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50 years in law: Reflections from one of our longest-serving female lawyers

Mary-Lynne Taylor has now marked her 50th year in law — making her one of the longest-serving female lawyers working in commercial law in Australia. She reflected on how the profession has changed over the years.

user iconJess Feyder 11 November 2022 Big Law
50 years in law: Reflections from one of our longest-serving female lawyers
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Ms Taylor was one of eight women starting at Sydney University Law School in 1963, and in 1965, she started her first legal job as an articled clerk, where she worked for a third of the minimum wage at the time. 

She went on to join the Crown Solicitor’s Office, graduating in law in 1968, and being admitted as a non-practising barrister in 1969. In 1970, she undertook her articles at Legal Aid in Wollongong. 

Ms Taylor got a job at Dawson Waldron (now Ashurst) in the early ’70s and worked for client Sydney City Council in closing down brothels and gambling dens and battling some “colourful developers”. 


Now, Ms Taylor is special counsel at Bartier Perry, with her career having come full circle, as she has been appointed adjunct professor by Sydney University for her work within the urban and regional planning section of the faculty of architecture. 

After many years in the profession, Ms Taylor has witnessed many changes. She shared her observations with Lawyers Weekly.

“The law has turned from a profession into a business,” she explained. “We must not lose sight of the practice of law being as a profession — not merely a trade or a job — that is what I have liked most about being a solicitor in Sydney for the last 50 years!”

Yet, “the courtesy and understanding between professionals remain,” she noted, “and that’s really important”.

“Technology has made the job easier and faster,” she mused, “legal workplaces that were often once closed enclaves of Sydney society or old-school ties, and have become far more interesting and diverse places to work”.

When asked about the most significant change she has noticed over the years, she responded, “women lawyers are everywhere!”

“Specifically in my own area: the Land and Environment Court — we have successfully designed a court with a heart and a goal: its emphasis being on the delivery of justice that is just, quick and cheap,” she explained. “Its practice and principles are being seen to be adopted in other jurisdictions to very good effect.”

Ms Taylor illuminated that she did not face any discrimination in her career, yet emphasised that more needs to be done across the profession to recognise that whilst women now represent 50 per cent in most law firms, it’s not reflected in partner numbers. 

Ms Taylor told Lawyers Weekly that the most significant lesson she has learnt is to rejoice and rely on the camaraderie and professionalism of her colleagues in the world of solicitors. 

“I’ve always wanted to be a solicitor and not a barrister and judge for that reason — I love working with my colleagues,” she explained. 

“I continue to acknowledge the help received along the journey, from fellow lawyers, and especially from the women lawyers who went before, and therefore to do my bit in assisting those young lawyers who come after me.”

Ms Taylor gave advice to lawyers navigating the profession today: “Boldly go wherever your career wants to take you — no one can stop you or hold you back today! 

“The world is your oyster — start eating! But remember to lean down and help the newbies to catch up.”

Bartier Perry chief executive Riana Steyn noted that Ms Taylor’s expert knowledge is generously shared with all across the firm. “She does it with flair, patience, and humour. 

“Particularly, Mary-Lynne teaches our people not just about the law but how to build strong and lasting networks and how to help people along the way. 

“She is a master teacher to us all and not just to Bartier Perry but to our clients and to university students and many government bodies. 

“After 50 years of being in the law, Mary-Lynne’s enthusiasm and energy doesn’t seem to have waned, and that has a contagious effect for all who know her,” Ms Steyn said.