Ross Mackey knows that academic success comes only through perseverance - and a solid support network. As the winner of the The Law Society of New South Wales Prize for Overall Excellence in the Practical Legal Training Program, we spoke to Ross about what it was like to complete PLT online during COVID, what he’s doing now, and what advice he might have for lawyers looking to excel at PLT.
Embrace mistakes and persevere
Ross credits perseverance as key to his success.
“No one is perfect and part of the practical reality of training to be admitted as a lawyer is that you are going to make mistakes,” said Ross. “Making mistakes and learning from them is far better than not trying at all because you are afraid of failure. I try to apply the same methodology to my studies, embracing and learning from my mistakes.”
Being able to depend upon a strong support network helped immensely.
“I could not have achieved this level of success without the support of my family,” said Ross. “In particular, I would highlight the contribution of my partner Bridie, who has persevered with me through many long nights and weekends.”
Ross currently works for Ashurst, based in Canberra, having started as a seasonal clerk.
"I then completed the graduate program, rotating through three practice groups - Digital Economy Transactions, Dispute Resolution and Employment. It was during my time as a graduate that I completed PLT with College of Law.”
He has since settled in the Employment practice.
“As a member of the Employment practice, I work on both advisory and litigious work for a range of public and private sector clients, including industrial disputes, employment litigation, safety incidents and complex workplace investigations,” said Ross.
“From January 2021, I will be working as associate to the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the Australian Capital Territory, her Honour Chief Justice Helen Murrell. As an associate, I will provide assistance to the Chief Justice both in and out of court including in-court duties and record keeping, editing and legal research and liaising with parties.”
Oral assessments keep you ‘on your feet’
The dynamic nature of the College’s PLT program proved quite attractive to Ross.
“My favourite part of the PLT program was the nature of the readings and assessments,” said Ross. “All of the assessment was practical in nature and reflected what I subsequently came across in practice as a lawyer. I was able to take Employment and Industrial Law practice as one of my electives. Part of the assessment involved providing advice on an unfair dismissal dispute, which is something that I now do regularly.”
Assessment was also notably practical in nature.
“Another major difference from my previous study was that final examinations in the College of Law's PLT program are assessed orally,” said Ross. “I found it a really worthwhile and rewarding experience to have to take to my feet and demonstrate what I had learned during a unit. You have to be able to synthesise what you have read and practiced into a clear and succinct answer to questions on the spot. These are skills that I use every day as a practicing solicitor.”
For Ross, online study proved to be a plus factor.
“The best part about studying the PLT program online was the flexibility,” said Ross. “With no face-to-face attendance required, I was able to complete the online modules at times that suited me.”
Indeed, he reassured future PLT students that going online did not mean a decline in support or interaction with College of Law lecturers.
“There is no need to be worried or stressed about the online format,” said Ross. “Embrace its benefits, such as the increased flexibility that it brings! Online learning doesn't mean that you won't interact with, or receive support from, lecturers. You are consistently receiving individualised feedback on assessments via document mark-up or audio recordings. If you feel like you need more feedback or support, lecturers are easily contactable via phone or email and, in my experience, are incredibly approachable.”
Using privilege to help society’s disadvantaged
What attracted Ross most to the law was what the work itself involved.
“The core skills for lawyers are reading, researching, writing and advocating in order to advance an argument - which I'm sure that my partner Bridie will assure you are all things that I would be doing anyway!”
His primary aspiration as a lawyer is to use his legal knowledge and reasoning to make a difference.
“That applies both to my clients, who are always facing new and complex challenges which require innovative solutions, or in the community, using my position of privilege as a lawyer to support those who have been marginalised and disadvantaged.”
The Practical Legal Training New South Wales prize for Overall Excellence is generously sponsored by The Law Society of New South Wales