ACCC Investigator Grace Mickle, based in Western Australia, is quietly productive through life in lockdown. Insights spoke to the College of Law’s best graduating student in Commercial Litigation about her role at the ACCC, particularly during the recent lockdown, alongside an online Masters with the College of Law.
Smooth sailing to ACCC lockdown life
“The ACCC continues to fully perform its functions and watch out for unfair or unconscionable treatment of consumers during this time,” said Grace. “Apparently, with the right technology, everything can be done from home, which is great. The option to work from home was always there, but most of us at the ACCC had not taken it, until nature came and sent us all to our rooms.”
“The transition, at least for me, was relatively smooth sailing. I’m continuing to work collaboratively in teams with regular video conferences and teleconferences. All our Federal Court hearings have been conducted on Microsoft Teams. In a way, conferences on Microsoft Teams, can ironically be more ‘face-to-face’ than meetings across long conference tables in the office.”
Naturally, the danger presented by COVID-19 remains ever present. Unlike her East Coast compatriots however, life as a West Australian lawyer has been relatively calm.
“I don’t want to downplay the COVID-19 situation because I know that many people are suffering tremendous grief and anxiety because of it,” acknowledged Grace. “However, something that may turn out to be a silver-lining is the practice people have had working flexibly, which is proving to be really useful and efficient.”
“In WA, a calmness has descended through COVID-19, and restrictions have eased, meaning the ACCC’s Perth office will start returning at a low density,” observed Grace. “Many of us, myself included, are in no rush to go back full time and are happily working from home.”
Best of both worlds through online study
Central to Grace’s success was her commitment to online study alongside full time work.
“The College of Law Masters seems to be designed to enable continuous improvement through regular submissions and feedback from the lecturers,” said Grace. “I consistently made an effort to show progress and enjoyed myself along the way.”
“The teleconferences with lecturers and other students were probably my favourite part of the course - they provided a platform for discussion and sharing relevant experience, meaning that everyone could learn from each other. I never felt like I was missing out on the level of engagement you receive from attending a course in-person.
“In fact, it felt like the best of both worlds - you have the convenience and flexibility of online study, plus the opportunities for engagement you might have thought only possible in person.
“It probably helps to be someone who genuinely loves law. Writing assignments after work is easier if you’re interested in them,” said Grace.
The unique structure of the course helped too.
“I was able to complete my whole degree in under two years by undertaking the units, essentially back-to-back. I think this particular structure with regular assessments allows for more reflection and development as compared to the traditional model of a few major submissions and an exam. I absolutely loathe sitting for three hours in a sweaty hall and I very much enjoyed the absence of this activity from the course!”
Neurodiversity more a superpower than setback
Grace recently discovered she has ADHD, which has, in its own way, proved helpful.
“I feel like my neurodiversity has been more of a superpower than a setback, due to the energy and creativity it brings,” said Grace. “It helps that the course went much further than theory alone – otherwise it would have been too dry for me. To complete the assessments, we essentially had to tackle real world challenges faced by lawyers every day. I really appreciated the opportunity to test creative strategies in a controlled environment, so you’re more ready for the real-life version.”
Positivity and perspective were also key.
“Education is a privilege that unfortunately many people can’t access or afford, including those with massive potential,” observed Grace. “Appreciate it or else move along – crass I know, but that’s what I told myself!”
Like many lawyers, Grace also enjoyed an additional superfuel - coffee.
“Coffee contributed immensely. Behind every brilliant barrister stands an even better barista,” enthused Grace.
Making a difference through ACCC Enforcement Division
Grace joined the ACCC for the chance to make a difference.
“It’s clichéd but true!” said Grace. “Given my prior litigation experience, I found an aptitude for the “pointy” end of the ACCC’s work, exemplified in the Enforcement Division.
“We strategically tackle widespread, systemic violations of competition and consumer law, by pursuing a range of enforcement remedies, including litigated outcomes and court-enforceable undertakings. Safe to say, my job turned out to be as exciting and rewarding as I hoped it would be.”
Supported financially by the ACCC in her studies, Grace was fortunate to find her degree was directly relevant in her day-to-day work.
“In my role as an investigator, I work collaboratively to conduct matters right through from escalation to resolution, and if applicable, recovery action,” explained Grace. “Through the course, I have further honed my ability to identify issues, draft correspondence, review court documents, conduct oral presentations and overall strategic planning in a dispute. At a few points, my degree even virtually placed me on the “other side” of a dispute - that is, responding to an ACCC investigation, which provided an interesting and valuable exercise.”
Keeping big corporates accountable
Grace’s strong sense of purpose drives every aspect of her professional life.
“I’m committed to keeping big corporates and executives accountable for their actions and how they treat consumers and small businesses,” said Grace. “I’m enjoying my position as an investigator, but wherever my career goes, I will always have a strong sense of purpose to serve the public interest.
Note: The views expressed during this interview do not necessarily reflect the views of the ACCC.