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Australian Young Lawyer winner Dean Clifford-Jones reflects on law life, mediation, and Pride in Law
01 December 2021

Australian Young Lawyer winner Dean Clifford-Jones reflects on law life, mediation, and Pride in Law

Published on 01 December 2021

Growing up, Dean Clifford-Jones never expected to go to university, much less become a lawyer. A scholarship from Griffith University set him on a new path, one that led to him serving as a Crown Prosecutor, Professional Board Member on the Parole Board Queensland, and volunteering for Pride in Law, a National LGBTIQ+ Law Association. 

Insights spoke to Dean about his illustrious and diverse career, what he hopes to contribute as the winner of the Australian Young Lawyer Award (2020), and what he’s found most useful about postgraduate study, notably The College’s Nationally Accredited Mediator Training Program.

Driven to make a difference and help people feel like they belong

“It’s the oldest story in the book: one day, you are planning for ‘someday’, then ‘someday’ becomes today, and then that someday becomes yesterday,” said Dean. “I say those things because growing up, I felt attending university would be beyond my reach. I never even imagined I would apply to law school, let alone become a lawyer and complete further postgraduate study. I lacked role models because I didn’t see anyone like me practising law - it was an intangible profession.” 

Fortunately, Dean successfully obtained a scholarship through Griffith University. This gave him the confidence he was on the right path.

“I started to feel like I belonged,” said Dean. “I want everyone aspiring to be a lawyer to feel like they belong, even when they don’t see themselves in the profession. These ideas of making a difference, creating respect, and fashioning a sense of belonging are what inspire me. I became a lawyer to make a positive impact. I’d like to someday look back on my life in the legal profession and say I’ve made a difference to the world around me. I’ve left my mark, made life better for others and made others feel like they belong.” 

Upon graduation, Dean served as a Judge’s Associate in Queensland. From 2010 to 2016, he worked at the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (Queensland) in several roles, including a Crown Prosecutor. 

“I also worked as a Principal Lawyer and Acting Assistant Director at the Office of the Director of Child Protection Litigation,” said Dean.

He currently serves as a Professional Board Member on the Parole Board Queensland.

“It’s been a varied legal path, filled with many challenges, but always thoroughly enjoyable,” said Dean. “If there was one kind of challenge that has run consistently throughout my time as a lawyer, it would be the challenge of being resilient. In my view, there’s no other career where you will need to build a high level of resilience because there will always be multiple parties; a side that is successful and the other side, not so successful.” 

“That’s why anyone who wants a career in the law will need to learn to lose. Hence, you will need to learn to deal with rejection and understand that it is not personal.” 

A life in two parts: lawyer and Pride in Law volunteer

He described his ‘law life’ as one lived in two parts: through his full-time work on the Parole Board of Queensland and his volunteer efforts with Pride in Law, a National LGBTIQ+ Law Association.  

“There are many rewarding parts of my life in the law - serving and protecting the community, volunteering with some of the best advocates in the world, and working with highly intelligent individuals that share in your values,” said Dean. “I feel incredibly fortunate to work on the Parole Board Queensland and volunteer with Pride in Law in my personal time.”

“A special shout-out to the College of Law as well for being a sponsor of Pride in Law,” said Dean. “Our sponsors are incredibly important to our ability to volunteer with Pride in Law. We are all volunteers, from the National Directors to our enquiry officers. We volunteer for Pride in Law because it’s making a difference to the many lives in the legal profession. I’d encourage anyone reading this article to look up Pride in Law and the impact we are making in building a more inclusive legal profession.” 


Upskilling a Nationally Accredited Mediator from Brisbane’s lockdown

Over the course of his career, Dean became more and more interested in mediation. 

“I’ve seen the benefit of dispute resolution from working in the child protection legal system,” said Dean. “Being able to offer tangible benefits without the use of a courtroom can avoid impairing ongoing relationships. Often, once lawyers move on to the next matter, individuals can be left alone with the fractured relationship or situation. It’s made my approach to dispute resolution more pragmatic with an approach to be more situationally conscious.”

When parties go to court, the outcome can be binary: one party wins while the other loses.

“I’ve found, over the last decade in the legal profession, that if more parties are able to resolve their conflict before entering a courtroom for a final decision, there are usually better outcomes for all involved,” said Dean.

As it had been a decade since he last studied, Dean was keen to extend his skill base, engage in professional development, and increase his confidence in resolving disputes.

“I researched a few options that could be taught online or locally, including on weekends. One option that stood out was The College’s Nationally Accredited Mediation Training Program. It was a four-day practical workshop conducted via video conferencing,” said Dean. “The course assisted with developing my skills around mediation and general decision-making. The program provided real-world scenarios and allowed me to practice the skills required to effectively mediate disputes, including handling disputes in government, not-for-profit and community sectors, and legal disputes.  Further, the course material developed my decision-making skills and I utilise every day in the workplace.”

Prior to studying with The College of Law, Dean had only studied face-to-face.

“Over the past decade, I have heard countless stories about studying online, both the challenges and successes,” said Dean. “I thoroughly enjoyed the flexibility of being able to connect with my peers via the video-conferencing facilities, particularly during this COVID-19 era. In fact, Brisbane was in lockdown at the time of the course”

“It was the practical workshops that I enjoyed above all,” said Dean. “I learn a lot through practice. While the first day of the course was theory-based, which created the right foundations, the subsequent three days were all workshops. I was able to put into practice the theories taught on day one and implement those models immediately. It was the perfect mixture.”

“As a lawyer, you often plan a critical role in bringing parties together,” observed Dean. “I found that the course gave a different perspective and set of tools which complement the work of a lawyer. Whether you are interested in working as a professional mediator or wish to incorporate some effective skills into your current job, I would highly recommend the course. The skills are something that you will be able to put into practice today.”

For lawyers looking to make the most of the program, he advised taking good notes from day one.

“Following that first day, use the night to summarise and review those notes to develop your own personalised mediation guide,” said Dean. “During the next three days, take on board different judge’s opinions, advice, and assistance. This information will assist not only future mediations, but in your everyday workplace.”

Since completing the program, mediation has become more and more a part of Dean’s daily life and work.

“Mediation is an increasingly important part of legal practice,” said Dean. “In my view, being an effective mediator is an essential element of a good lawyer. Whether you’re speaking with other legal practitioners or clients, being able to distance yourself from the problem while showing empathy and respect will help to resolve the conflict. My mediation studies at the College of Law increased my focus on these elements. It should not be lost that as the institutionalisation of alternative or appropriate dispute resolution is embraced by the Australian legal system, all lawyers will likely be involved in mediation in the 21st century.”