Celebrating women in law

By Naomi Neilson|13 February 2020
Celebrating women in law

Lawyers Weekly congratulates 2019’s Women in Law Awards winners.

In one wonderful, shining night, the legal profession has celebrated the many amazing and inspiring women who have made an incredible impact on Australian law. Women across the country have shaped and influenced the profession for the better, creating and strengthening opportunities for the future of women in law.

In its eighth year, the Women in Law Awards was the biggest yet, hosting almost 700 finalists, families and supporters to celebrate the many admirable women of law. This year, the awards introduced more categories, including Wellness Advocate of the Year and Indigenous Lawyer of the Year. In addition, the existing partner, senior and rising star categories have been split into BigLaw, SME Law and in-house.

The awards were an excellent opportunity for women across the legal profession, from a range of firms and companies, to showcase their incredible achievements and propel their careers, not to mention affording them the recognition they deserve. The black-tie event provided an opportunity for women to set apart and improve their position in the industry by elevating their personal brands and networking with other women.


In the end, there were 32 awards, presented to remarkable finalists at the Grand Hyatt in Melbourne who represented areas right across the business of law – from academic and legal operations to sole practitioners, partners and pro bono heavyweights.

BlueRock was recognised as the Boutique Diversity Law Firm of the Year as Diversity Law Firm of the Year went to McCullough Robertson. Partner of the Year for BigLaw was awarded to Stephanie Lambert from HFW and

SME Partner of the Year went to Marianne Marchesi from Legalite. Young lawyer Meika Atkins from Curtin University received an award for Law Student of the Year and Fatima Rauf from North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency took home the Women in Law Excellence Award.

Lawyers Weekly, in partnership with Taylor Root, would like to say congratulations to the finalists and winners of the Women in Law Awards.

Academic of the Year | Caron Beaton-Wells, University of Melbourne
Caron Beaton-Wells has championed the development of teaching programs that have improved the experiences of undergraduates, JD students and postgraduates and has reflected the “interdisciplinary nature” of problems that arise in preserving competition for the benefit of consumers. Ms Beaton-Wells strives to ensure her students are able to work collaboratively with economists with programs that are co-taught by legal and economic experts. She more recently introduced teaching material that focuses on the increasing relevance of data for competition and markets and has introduced sources that enable students to understand the building blocks of data science.


Barrister of the Year | Kathryn McMillan QC, Quay 11 Chambers/Hemmant’s List
This years’ Barrister of the Year has demonstrated significant capabilities in some big cases over the course of 2019, including appearing as senior counsel for Queensland for a Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability. Kathryn McMillan QC is a member of Queensland Child Death Case Review Panel, and has conducted various reviews of the Department of Communities, Child Safety and Disability Services departmental investigations into the death sand events involving serious injury to children known to the Department.

Boutique Diversity Law Firm of the Year | BlueRock Law
BlueRock Law said it prides itself on how it makes employees a priority. Its employees are “not expected to sacrifice their personal well-being, work long hours, pull all nights or neglect their families”. The firm has a high retention rate and those that do move on do so in good faith and on good terms and attributes this to its “raft of flexible options” that include a negotiation on the graduated return for new parents. BlueRock Law said it appreciates that staff are attracted to companies with a diverse workforce, which has created “a uniquely cohesive and creative culture” for all employees.

Company Secretary/Governance Professional of the Year | Virginia Crawter, Main Sequence Ventures
Working in a male dominated industry and having “benefitted from female role models and mentors”, Virginia Crawter is a passionate advocate for gender equality. With Main Sequence Ventures, and in her capacity as company secretary, Ms Crawter spent last year working to ensure “gold star” governance practices. She has worked closely with her team to become a trusted advisor and an integral member of its team. Ms Crawter said she has “used my position and influence to effect change from inside out”.

Dealmaker of the Year | Rachael Bassil, Gilbert + Tobin
With the prevalence of royal commission’s – and particularly the recent banking royal commission and the ANZ criminal cartel case – Rachael Bassil’s main challenge was “in anticipating and addressing the highly complex and technical regulatory issues that were facing her clients”. Since being made partner in 2011, Ms Bassil has been at the forefront of some of the largest and most high-profile transactions, with her firm adding she has cemented her position as a “leading ‘go-to’ M&A partner, regularly sought out for strategic advice in transactions of huge significance to her clients”.

Diversity Law Firm of the Year | McCullough Robertson
2019’s most diverse law firm went to McCullough Robertson, which has created a work environment “where our employees feel supported and comfortable”. Since 2014, the firm has seen significant growth in its diversity initiatives, with female partnership roles increasing from 15 per cent to 23 per cent. McCullough Robertson noted empowering women is a priority, but that diversity goes beyond gender, and as such has introduced policies to improve all elements. This includes removing core personal data from the remuneration reviews, unconscious bias training sessions, parent leave programs and supporting LGBTI+ causes with its committee McColour.

Executive of the Year | Louise Massey, Dentons
As a member of the Australian board and the leader of diversity and inclusion at global firm Dentons, Louise Massey has overseen many successful initiatives in 2019. These include leading a review and restructure of the internal governance, developing global go-to market strategies for regional business development and creating resolutions on female equity and gender targets, which the board passed. Ms Massey said her drive to make Dentons a better place to work “has been instrumental in the strategies” and “visions that I have for the firm which drives and feeds into sustained growth”.

General Counsel of the Year | Catriona McGregor, Domain Group
In the space of 18 months, Catriona McGregor has established and overseen the new legal team at Domain – all from scratch. Ms McGregor said her goal from the beginning was for the legal team “to be truly part of the business”. She has achieved this through practical steps like the introduction of new processes, policies and checklists, as well as innovative initiatives like ‘Legal Hour’ in which the business is given the opportunity to ask any legal questions of the team during one dedicated hour each week.

HR Professional of the Year | Emily McCarthy, LOD
Emily McCarthy was initially part of new firm lexvoco but made the transition when the smaller firm was acquired by LOD. During the integration process, Ms McCarthy could show off her skills and introduce successful policies to improve the workplace. She is most proud of implementing previous lexvoco values: “We were enormously proud of these values and they were at the heart of how we operated.” These include: Do what’s right, Think differently, Be the best you can be and No jerks.

Indigenous Lawyer of the Year | Candice Hughes, YFS Legal
Candice Hughes supports Indigenous communities through “family, lived experiences and participation”. She is a passionate advocate for young people and judges her work by the successful outcomes for achieves for her clients. To excel in the area of young Indigenous law, Ms Hughes “passes on traditional knowledge, protocols and history to our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people wanting to know more about our culture”. She said it is rewarding to support them in this.

In-house Lawyer of the Year | Jade Droguett, Woolworths Group
Woolworths Groups’ in-house lawyer Jade Droguett has demonstrated her leadership in the workplace through interactions with other legal team members. She has worked to improve team interactions, scheduling regular team building sessions so staff feels comfortable to open up and share ideas and views openly, “with the aim of building a sold, collaborative and inclusive team”. Ms Droguett also mentors a number of junior lawyers, both at her workplace and from external law firms, to help them develop plans and goals and provide them with “guidance, motivation and emotional support”.

Innovator of the Year | Caryn Sandler, Gilbert + Tobin
Under the leadership of Caryn Sandler, innovation at Gilbert + Tobin has taken on the “business as usual” approach, with the firm significantly enhancing its processes. With the guidance of Ms Sandler, G+T has new internal frameworks for managing initiatives that embed continuous improvement, an Australian-first LSI rotation for graduates and has launched G+T Innovate, a client-facing advisory capability. Ms Sandler balances a “clear strategic vision with a leadership style that is ambitious” so the team can grow.

Innovator of the Year – Firm | Resolution123
By combining technology, automation and flexible work, Resolution123 has been able to service a client base that “traditionally has not had the capacity to engage services due to the high fees charged”. In opening up the market, the firm is not competing with other employment firms, but rather introducing a new client-base. On top of this, staff volunteer at their local community legal centre and founder Carly Stebbing is a mentor to young volunteer lawyers by helping them overcome challenges in their first years.

Law Student of the Year | Meika Atkins, Curtin University
Despite only just starting out in the legal profession, law student Meika Atkins already has a wealth of experience under her belt. On top of receiving perfect scores, she has held positions in the Curtin Law Student Society and director of communications. 2019 saw Ms Atkins become editor in chief of the Western Australian Law Student Review. Outside of university, Ms Atkins works as a paralegal in a boutique law firm. She said she is “passionate about the law” and determined to “use it as a platform to reduce the barriers that exist between vulnerable members of society and their access to social benefits that are so readily available to the majority of Australians”.

Legal Operations Professional of the Year | Petra Stirling, Westpac Group
In the face of increasing scrutiny around regulation banking practices, Petra Stirling is leading the delivery of substantial changes that have led to legal transformation, such as driving disruptive change, utilising new tools that are not typically designed for legal users and maintaining engagement and inspiration for a busy legal team. Over the last 18 months, Ms Stirling has led the industry change managed required to deliver legal procurement platform across 40,000 Westpac Group users, which “underpins critical benefits in external counsel spend” and delivers insights into panel capabilities.

Legal Support Professional of the Year | Tilly Stitt, Johnson Winter & Slattery
Johnson Winter & Slattery credits Tilly Stitt with “single handily” keeping its 160-person office running on a daily basis. Ms Stitt has managerial responsibility for over 40 direct reports who works across four separate teams, which includes a large focus on human resource issues. 

Marketing Communications Professional of the Year | Merryn Stewart, Sparke Helmore Lawyers
Having joined Sparke Helmore Lawyers in 2018, Merryn Stewart said she very quickly realised “the firm was one of the market’s best kept secrets”, and began to develop a marketing, brand and communications strategy to redefine the firm. Ms Stewart said she wanted “clients to connect with and share our story” and to have their non-clients want to be part of the story as “word of mouth is one of the most powerful drivers”. She used client insights data, desktop research, brainstorming sessions and conversations with partners to identify the common themes to capitalise on.

Mentor of the Year | Sophie Manera, Rothstein Lawyers
Sophie Manera said the advancement of the legal profession is an area that she finds she is “deeply passionate about” and wishes to continue to raise the public perception of the industry to demonstrate that a career in law would be a great benefit to society. Her passion further to law is in the migration industry and she is in acting member of the Migration Institute of Australia, where she provides tuition and guidance to newly qualified immigration lawyers, students and registered migration agents.

Not-for-profit Lawyer of the Year | Fatima Rauf, North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency
Human rights is not merely an establishing system to uphold civil law rights, said Not-for-profit Lawyer of the Year Fatima Rauf. It’s also striving to improve access to justice and removing barriers to those systems. This is what she specialises in, having been part of a number of cases that were vital in improving access to justice and protecting human rights. Currently, Ms Rauf is a member of the Australian Lawyers for Human Rights and the Australian Council for Social Services. She is also this years’ recipient of the Women in Law Excellence Award.

Partner of the Year – BigLaw | Stephanie Lambert, HFW
Incredibly, Stephanie Lambert became the youngest female partner at HFW while she was on maternity leave. On top of this, she is the youngest partner in Australia’s team of 16 real estate lawyers. The firm said she has been instrumental in growing financial performances of the real estate practice group both domestically and internationally. On top of this, she has also been a key factor in shaping the culture “by advocating for a breakdown of traditional barriers to advancement in law, particularly for women”.

Partner of the Year – SME Law | Marianne Marchesi, Legalite
Legalite’s Marianne Marchesi is a “highly sought-after authority on franchising matters” and has provided commentary to major inquiries. She said it is essential to her that a culture of wellbeing is advocated in the firm: “Having previously suffered from anxiety, I have a strong appreciation for the factors that can contribute to mental health issues.” Ms Marchesi has enhanced the overall profile of Legalite as a franchise practices due to her “franchising expertise and high standards of evidence”. Having started with just 8 clients in 2017 the firm has expanded to 160, with her leadership.

Pro Bono Lawyer of the Year | Rebecca Dominguez, Baker McKenzie
On top of responding and supervising lawyers in matters of trafficking and slavery, this years Pro Bono Lawyer of the Year Rebecca Dominquez has provided education and trauma training for many of these vulnerable clients. Baker McKenzie said her work in issues of family violence law has led to opportunities to partner with organisations, like Good Shepherd Australia New Zealand in their policy work on forced marriage. In the last year, and under Ms Dominquez’s management, Baker McKenzie’s lawyers have dedicated 1,478 hours to assist 44 clients in over 60 applications.

Rising Star of the Year – BigLaw | Marina Kofman, Norton Rose Fulbright
During 2019, Marina Kofman said she has performed “above and beyond her peers” in globally important law mandates where her “expertise in high-stakes international law and international dispute resolution matters” assisted in major cases. In one such case, Spain entered a conditional appearance and asserted sovereign immunity from the jurisdiction of Australian courts, which raised novel legal issues about interactions between the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes convention and the given force of law by the International Arbitration Act.

Rising Star of the Year – In-House | Ria Manguray, Tourism Australia
In 2018, the ‘Crocodile Dundee’ campaign went viral for the celebrities in it and for the way it represented an Australian loved classic—and Ria Manguray was at the forefront of it all, having advised and actively led the strategic direction of the campaign. During the campaign, Ms Manguray was involved in complex law issues relating to intellectual property, commercial contracts, celebrity talent negotiations, advising regulations and privacy and cross-jurisdictional matters—all for major publisher Tourism Australia.

Rising Star of the Year – SME Law | Renae Barrett, Ramsden Lawyers
During 2019, Renae Barrett has been instrumental in managing and producing lasting commercial relationships across the firm’s existing client base. In a number of matters, Ms Barrett has been complex in legal and commercial issues and required a “whole of business approach”. In managing this, Ms Barrett said: “myself and my team are aware of the need to balance the commercial realities of each matter with the client’s interests and needs.” This approach is appreciated by clients and peers.

Senior Associate of the Year – BigLaw | Paula Nassif, King & Wood Mallesons
As a senior associate of BigLaw firm King & Wood Mallesons, Paula Nassif is proficient in advising corporate boards, financiers, borrowers, developers and government in the finance, corporate and governance matters. Over the 2019 period, Ms Nassif said her work “distinguished me from other lawyers”, including in her transactional work, work with KWM pro bono partners and her work with Women in Law Markets Australia. Part of her role involves working with ARC and the Starlight Children’s Foundation, leading strategic advice and assisting in several fundraising events.

Senior Associate of the Year – SME | Crystal Ray, Construct Law Group
Crystal Ray said in 2019, she has demonstrated “outstanding work” for her clients, for the profession and for the construction industry. Her firm has benefited from consistent contact with leaders and construction identity peers, which has allowed her to be able to recommend and brief consultants, experts and barristers. Ms Ray said that the firm has also benefitted by her additional referrals and new clients.

Sole Practitioner of the Year | Zinta Harris, Resolve Estate Law
After undertaking national mediation accreditation and collaborative practice training, Zinta Harris became the only dual accredited specialist in these fields in Australia who is also a mediator and a collaborative lawyer. Her current work passion is in changing the landscape of “contested estates to allow families in grief to find a gentler pathway to resolve their inheritance disputes”. She has chosen to dedicate the rest of her time in professional life to “bring global change to the law she is most passionate about”.

Special Counsel of the Year | Tuanh Nguyen, PricewaterhouseCoopers
In 2019, Tuanh Nguyen has acted on some major “market-leading” transactions, which include acting for a range of large corporations. Not only has she been responsible for leading legal teams in executing transactions, “but she played significant roles in the coordination and management of these transactions across various lines of services”. She has also implemented flexible working practices to work on these transactions as a full-time corporate lawyer while being primary carer to two very young children.

Thought Leader of the Year | Rose Cocchiaro, Resolve Divorce
By leaving private practice at a traditional law firm, Rose Cocchiaro became the “driver for change” for family law, finding ways to improve impractical and lengthy processes. By doing so, “I developed a modern business whose missions is to change the way families experience divorce in Australia; to lessen the negative impacts on them and their families”. Ms Cocchiaro has led her team to be forward thinking, dynamic and to be unafraid when challenging traditions. By doing so, she has led them to influence the legal profession “to inspire others to approach divorce in the same positive way”.

Wellness Advocate of the Year | Alexia Houston, Clayton Utz
Alexia Houston has recognised that there is a need to take discussion on mental health beyond the legal industry and into the wider business community. What initially started as a small discussion, Ms Houston was instrumental in creating Australian Corporate Mental Health Alliance, which now includes 12 founding members. At Clayton Utz, she said she “recognised the need for us to be able to tap into greater in-house expertise with respect to supporting people’s mental health”.

Celebrating women in law
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