Fresh-faced, wide-eyed and energetic; young lawyers can bring a world of optimism to their firms with their untarnished approach to work. But will they be quickly disappointed by the legal life? Angela Priestley reports
Talent is, and always has, lurked in the youth that livens up offices everywhere. Sometimes such talent is harnessed to its full potential and stretched to its capacity to progress the work of individuals and their teams. Other times, such talent may be overlooked, with lack of age and experience rendering the young lawyer seemingly inept.
Youth, however, can offer law firms a fresh perspective - through desire to learn and enthusiasm to enter the unknown. Such a perspective is not confined to a generation, but is a general trait of youth no matter what its point in time - be it the latest generation in the early years of their career, or those lawyers in the same position during the 1990s, the '80s, '70s and earlier. Youth carries a sense of optimism and a certain dose of energy that may not be dominant in later years.
"The features that are unchanged are the energy and enthusiasm to learn," says Jim Dwyer, senior partner at Allens Arthur Robinson, who mentors younger lawyers at the firm. "Those features, in my experience, have been present in the young lawyers that I've been fortunate enough to work with - and that's fantastic because it's infectious."
A young lawyer, says Jane Skinner, director of people and culture at Gadens, provides a blank canvas of sorts, untarnished by the experience of others with their age bringing an open mind to the workplace.
"There's a lot of talk about neuroscience and the ability to rejuvenate the brain, and I think that makes sense," she says. "People who have done the same thing for a long period of time can get caught relying on their previous experience, and the way they've done things before, because that's the natural thing to do."
So what really motivates young lawyers who work hard at university and embark on an ambitious legal career? According to barrister and president of the NSW Young Lawyers Association, Joshua Knackstredt, it is rarely about a passion for the law and idealistic pursuits. "Call me cynical," he says, "but career advancement, status and money are probably the strongest drivers. Although there is nothing wrong with that, recruits often find that these goals remain out of reach in the early years of practice."
Knackstredt says that even for those lawyers who are motivated by idealistic pursuits, such motivation might be quickly quashed in the quest for money and status.
But not all is lost: "I have also heard stories where young lawyers have gone the other way - that is, they have left a career promising money and status and have instead gone on to pursue what one might call their idealistic goals," he says.
But even with such energy and enthusiasm, the talent residing in youth may well be overlooked as the value of experience takes hold. "Fresh thinking, creativity and enthusiasm which is brought to the table by young lawyers can lead to new ways of looking at things, which may not have been considered by those with experience," says Knackstredt.
"Sometimes older lawyers may also forget that younger lawyers are tomorrow's leaders of the legal profession."
But not always. There are plenty of mentoring programs available for young lawyers and most employers realise the potential residing in youth that needs to be nurtured. Clients too, understand the value of training.
Dwyer says: "Our clients are understanding and keen to be involved with our [young] lawyers and recognise that they're developing their talents, I think that the enthusiasm to learn shines through with young lawyers."
It may be true, though, that the enthusiasm found in youth turns sour when the expectations of life in the law are not fully realised on commencing a legal career.
Skinner says: "Frequently young graduates are very idealistic and I think they often, sadly, lose the passion to save the world which they have perhaps had as teenagers and young 20-year-olds."
So are young lawyers disappointed by what they find in the real world? "Definitely," says Knackstredt. "Firms themselves are partly to blame for this because of their marketing strategies and clerkship programmes. These tend to paint a picture of working as a lawyer that does not mesh with reality."
That's not to say that firms are entirely to blame, and Knackstredt also points the finger at the young lawyer, who may be blinded by the bright lights of marketing. "The reality is that hard work is required, often on tasks that are not particularly intellectually challenging."
One way to divert such disappointment is to open up the scope for pro bono and community work. With the current generation of lawyers, Dwyer says, such opportunities in a law firm are very attractive. "What I have noticed in the last 10 to 15 years is that the young lawyers coming here to the firm are very aware of the community and of helping others," he says.
For those fresh from university, the teachings of a classroom are worlds away from understanding the technical side of the law. Skinner says: "They need to have a whole range of skills other than the legal skills, in order to be successful.
"They've got to be good at building a practice, building client relations, managing staff and getting on with each other and being innovative - a whole range of other things that were not part of what they took on when they went to university to become a lawyer," she says.
The following group of young lawyers provides a snapshot of a current generation that is making their mark through law firms, on an evolving legal landscape and adding their own unique generational touch - and, hopefully, not becoming too disillusioned by the reality of a legal career along the way.
YOUNG GUNS TO WATCH...
Natasha Simonsen, Allens
Natasha Simonsen defies any assertion that young lawyers lose their idealistic intentions on commencing their legal career.
A graduate lawyer at Allens Arthur Robinson, Simonsen has begun a career in a firm while also undertaking the human rights work she has been keen to pursue by spending a year in Pakistan working for the United Nations Office of the High commissioner for refugees.
While in one of the most dangerous countries on Earth, Simonsen is working on juvenile justice in Pakistan, including visiting prisons across the country housing child inmates and assessing their living conditions, interviewing children and staff at orphanages, shelter homes, police stations and probational facilities and providing a comprehensive situation analysis report on juvenile justice to the government of Pakistan as a means to reform.
On her current work in the region she says: "I interviewed a 12-year-old boy who had fled Afghanistan and whose family had died. He had nothing and no one and no hope for the future. He has been accepted for resettlement to a developed country and he will now have a foster family, an education and a chance in life."
Her senior partner at Allens, Jim Dwyer, was supportive of her decision to take the time out from Allens to work with the UN, knowing that for Simonsen, it was a goal she wanted to pursue before returning to practice in the firm's litigation department.
"You can see she has been dealing with some very difficult issues in the most difficult circumstances," he says. "She is an extraordinarily gifted and determined person."
Joanne Parisi, Associate, MacDonnells Law
Joanne Parisi's career was well and truly on course when she fast-tracked her degree at the University of Queensland in Brisbane to finish a year earlier than the five-year norm. From there, the future was always going to be bright, and she quickly secured a role with MacDonnells Law in 2004. This year, she was promoted to Associate.
MacDonnell's Law told Lawyers Weekly that Parisi's experience extends well beyond her years, and she brings to the firm an extensive knowledge in both litigation and commercial law. In her role as president of the Far North Queensland Law Association and vice president of the Cairns Community Legal Centre, she is able to balance her work in the firm with work outside in the community, demonstrating a genuine passion for the law.
Although just 26, Parisi lectures at James Cook University and often provides support for schools in marking assignments, mooting, and other academic activities.
Kate Meikle, Lawyer, Gilbert + Tobin
Having worked as a journalist and news producer with major media outlets including British Sky Broadcasting and News Limited, Kate Meikle is now making her mark in the litigation group at Gilbert + Tobin.
Before joining the firm, Meikle followed a passion for Aboriginal affairs, working as a lawyer at the Aboriginal Legal Service, representing clients in criminal matters in the Local and Children's Court.
Although Meikle spends the majority of her time advising clients on a wide range of commercial disputes in the Supreme and Federal Court, she continues pro bono work, assisting clients through the Domestic Violence Court Assistance Scheme.
In fact, since joining G+T, Meikle has completed more than 100 hours of pro bono work, most notably managing two defended matters in the local court for disadvantaged clients. Most satisfying, she says, was the recent dismissal of all charges against an indigenous client charged with assaulting police on "the block" in Redfern. She has also found the time to work in an orphanage in Kenya since commencing her legal career.
Meikle says she's not sure what the future will hold for her, but is adamant the profession will offer plenty of avenues to explore. Right now, she says, she's keen to take in the experience of being involved in large-scale litigation and learn as much as she can from senior lawyers and partners. And just when the pace may have been slowing a little, Meikle ran a half-marathon for G+T in May
Alex Manos, Solicitor, DLA Philips Fox
Alex Manos is a qualified lawyer in Australia and the United Kingdom, specialising in employment litigation. He has traveled extensively through Asia and Europe and began his legal career in South Australia's Crown Solicitor's Office, within the industrial relations team. Manos has appeared in most jurisdictions including the Supreme Court of South Australia, where he regularly performed his own advocacy in administrative prosecutions on appeal before a single judge.
Employment quickly became his niche and in the UK he appeared in the Employment Tribunals and the County Court. He devoted one night a week to the Fulham Legal Rights Centre in London and obtained several successful outcomes in the Employment Tribunal for his pro bono clients.
While working for the Welfare Rights Centre in his first case in the Administrative Appeals Tribunal in Adelaide, Manos successfully argued that a $14,000 overpayment to a couple receiving a disability pension should be waived for exceptional reasons.
When he returned to Australia from the UK in 2007, Manos kept active in the area of workplace relations and has continued his pro bono work at DLA Philips Fox. His employment law experience has been put to use on the firm's marketing initiatives, presenting to a number of clients on various employment law topics and drafting articles and case reviews for DLA's internal client base.
Manos is a keen sportsman, competing in DLA's inter-firm cricket competition team and starting as member of the firm's 2007 basketball team. In his downtime, Manos has trekked to Everest base camp, taken a solo skydive and appeared on a billboard advertising campaign in India.
Adam Levine, Senior Associate, Mallesons
Adam Levine is a textbook example of trends in global talent. Having graduated from the University of Manchester, he was admitted in Israel, England and Wales, before finding his place in Australia's legal system in 2003.
His international experience is considerable; he was involved in the negotiation of legal aspects of the peace process on behalf of the Israeli Government, having worked as a legal adviser in the International Law Department.
Now at Mallesons, Levine advises on a broad range of commercial matters, including takeovers, schemes of arrangement, business acquisitions, corporate governance and general corporate advisory work. Some of his work has involved complex, high-profile cross-jurisdictional transactions, co-ordinating legal teams in different Australian states and abroad.
Levine is co-chair of Mallesons' Perth Pro Bono Committee, which co-ordinates the Workplace Giving Program and develops programs with the firm's various charitable partners, such as the Smith Family, Camp Quality, the Starlight Foundation and the Red Cross. Levine has also done extensive pro bono work for the Royal Flying Doctor Service, including the successful restructuring of its Western Australian operation in 2007.
Levine speaks fluent Hebrew. He is involved in various community-based organisations, focusing on youth development and education. He is also a regular presenter to the AICD company directors' course.
Elise Ivory, Senior Associate, Gadens
Elise Ivory began her career at Gadens as an administrative assistant on the mortgage desk while she was still a student. In 2003, Elise was asked to join the commercial banking team under Paul Armstrong and after graduating she worked in consents and productions for just under a year, before transferring to the financial regulation and compliance team.
Ivory has already acted for many of the major banks, mortgage brokers, private lenders and securitised programs and has created document and procedure manuals for Australia's leading retail, commercial and corporate lenders.
Gaden's financial regulation and compliance team is enjoying strong growth and Ivory has found her niche there. Since she joined what was then a single partner team with only two lawyers, the department has grown to include two partners, a special counsel, a senior associate, one lawyer and one paralegal.
Ivory was promoted to senior associate in July 2007 at the age of 27, having practised for just three years.
Tamara Heng, Solicitor, Lavan Legal
Tamara Heng has set herself some ambitious goals, but so far the 29-year-old solicitor seems likely to achieve them, having already built up a reputation as one of Western Australia's leading property lawyers.
Heng aims to be the youngest associate appointed at Lavan Legal, then senior associate in the next three to five years. Her ultimate goal is to be considered point-person for all her client's property matters.
Heng has already been awarded the Property Council of Australia (WA division) Young Achiever Award, which recognises professional initiative and excellence in the property sector by people aged 26 to 30.
Heng commenced her articles at Lavan Legal in 2005 where she now acts for several major corporations, high net worth individuals and government departments in the acquisition and disposal of assets. Heng has also been involved in a number of significant projects for leading property developers as well as several high-profile commercial transactions.
Heng has worked on some of the largest property deals in Western Australia, becoming increasingly active in the industry. In 2007 she attended the Green Cities Sustainability Conference in Sydney, she is a member of the Urban Institute of Development Australia Outlook Committee and is currently assisting stakeholders with a proposal to Perth City Council for the formation of a focus group to revitalise Perth city.
Renee Garner, Freehills
A solicitor in the Projects Group at Freehills, at 26 Renee Garner has already developed enough expertise in climate change law to be up there with some of Australia's leading speakers, and is a co-author of one of the first definitive books on the subject, Global Climate Change: Australian Law and Policy.
Her expertise extends across all areas of climate change law, including emissions trading, energy and renewable energy major projects. She is also a member of the Australian Carbon Reduction and Trading Expo 2009 Steering Committee and between October 2007 and April 2008 was an Honorary Research Fellow at the University of Western Australia.
Garner is speaking at the International Conference on Climate Change to be held at the Institute of Environment Education and Research, Pune, India, in January 2009.
She will be speaking on Australia's Primary Energy Supply and Climate Change: Implications and the Future. Meanwhile, her writing abilities have seen some of her articles included in law books, as well as reports tabled by the United Nations World Tourism Organisation.
Outside of her writing and speaking on climate change law, Garner has advised on a number of deals, including Wesfarmers' acquisition of Coles Group, Orchard Industrial Property Fund's notes issue and restructure, AGL's project financing of Hallett Wind Farm, International Power's development of the Mt Mercer Wind Farm and ERM Power's stage two development of the Braemar gas-fired power station in Queensland.
Julia Dreosti, Senior Associate, Clayton Utz
To say Julia Dreosti's career in law so far has been "diverse" is a serious understatement. A senior associate working across construction, major projects and international arbitration groups, since being admitted to practice as a solicitor in 2002, Dreosti is rapidly becoming a specialist in French law.
Dreosti gained solid experience working with an Australian firm in Paris while undertaking her Masters in French Law and European Community Law, before moving back to Australia to develop the French practice group in Clayton Utz's Sydney office.
Her work covers contract administration, dispute avoidance and resolution. Most recently she has managed the day-to-day conduct of a high-profile defence procurement matter. Her dedication to the task has been officially recognised, with a Certificate of Appreciation from the CEO of the Defence Materiel Organisation.
Locally, her project work is no less significant. Involved in a number of major NSW road and rail infrastructure projects, Dreosti has worked on Supreme Court proceedings in relation to several disputes regarding a $2.3 billion rail infrastructure project, a number of high profile toll road projects in Sydney and several multimillion-dollar rolling stock procurement projects.
Dreosti also regularly advises on the drafting of multi-tiered dispute resolution clauses and in particular the operation and interpretation of international arbitration clauses and enforcement of arbitral awards, including advising a multinational telecommunications company with respect to an arbitration under the ACICA rules.
Chris Cruikshank, Senior Associate, Deacons
Insolvency is an area of practise much in demand and Chris Cruikshank is quickly establishing himself as the go-to man at Deacons for matters relating to the restructuring of insolvent and distressed companies.
According to the firm, it is Cruikshank's low-key, sensible, relaxed and approachable style that has been the cornerstone of his success so far. Acting for a range of liquidators, administrators and receivers on various insolvency appointments, this kind of approach is extremely important and Deacons considers Cruikshank a rising star in the firm.
Cruikshank has worked on a number of high-profile cases, once acting on behalf of the administrators of the Allco Principals' Trust throughout the administration of the 16 companies within the group.
Ben Cowling, Corrs Chambers Westgarth
Ben Cowling, now a Senior Associate in Corrs' Construction and Projects team, started as an articled clerk at the Melbourne office in 2001. Since then, Cowling has worked on some of the largest legal disputes and transactions in the infrastructure sector.
Currently seconded to the Victorian State Government as Legal Advisor to the $3.1 billion Desalination Project, Ben's career has taken him in directions he never anticipated.
For young lawyers starting out in projects, Cowling believes there is a need to constantly reassess and adjust where things are heading - an approach that will leave a young lawyer open to take advantage of opportunities as they arise.
Cowling had a lead role acting for Clough in its $300 million arbitration concerning the BassGas project. More recently, he ran a Supreme Court litigation, involving net claims of more than $100 million, for A J Lucas against BHP and McConnell Dowell concerning the Minerva project.
Cowling was also sent to New York on a Corrs Scholarship to complete an executive course in critical thinking at Cornell University, completed a Graduate Diploma in Applied Finance at the Securities Institute, and is half-way through a Master of Construction Law degree at the University of Melbourne.
Cowling says any perception that young lawyers these days are less interested in working hard and progressing rapidly to partnership is simply not true. "The next logical step for me is to become a partner and, consistent with my previous strategy, to see where that takes me," he says.
"Contrary to popular belief, I think the practice of law is fascinating - more so for the people you meet and work with than anything. You deal on a daily basis with some of the smartest, most successful and innovative people in the country - whether they be colleagues, other lawyers or clients."
Darren Boyd, Associate, Lander & Rogers
Darren Boyd's motto is surely "work hard, play hard", combining his career at Lander & Rogers with his role as a sports commentator and passionate sportsperson. Since completing his articles with the firm in 2004, Boyd has specialised in sports law, within Lander & Rogers' unique dedicated sports law practice. In 2007, Boyd served as the primary legal advisor for the Melbourne 2007 World Swimming Championships.
He also advises international, national and state sporting organisations on anti-doping, selection and disciplinary policies and disputes, and appears in the Court of Arbitration for Sport in anti-doping and selection matters.<
He is quickly becoming renowned for his expertise in the field of sport. Lecturing in Sports Law at La Trobe University, Boyd also regularly conducts presentations to clients on key issues and legal reform and has caught the attention of the NSW Department of Sport and Recreation and the Risk Management Institute of Australia. Boyd also presented recently at the National Conferences for Surf Life Saving Australia and AUSTSWIM, which were attended by delegates from Australia and overseas.
Outside of the law, Boyd still finds the time to pursue his passion in sport as a sports commentator for ABC TV, where he calls VFL and Women's National Basketball League games each weekend. Prior to this, Boyd spent five years as a community football broadcaster in the Eastern Football League.