James Skelton
29 November 2017

James Skelton wins Law Council of Australia's 2017 Young Lawyer of the Year

Published on 29 November 2017
Commercial lawyer James Skelton, 29, was recently named 2017 Young Lawyer of the Year by the Law Council of Australia. Insights spoke to James about his work with NSW Young Lawyers on wellbeing and diversity, what he finds most satisfying about his work, and what advice he might have for young lawyers looking to make a difference to the profession and wider community.

“Over the last few years I have taken a lead role in NSW Young Lawyers on issues regarding wellbeing, diversity and inclusion, which I think contributed to the win,” said James, who serves on several working groups and committees for the organisation. “For example, this year NSW Young Lawyers entered our first ever organisation-wide float in the Mardi Gras, with forty young lawyers marching under the ‘Equality under the Law’ banner alongside the Presidents of the Law Council of Australia and the Law Society of NSW.”

“As an Executive Councillor of NSW Young Lawyers, I also coordinate the Wellbeing Working Group which encourages our members to look after not only their physical health but also their mental health.”

As a lawyer, James finds working closely with clients to help them solve their legal problems and fully realise the potential of ideas to be immensely satisfying.

“I’m a people person, so I’m lucky that as part of the Swaab Attorneys team, a high level of client engagement is supported and in fact encouraged,” James said. “While the technical side of the law is interesting, it’s the ability to help clients commercialise an idea and build businesses that interests me the most.”   

Like many lawyers, finding enough time in the day to meet competing commitments can be a challenge.

“You’ll often have to put in long hours at the office and then find you don’t have any motivation left to do the things you enjoy outside of work,” James said. “It’s important to remember to set boundaries (where realistic) and try to be as organised as possible. Of course, there will always be those urgent deadlines or unexpected client emails that you’ll need to look after, but always remember to take time out for yourself.”

In order to counterbalance the potentially invasive nature of legal work, James emphasised the importance of setting good work habits that will follow through in one’s career. 

“For example, you might like to go to the gym with friends before work regularly each week. Or you might set aside one work night each week where you leave on time and have dinner with friends. Wednesday is trivia night for me!”

“Luckily for me, I’m a pretty organised person, but one of the biggest challenges we face as young lawyers is balance. Fortunately, Swaab Attorneys has a great culture where maintaining balance isn’t too hard. There have been times when the stress levels get high, but that’s when you take a step back and reevaluate your priorities. If you’re engaged in a range of different activities outside the workplace, you’ve usually got a great support network who can help you when you need it,” said James.

“Remember, it’s okay to ask for help. Plenty of organisations offer support to law students and young lawyers as they build their careers. At NSW Young Lawyers, the monthly meetings of our different committees usually include a section where you can ask any ‘silly’ questions or share tough experiences. We usually find that someone else has been in the same position before and can help point you in the right direction!”

As for young lawyers looking to make their mark on the profession and contribute to the wider community, James says it’s all a matter of getting active and involved. 

“Put your hand up and get involved in things! Whether that be in your workplace through sports or social events, or in the legal profession through organisations like NSW Young Lawyers, or through community and charity work,” said James, who sits on the board of The Aurora Group, a mid-sized charity. “The Aurora Group allows me to do great work in the community and meet people outside of law. Their motto is ‘supporting the community through events of celebration’, which I think is a perfect way of approaching everything you do. If you make sure you’re doing something you enjoy, you’ll find that you thrive.”

The College of Law has introduced a New Lawyer Program, developed specifically for the needs of new lawyers as they enter the industry. This program includes selected Professional Development courses that are suitable for the needs of new lawyers and will assist you in developing a strong foundation in your chosen area of practice. New lawyers are eligible for a 50% discount on the courses included in the New Lawyer Program. For more information and for the terms and conditions, click here.