Michelle Gortan
Monday, May 7, 2012
Justinian in Augusto Pinochet, Bell Shakespeare, British Council, On the Couch

Lawyers escaping the law ... Michelle Gortan ... From trade marks at Freehills to improving the image of Britain in Chile ... Strategies for the arts and creative industries ... Now the deputy GM at Bell Shakespeare ... Michelle, a Rocky Road sort of gal, is on Justinian's couch humming a Bruckner symphony 

Michelle Gortan: poor at portion control

Michelle Gortan graduated in Arts-Law from the University of NSW in 1999.

As a student she worked at Henry Davis York and the State Crown Solicitors Office and later at Freehills, which offered her a graduate position in the trade marks division of the IP practice group. 

She soon got hooked on brands and marketing. 

What was to be a six to 12 months overseas trip before she settled-in as a solicitor turned into a six year odyssey.

It was an exit from Australia and an exit from law. 

She became the arts and communications manager at The British Council in Chile, with a brief to help rehabilitate the UK's profile following the arrest of Augusto Pinochet in London.

She later studied marketing as a postgraduate student through the UK Chartered Institute of Marketing and then fetched-up as the deputy director of creative industries at the British Council's HQ in London.

Michelle was involved in a series of landmark events, including the London Design Festival and the UK Pavilion at the E3 video games trade fair in Los Angeles.

She was an advisor on a raft of industry committees with the job of promoting UK arts and creative industries internationally, including: the UK Film Export Group, Performing Arts International Development and Design Partners. 

She returned to Australia in late 2005 and in 2006 joined the Bell Shakespeare, where she is now the deputy general manager of the company. 

It's fitting that we join her on Justinian's couch ... 

Describe yourself in three words.

Organised, optimistic and peckish. 

What are you currently reading?

"Cleopatra" by Stacy Schiff. 

What's your favourite film?

"Annie Hall" and "When Harry Met Sally". 

Who has been the most influential person in your life?

My maternal grandmother. She loved classical music, singing, painting, dancing and was an avid reader of the classics - she engendered my love of the arts. I also had incredibly inspirational English and Ancient History teachers in high school. They both strongly encouraged curiosity, imagination and the pursuit of ideas. 

What is your favourite piece of music?

Today it would have to Bruckner's symphony no. 3 in D and Flite by The Cinematic Orchestra. 

What is in your refrigerator?

About six litres of milk (different varieties), a jumbo block of cheddar cheese, homemade chicken stock and several bottles of cider (for taste testing).

What is your favourite website?

New York Magazine, The Guardian, Andrew Sullivan's Daily Dish and Net-A-Porter

What do you recommend as a hangover cure?

Bacon and egg roll, straight up. 

What words or phrases do you overuse?

"We're going to be so late." 

What is your greatest weakness?

I'm too hard on myself and I'm completely unable to exercise any kind of portion control with pasta or chocolate.

Why did you become a lawyer?

I have a few lawyers in my family and there was always an expectation. I really just wanted to study Arts. Law was my "other degree", just in case I needed to get a job. 

Why did you stop being a lawyer?

I'm not sure if I have completely. Although I don't practice, I've always applied the rudiments of legal training to my professional life. I've also relied on my experience with contracts and IP pretty heavily. My partner is at the bar and I like adding my two cents' worth when I hear about his cases. 

What is your proudest achievement?

My 15-month old son. Also the pursuit of a career that I love. I've gone on a journey that's stimulating and fulfilled a life-long love of the arts.

What is it about the law you miss most?

Partner lunches. 

Are there similarities between performing arts administration and the practice of law?

Yes and no. Similar in that the hours can be long. You also need to be good at solving problems, agile with your thinking and response to situations, and good with people. But at the end of the day in arts administration, the art, not commerce is paramount. The salaries are quite different too.

What do you never leave home without?

My glasses. 

What is your luckiest item of apparel?

I don't have one, but my partner tells me it was whatever I was wearing when I met him.

If you were a foodstuff, what would you be?

Rocky Road. 

What human qualities do you most distrust?

Dishonesty and persistent tardiness. 

What qualities do you look for in a pet?

Extreme fluffiness. 

What would you change about Australia?

I'd move it to the middle of the Atlantic ocean.

What would your epitaph say?

"Time doth flit; oh shit" - Dorothy Parker. 

What comes into your mind when you shut your eyes and think of the word "law"?

You're there when I need you.

Article originally appeared on Justinian: Australian legal magazine. News on lawyers and the law (http://justinian.com.au/).
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