find the latest legal job
Corporate Counsel and Company Secretary
Category: Generalists - In House | Location: Newcastle, Maitland & Hunter NSW
· Highly-respected, innovative and entrepreneurial Not-for-Profit · Competency based Board
View details
Chief Counsel and Company Secretary
Category: Generalists - In House | Location: Newcastle, Maitland & Hunter NSW
· Dynamic, high growth organisation · ASX listed market leader
View details
In-house Projects Lawyer | Renewables / Solar | 2-5 Years PQE
Category: Generalists - In House | Location: All Australia
· Help design the future · NASDAQ Listed
View details
Insurance Lawyer (1-3 PAE)
Category: Insurance and Superannuation Law | Location: Sydney NSW 2000
· Join a dynamic Firm · Excellent career growth opportunity
View details
In-house lawyer 1-4 PAE
Category: Generalists - In House | Location: Adelaide SA 5000
· Leading Brand · Report to a Dynamic Legal Counsel
View details
Friendships as vital as work in conquering the Top End

Friendships as vital as work in conquering the Top End

Young lawyers who choose to move to regional Australia should commit to participating in their new legal and local communities as much as they commit to their work, the manager of Maurice Blackburn’s Darwin office says.

Personal injury lawyer Matthew Littlejohn keeps a busy schedule, managing an eight-person office and travelling to meet clients between Darwin and Alice Springs. Originally from Brisbane, the 27-year-old leads Maurice Blackburn’s Darwin office, which he helped to establish last year.

According to Mr Littlejohn, lawyers contemplating relocation to regional Australia must understand the importance of immersing themselves in their new legal and local communities.

“I think there is a real danger in thinking you’ve got to work so much, to such a huge standard, that you miss out on things,” he told Lawyers Weekly.

“A lot of people who I see go back [home] have come up and thrown themselves into work thinking, ‘I’m going to get a lot of experience very quickly’. Then they look around once they have got a lot of experience very quickly and say, ‘well, I haven’t done anything else here because I’ve been working for two years. I miss my friends from down south’,” he said.

When Mr Littlejohn started out as a paralegal at the firm five years ago, Maurice Blackburn had yet to expand nationally. Lawyers at the firm had carriage of some matters in the NT, but its presence in Darwin was limited. Occasionally, practitioners would fly up to attend client meetings or make appearances in court.

In 2013, Mr Littlejohn left Maurice Blackburn in Brisbane to work as an associate for NT Supreme Court Justice Judith Kelly. He subsequently returned to Queensland, but kept an ear to the ground for opportunities that might take him back north.

“When it was starting to crystalise that Maurice Blackburn would acquire an existing firm in the NT, they wanted to know what that office would look like. I kept an active interest and made it known that I was interested in growing the Darwin area,” Mr Littlejohn said.

“We very quickly outgrew the three-room office of the firm that we took over and moved to a new space in the CBD.”

Admitted to practice last year, Mr Littlejohn has had to learn fast. Everyone in the new Maurice Blackburn Darwin office is under the age of 30. For a lawyer to wrangle a management role so early in their career is rare, no less in a location where their firm is entering the market.

“A lot of young lawyers generally are joining an existing established office, whereas we literally needed to find a building, put staff in it and start creating,” Mr Littlejohn said.

“This is [Maurice Blackburn’s] first office in the Territory. It’s such a rare and unique opportunity for any practitioner to have the opportunity to essentially start a practice in a new jurisdiction from the ground up.”

Mr Littlejohn gave a frank account about the challenging task of setting up a practice in a new jurisdiction. The responsibility combined a steep learning curve with the opportunity to build Maurice Blackburn’s unique regional brand.

He explained having to source everything from IT-coding systems to legal precedents specific to the NT.

“It has been a big challenge, a big workload and drawing on a lot of resources as well,” Mr Littlejohn said.

“I think the biggest challenge has been the number of times the question has been asked, ‘Do we have this?’ And the answer is usually, ‘No – cool, let’s make it.’

“Yes, it’s challenging but it’s also sort of exciting to know that we are actively building the ‘Maurice Balckburn NT’ identity every day.”

Mr Littlejohn has clocked almost two years as a Territory resident. While he struggles to pinpoint exactly what drew him back to the heat, he has fully embraced his new home.

“Darwin really is the far north capital. We are closer to Asia than we are anywhere else in Australia. It was a bit of a culture shock, coming out of the south-east corner,” Mr Littlejohn said.

“It’s a very unique jurisdiction to work in – in terms of clients, in terms of the general vibe of work. It’s very small so it’s collegiate. Everyone knows everyone and you build close relationships quite quickly.”

Being an associate was a valuable opportunity to gain exposure to the NT legal profession and justice system before Mr Littlejohn made the move to set up shop for Maurice Blackburn. He encouraged other young lawyers looking to escape their comfort zone to consider the Top End, adding that outsiders would need to be resourceful if they want to succeed.

“It takes a little bit of a leap of faith and you’ve got to be ready to make do. You’ve got to be a bit resourceful, a bit MacGyver, but I find that really fun and exciting,” he said.

“If that’s the sort of attitude that you’ve got for those things, then it’s fantastic. It’s a wonderful opportunity.”

Like this story? Read more:

QLS condemns actions of disgraced lawyer as ‘stain on the profession’

NSW proposes big justice reforms to target risk of reoffending

The legal budget breakdown 2017

Friendships as vital as work in conquering the Top End
lawyersweekly logo
Promoted content
Recommended by Spike Native Network
more from lawyers weekly
Unite
Aug 22 2017
Professionals unite in support of marriage equality
The presidents of representative bodies for solicitors, barristers and doctors in NSW have come toge...
Aug 21 2017
Is your firm on the right track for gig economy gains?
Promoted by Crowd & Co. The way we do business, where we work, how we engage with workers, ev...
Scales of Justice, Victorian County Court, retiring judges
Aug 21 2017
Replacements named for retired Vic judges
Two new judicial officers have been appointed in the Victorian County Court, following the retire...
APPOINTMENTS
Allens managing partner Richard Spurio, image courtesy Allens' website
Jun 21 2017
Promo season at Allens
A group of lawyers at Allens have received promotions across its PNG and Australian offices. ...
May 11 2017
Partner exits for in-house role
A Victorian lawyer has left the partnership of a national firm to start a new gig with state governm...
Esteban Gomez
May 11 2017
National firm recruits ‘major asset’
A national law firm has announced it has appointed a new corporate partner who brings over 15 years'...
opinion
Nicole Rich
May 16 2017
Access to justice for young transgender Australians
Reform is looming for the process that young transgender Australians and their families must current...
Geoff Roberson
May 11 2017
The lighter side of the law: when law and comedy collide
On the face of it, there doesn’t seem to be much that is amusing about the law, writes Geoff Rober...
Help
May 10 2017
Advocate’s immunity – without fear or without favour but not both
On 29 March 2017, the High Court handed down its decision in David Kendirjian v Eugene Lepore & ...