Few lawyers have as colourful and diverse a background as Jean-Remi Campion.
French Foreign Legion paratrooper, triathlon coach and firefighter feature on the resume of the new Principal Solicitor at Brisbane’s Bayside Community Legal Service.
Always one to fight for the underdog, Jean-Remi is passionate about social justice, procedural fairness and the right to legal representation for all.
The indefatigable 60-year-old told Proctor about how his life experiences across the globe have shaped his “down to earth and no BS” approach to law.
Why does a parachute regiment soldier become a lawyer?
“I grew up in Western Australia with a working class background. In 1976 we moved to England which I detested. I finished school at 16 years of age with no high school certificates.
“My grandfather was in World War Two fighting in North Africa under General Montgomery. He was one of the famous “Desert Rats” as they were known. I wanted to follow in my grandfather’s footsteps and join the army, however my parents wouldn’t let me as I was under 18; I needed their authorisation.
“I left home at 16, had menial jobs, boxed and ran cross-country and marathons, so I got quite fit.
“At 18 the French Foreign Legion (FFL) was in a documentary, and I decided I wanted to be part of that mysterious elite army.
“I got the ferry to France and joined the FFL at a recruiting post in Lille.
“Finishing in the top three of the four-month basic training course meant I got to choose my regiment. I chose, without hesitation, the parachute regiment based in the island of Corsica south of France. I served five years in the FFL achieving the rank of corporal.
“The FFL taught me, amongst other things, self worth, discipline, self belief and respect for oneself and for others. After the first contract of five years, I didn’t sign on for another contract as I felt I had other things to achieve in life. However, I wasn’t sure what they were at that time or age.
“In 1990 I was recruited into the French Foreign Ministry and worked under the Director of Legal Affairs. I was very impressed by his knowledge, empathy and insight as well as that of other colleagues. I learnt a lot about international law, international relations and similar. I found it a passionate arena and in my spare time studied the French constitution and international law. The director, Ronnie Abraham, later became President of the International Court of Justice. To this day we remain in contact.”
You were a triathlon coach in Sydney and then a professional firefighter in the Northern Territory?
“In 2002 I was posted to the French Mission to the United Nations in New York. In my spare time (early mornings/evenings/weekends), I trained for triathlons, marathons and athletics and given the sense of competition in the USA, I competed in many big events and fared pretty well in rankings. Whilst in the USA, I completed a triathlon and run coach certification which led to my journey later into run and triathlon coaching.
“I was posted back to Paris in 2007, but decided it was time to move back to Australia. I took leave of absence and returned to Australia.
“It was in Sydney I started my own successful run and triathlon coaching business and coached Australia wide.
“In 2011, I was coaching in Darwin and one of the participants mentioned about joining the Fire Service in the Northern Territory. Six months later I applied, as I was seeking again change, and was accepted.
“However, I found quickly that firefighting wasn’t what I expected it to be.
“I was seeking by then to educate myself, as having relied upon “brawn” for most of my life, I believed I had the ability to become educated and decided to study for a Bachelor of Laws.
“I enrolled at Charles Darwin University at the age of 52. However having left school at 16 I was required to commence with the Diploma in Laws.
“I had always been one who stood up for the underdog, the bullied and the less fortunate. In Darwin I witnessed constantly the prejudice targeted at indigenous persons both by colleagues and by police. This did not sit at all well with me, so often I voiced my opinion and spoke out against that type of behaviour.
“In the fire service we had a lot of down time in between call-outs and worked a four-day-on/four-day-off roster, so I used my time wisely to study and complete the Bachelor of Laws over five years.
“I graduated and was admitted in July 2020, which was the second proudest moment in my life (becoming a paratrooper in the FLL being the first).
“I had long decided during my studies and my living experience in the NT that the absence of social justice, lack of access to legal representation (or rather the lack of knowledge of same) and the manner in which the indigenous were targeted for ‘easy pickings’ by police as well as the disgusting discrimination I witnessed on the job, quickly became my path and aspiration to becoming a lawyer.
“During the PLT internship with a barrister in Darwin, I went with her to Darwin Prison, to the watch-house cells and to court. Again, the over-representation of indigenous persons was something that struck me as unacceptable.
“Similarly, the number of socially disadvantaged persons and their seeming lack of understanding of their legal rights was also something that impacted upon me.
“After graduating I volunteered at the Darwin Legal Community Centre and learnt a lot very quickly, in the ‘real world’ of law! That experience confirmed my resolve to help others.
“In October 2020 I moved to Queensland, and began volunteering at Moreton Bay Regional Community Legal Service every week, which fulfilled my want to help others. Equally, without doubt, I gained a lot of experience in criminal and family law.
“I did have a few different roles as an employed solicitor in Queensland. However I could not relate to the way that everything was income related and that ethics were often way down low on the priority list for firms. However, I must admit I did enjoy my time as a lawyer with Duty First Legal Service, a not-for-profit law firm that represents veterans. I found the sense of helping others who were socially disadvantaged through the complications of PTSD and other mental health issues was fulfilling.
“Once I qualified to be an unsupervised lawyer, I began my own law firm Campion Legal, which is based on defending the disadvantaged and ensuring the fine line between the judicial system and the prosecutions is not blurred. In a nutshell, providing affordable legal services for those who are caught in the unenviable position not being eligible for Legal Aid yet do not have the resources for a main street law firm.”
How do your amazing life experiences help you as a lawyer?
“I believe that the real-world skills I learnt as a legionnaire, as a run coach, within the positions I held in the French diplomatic corps and as a firefighter, through the varied positions, circumstances / situations in different countries and with many different cultures, have stood me in good stead as a solicitor.
“I continuously draw from lessons learnt, life experience, communication skills, empathy, understanding of lived experience of what it is like to go without, suffer and also having experienced to work in extreme and dangerous conditions, all of which are experience transferable in many situations as a lawyer.
“I believe that coming from a working-class background and having experienced all I have in life, contributes to how clients and myself relate and communicate with each other in relation to their legal issues.”
When did you start at BCLS and why did you choose the role? How does your work there link with your firm Campion Legal?
“At the same time as the above I was seeking to re-engage in volunteering my spare time at a community legal centre. I saw the advert for the part-time role of Principal Lawyer at BCLS and was successful in obtaining the position.
“My role at BCLS fulfils my thirst to help others through providing legal advice for those in the lower socio-economic community, and of course, others of the community.
“It has given me the opportunity to reach out to other community groups who help the community in other ways, and through integrating with them, offer community legal education, awareness of one’s legal rights, providing and promoting social justice and remote legal advice sessions. Overall, being part of BCLS and participating in building the BCLS involvement in the community through helping those who are not as fortunate as many of us makes for a satisfying day.
“The way the BCLS role links to my role as a private legal practitioner is that it is a constant reminder of why I became a lawyer; to help other less fortunate than myself, to stand up for those less fortunate than myself, to offer a possible glimmer of hope, a sigh of relief and lessen the burden upon their shoulders so that in their darkest hour, they can see life is worth living and there are others who want to help them.”