It was only a few years ago that 84-year-old Gregory Antippa cut back his work week from five days to three.
Being a good solicitor is fundamentally a matter of good communication…
“I wanted to spend more time at my other home in Phillip Island doing the things I love – painting, reading about philosophy and history and listening to music,” he said. But the days he spends seeing his loyal clients in his offices in Alcaston House, looking out over Spring Street and the palms of Gordon Place near Parliament House, are a treasured part of his week.
“It can sometimes be stressful working out people’s problems,” he said, “but I absolutely love my clients and it’s important to keep your mind working as you get a bit older.”
It’s unlikely his clients would countenance him closing up shop in a hurry. One client, when Mr Antippa suggested he might not be around to help him renew his commercial lease in five years’ time, insisted he had to stay on, no matter what.
Though Mr Antippa’s family originally came from Greece, where his paternal grandfather had a farm on the island of Kefalonia, he has never lived there. His grandfather had relocated the family to Egypt in the early years of the 20th century.
Mr Antippa was born and grew up in the port city of Haifa, now part of Israel but then under the British mandate, where his father worked in the civil service. He originally wanted to study medicine. But, with no university nearby, his only option was law, which he studied by correspondence with Chicago’s LaSalle University, rising at 4.00 am every day to study before starting his work day as a customs agent.
After his older brother relocated to Australia in 1954, Mr Antippa and his parents followed him, keen to escape the escalating conflict in Israel. Unfortunately, his previous law degree counted for nothing in the Australian system, and he had to start from scratch at Melbourne Law School, although his LaSalle degree meant he was at least allowed entry without having to pass exams first.
Within three years of taking articles with Darvall and Hambleton, he became a partner at the firm. As one of just three solicitors of Greek heritage in the city and its only Arabic-speaking solicitor, he quickly became the go-to solicitor for clients from Lebanon, Palestine and Egypt, as well as Greece.
However, as Greek- and Arabic-speaking migrants flocked to his office, his colleagues voiced their concerns.
“‘This has become a practice within a practice’ they said to me, and this just would not do,” Mr Antippa said. And so he set up his own practice, taking his “loud-speaking” migrant clientele with him.
Much of that early work was as a social welfare adviser, using his fluent English and understanding of the Anglo legal and social system to help fellow migrants adjust to their new home.
“It was hard in those days − people had little English, no car and no telephone, and they would come in wanting advice about which doctor to see or how to fill out a form or to contact some office on their behalf.”
The gratis work paid off, however, when they came back for legal advice year after year, and passed his name on to family and friends.
“Migrants come here with two main aims – to buy property and to set up a business,” he said. Helping them through those transactions and through the various life stages of organising wills and probate has been Mr Antippa’s life’s work.
After his first wife died, he refused to be involved in divorce proceedings. “If someone is lucky enough to have a wife or husband, why would they want to get rid of them?”
He is also happy to pass litigation matters on to his lawyer son Peter, who he says is well qualified to take over when he is ready to retire completely.
Being a good solicitor is fundamentally a matter of good communication, he said.
“People think that a solicitor has to be the great authority and know everything. But the important thing is to listen to your clients and ask them what they want to do, and then you work out the problem together.”
* Information provided to Neos Kosmos by Peter G. Antippa (Australian legal practitioner and registered migration agent) and the Law Institute of Victoria Ltd (LIV).