Seizing the opportunity, passion and drive to go your own way is a goal to which many lawyers would aspire. At the final College of Law alumni event in NSW for 2016 (pictured), three lawyers at three very different stages of their career share how they made their way to their ideal law job.
For Emma German, Legal Counsel and Privacy Officer at Stan Entertainment, pragmatism was crucial.
“When you’re a young lawyer, it’s easy to make a mistake and think it might be world-ending,” observed German. “Once you’ve made a few mistakes, you realise the world is still on its axis – you’ve still got a job! So you gain a bit of perspective.”
Persevering through trial-and-error proved character-building for the entertainment lawyer, who began her career, like many, in a corporate clerkship with a major firm. While it was not the environment for her, she credits the experience as essential to grounding her legal skills before going in-house.
“It’s very difficult to get in-house if you’re too junior,” German said, advising at least four to five years’ experience prior to transitioning. Several jobs later, German started at Stan, a role she landed by staying friendly with colleagues at Nine Digital, where she had previously been a paralegal.
“It’s the job for me!” she enthused. The role allows her to do some journalism work “on the side”, and finds her liaising directly with US studios to acquire content, negotiating technology agreements, and going on set for shows in production.
Luke Geary, Managing Partner of Salvos Legal, followed his calling – and made it self-sustaining. Shortly after graduating, Geary, then 22, was approached by some friends-of-friends to help a grandmother reclaim custody of her young grandchildren, whose parents were afflicted by heroin addiction and violence.
“I explained my small firm job was to open boxes, take the files out, dictate the same letter 100 times, mark the mail for errors – what you might expect of your start of your career in law.”
However, with no one else to help, Geary agreed to take a look at the case. He persuaded her realtor to refute the allegation that she was homeless, and her doctor to explain her cancer had been in remission for a decade. He presented these facts before a magistrate – and won.
Three cases later, he started Courtyard Legal, a free service he provided around his paid work. While Geary progressed to Partner in national law firm Mills Oakley, Courtyard Legal worked 750 cases. It’s not surprising then, that Salvos invited him to consider this full-time – and from this, Geary founded Salvos Legal and Salvos Legal Humanitarian. The former acts for ASX200 companies, government agencies, impact financiers, not-for-profits and similar organisations, funding free legal services for clients of Salvos Legal Humanitarian.
“Since 2010, without government or Salvos funding, we’ve helped 17,500 cases,” said Geary with pride. For his efforts, Geary has been recognised as one of the 10 Most Innovative Lawyers in the Asia-Pacific Innovative Lawyers 2016 awards. Other accolades include ANZAC of the Year for service to the legal profession and community, and inclusion in Pro Bono Australia’s ‘Impact 25’ in 2015.
“Your first job really does make a difference,” observed Brianna McDougall, who clerked with a family law firm in Wollongong as part of her law degree. Now a solicitor with Reid Family Lawyers, McDougall credits further study with The College of Law – an LLM (Applied Law) majoring in Family Law – with firing her passion for family law. Having won the Sandra Paul Memorial Prize for the Best Graduating Student in the Family Law Program, McDougall said she finds her work “tough but very rewarding.”
“You’re helping people at their most vulnerable time,” said McDougall. “It’s easy to get really involved in cases, so you need to strike that balance of empathy and objectivity.”
For early-career lawyers looking to gain experience, Geary suggested volunteer practising certificates, which are free for lawyers working pro-bono.
“You’ll be well-supervised, well-educated, and looked after,” said Geary. Experience, all three lawyers agreed, was essential to ensuring they were able to seize opportunities and move into areas of law which better suited them.
“Any experience in the law is significantly valuable when I look at candidates,” Geary said. “It helps me understand who they are and how they will cope.”