find the latest legal job
Senior Associate - Litigation & Dispute Resolution
Category: Litigation and Dispute Resolution | Location: Melbourne CBD & Inner Suburbs Melbourne VIC
· Come work for a firm ranked in Lawyers Weekly Top 25 Attraction Firms
View details
Associate - Workplace Relations & Safety
Category: Industrial Relations and Employment Law | Location: Brisbane CBD & Inner Suburbs Brisbane QLD
· Employer of choice · Strong team culture
View details
Freelance Lawyers
Category: Banking and Finance Law | Location: All Perth WA
· Freelance opportunities through Vario from Pinsent Masons
View details
Freelance Lawyers
Category: Other | Location: All Adelaide SA
· • Qualified lawyer with a strong academic background
View details
Freelance Lawyers
Category: Other | Location: All Melbourne VIC
· • Qualified lawyer with a strong academic background
View details
Goodbye Keith Steele

Goodbye Keith Steele

Colleagues have said goodbye to Keith Steele - their mentor, leader and friend - after the former Freehills chairman died unexpectedly on 7 June. Keith Steele's early life gave an indication of…

Colleagues have said goodbye to Keith Steele - their mentor, leader and friend - after the former Freehills chairman died unexpectedly on 7 June.

Keith Steele's early life gave an indication of his impact on commercial law in Australia. He was a Girdlers Scholar, an honour given to just one New Zealander at his time, and a Law (Honours) graduate of Cambridge University.

Prior to joining Freehills in 1977, Steele spent four years with the Crown Solicitor's office in Auckland, advising New Zealand government agencies as an advocate in criminal prosecutions and civil actions. According to Freehills consultant and former colleague Kevin Broadley, his cross-Tasman courtship with Margaret L'Estrange led Steele to make the move to Sydney, where he consequently needed to find a job.

"He was interviewed by a number of partners, including me," remembers Broadley. "We were all very impressed with him and we offered him a job with me in litigation, which he accepted. He was very successful as a young litigator."

Having become partner in 1980, Steele built up his litigation practice and became involved in some of the firm's biggest cases. Later, he was appointed Sydney chairman and senior partner of the firm from 1997 to 2001, and played a leadership role in the national integration of Freehills in 2000. Broadley says the integration was a big challenge for the firm but it was one that Steele was passionate about achieving. "It sounds easy to do, but it was difficult, and Keith expended a huge amount of energy and effort putting it all together until ultimately, in 2000, we finally achieved a fully integrated national firm."

Steele continued as head of litigation nationally from 2005 to 2008, where he maintained his position on the firm's executive and led a group of 65 partners, 230 lawyers and 150 other staff.

As well as this, he played an instrumental role in establishing the firm's pro bono program in Sydney. In 1992 he played a lead role in establishing the Shopfront Youth Legal Centre to serve homeless young people in Kings Cross. He also served as director of the Public Interest Law Clearing House for 10 years from its inception

Steele is remembered as a hard worker, but also a man of good times. "When he and his team had had a successful win in a case he loved to go to Phillip's Foote, which is a pub in The Rocks," says Broadley. And there were plenty of successful cases to celebrate.

"We had many happy Friday afternoons at Phillip's Foote celebrating the latest win or the latest wedding or birth or whatever, and he loved sitting at the top of a table in a room or the beer garden at Phillip's Foote with the young people and enjoying lunch over a drink or two."

Managing partner Peter Butler described him as the "modern colossus in this firm," noting Steele's role as a prime architect in the Freehills litigation group. "He mentored literally scores of people here, both partners and non-partners," says Butler. "He was liked and admired by every single person here. He was an amazing, loyal friend."

Describing Steele as a man of strength, morals, courage and friendship, who was devoted to his family, Butler says his loss came as a huge shock to the firm. "He was our rock - what he stood for defined the very best parts of Freehills," he says. "I know I speak for so many people when I say we are going to miss him terribly. He was a great friend, a great mentor. He had absolutely outstanding values and he was a complete gentleman."

As well as authoring a number of works, Steele also served as a member of the Administrative Law Committee of the NSW Law Society, the Law Council of Australia and as Chairman of the Customs Law Committee.

He was a member of the International Trade and Business Committee of the Law Council. He was a past chairman of the sub-committee on trade for the International Bar Association (IBA) and a past vice-chairman of Committee O (international litigation) of the IBA.

Steele was married with three children. He died on 7 June.

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

Goodbye Keith Steele
lawyersweekly logo
Promoted content
Recommended by Spike Native Network
more from lawyers weekly
Scales of Justice
‘Ego status’ compelled ex-lawyer to defraud $2.97M, court told
Debarred lawyer John Gordon Bradfield told an NSW District Court that he was driven by “ego status...
Australian Lawyers Alliance (ALA), Queensland’s new industrial manslaughter legislation,
ALA welcomes ‘tough’ Qld manslaughter laws
The Australian Lawyers Alliance (ALA) has welcomed Queensland’s new industrial manslaughter legisl...
Legal podcasts, tune in, microphone
Legal podcasts you have to tune in to right now
The rise of the internet has hailed in a new dawn for storytelling. Here’s our top pick of podcast...
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'...
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...
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 & ...