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Selena Cartwright: How to transform a firm before turning 30

Selena Cartwright: How to transform a firm before turning 30

She's only 27, but Selena Cartwright has managed to become the sole principal of her law firm, and bag a coveted finalist spot at the Telstra Business Women's Awards.

She's only 27, but Selena Cartwright has managed to become the sole principal of her law firm, and bag a coveted finalist spot at the Telstra Business Women's Awards.

STRAIGHT TO THE TOP: Selena Cartwright, sole principal of Baldwin Cartwright Lawyers

Selena Cartwright likes to laugh about the fact that her first day at university was the day she graduated.

Such was her determination to follow a career in law and succeed in her regional practice that university virtually took a backseat as she instead concentrated on working in the law.

Seemingly, it's this determination that saw Cartwright swiftly rising up the ranks of Baldwin Cartwright Lawyers, a regional firm based in Gympie, and establishing herself as sole principal at just 27.

Such determination also must have played a significant role in her being nominated as a finalist at last week's national Telstra Business Women's Awards, after winning the Queensland Commonwealth Bank Business Owner award early this year for her leadership and business acumen which transformed the firm into a near multimillion-dollar practice.

While Cartwright didn't take out the national Telstra award, she has certainly achieved wonders in her hometown of Gympie by becoming one of the youngest female partners of a law firm - a position she entered into at just 24.

"I always saw myself as being a partner at the firm," she says. "I was 23 when I was admitted as a solicitor. At 24, I became an equal partner in the firm. And by 25, I became the sole principal."

In fact, Cartwright was still well and truly a teenager when she joined the firm, having undertaken three years of work experience there while she was in high school. She couldn't afford to go to university immediately once she graduated, so instead started as an articled clerk at the firm, working fulltime while also studying a bachelor of arts and a bachelor of laws externally.

“I certainly wanted a firm that could help clients no matter what life would throw their way and a big focus for achieving that was through diversification”

Cartwright was always more than content in staying close to her regional roots and carving out her career with the firm, especially for the work/life balance a regional law firm can offer.

"You don't have to be there all hours of the night like in big-city firms," she says. "There's not the pressure in terms of billable hours, as much as there is in capital cities ... it's certainly more laid back."

Cartwright's determination to transform her firm was inspired by a realisation that too often the firm was referring on valued clients to other lawyers because the practice did not cover a broad enough spectrum of law.

"When I took over the firm, I had a different vision for it, just like all business owners have their own personal goals, [both] financially and also [in] what you want to achieve," she says.

"I certainly wanted a firm that could help clients no matter what life would throw their way and a big focus for achieving that was through diversification.

"I realised that we lost clients simply because we didn't have the expertise to be able to provide advice on things like personal injuries."

In order to address this challenge, Cartwright employed a number of like-minded professionals with diverse experience to ensure the firm could offer broader services to clients,

The move paid off, particularly over the last 18 months as the firm persevered through a turbulent economic climate. As the commercial and conveyancing areas of the firm took a backseat Cartwright used the opportunity to diversify.

"By diversifying and bringing on personal injuries in particular and criminal law, it's been great - it's placed the firm in great stead," she said.

Cartwright is committed to providing opportunities for young aspiring lawyers and businesspeople, especially to assisting in the advancement of women in regional firms.

"I'm proud of what we built and I must say we have a fantastic team of staff," says Cartwright. "We have a whole range of staff but really it's together that we've been able to do what we've done."

She attributes her success within the firm to that very determination that saw her exploiting opportunities with the practice from her teenage years.

"I think it was certainly the fact that I came from very humble beginnings and I guess that it was the determination, motivation and commitment to succeed - no matter what," she says.

- Angela Priestley

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

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Selena Cartwright: How to transform a firm before turning 30
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