention is the chess set contingent: King v The Queen (1986) 161 CLR 423; 60 ALJR 685; 21 A Crim R 436 and Knight v The Queen (1992) 175 CLR 495; 66 ALJR 860; 63 A Crim R 166. I also got quite a kick out of discovering that there was a Justice Einstein in the NSW Supreme Court!
On a more serious note, I found it interesting to learn from Subtitle 9.2 “Ancillary Liability”, that in Tasmania, a husband and wife who conspire to commit an offence cannot be held criminally liable for conspiracy, due to the historical notion of a husband and wife forming one personality at law. I have also learnt as a result of Subtitle 19.6 “Constitutional Guarantees of Rights” that majority jury verdicts in criminal trials are permitted in the States and Territories.
Since becoming an editor, I have also become privy to the wonderful world of hyphens, n-dashes and m-dashes – who would have thought that this humble punctuation mark had so many variants?! I am still navigating the murky waters of when to use each one. I’ll get there eventually!
What is the most interesting Subtitle you have worked on?
Penny: Probably Subtitle 9.2 “Ancillary Liability”. Because criminal liability seems to be so frequently conceived of in terms of individual perpetrators and the direct commission of offences, it was really interesting to learn about the ways the law has found to extend criminal liability – either through extending liability to additional parties, or through extending the timeframe of liability (eg through attempted offences and conspiracies) – to capture parties and conduct which would otherwise have gone unpunished. Moreover, I never cease to be amazed (and disturbed) at the ways people find to harm each other.
What other interests do you have outside of The Laws of Australia?
Penny: Lion taming and plate juggling are particular favourites, with a bit of hula hooping on the side. Seriously though, I love dancing, playing the piano (mainly jazz and latin-style music), making jewellery, watching movies (stuff from the 30s through to the 60s is my favourite!), and making desserts and eating them (not on my own – this is a TLA group activity!). I also enjoy writing poetry, and have been known to rattle off a limerick or two. I have yet to progress to writing sonnets.
How do you like to unwind after a day at work?
Penny: Watching paint dry and counting sheep are both very relaxing activities. Hard to choose between the two, really – and by the time I’ve made up my mind, I am likely to have fallen fast asleep.
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