ROUNDING OFF day one of the Australian Corporate Lawyers Association’s (ACLA) 14th annual National Conference last Thursday was the much anticipated announcement of the 2008 In-house Lawyer of the Year Awards.
This year female lawyers dominated the awards, which were held at Sydney’s Hilton Hotel, with all three individual categories being won by women.
Taking out the coveted ALCA Australian Corporate Lawyer of the Year award was Helen Gillies, corporate counsel at engineering and project delivery firm Sinclair Knight Merz. Gillies, who accepted the award from Middletons’ managing partner, Nick Nichola, follows in the footsteps of Qantas general counsel Brett Johnson and Telstra group general counsel Will Irving.
The judges gave Gillies particular credit for her significant role in establishing, growing and managing the Sinclair Knight Merz legal team — which is now global — after starting out as its sole counsel. The judges also noted her strong leadership in the business through her roles as a director of the firm and chairman of the risk and compliance committee. The other nominees for the top spot were Saveria Dimasi, the director of legal services at the University of Melbourne, and Justin Forsell, the general counsel of Vodafone Australia.
This year’s Australian Young Achiever of the Year award was won by Louise Leaver, legal counsel at BlueScope Steel. The judges were particularly impressed by Leaver’s proficiency in the legal issues of foreign jurisdictions, particularly in relation to her work in the United Arab Emirates. Her potential as a future leader in the legal profession was described as “second to none”. Leaver edged out Anthony Wright, general counsel at Transpacific Industries Group, and Stefanie McDowell, corporate counsel at Wagners, for the award.
Lesley Power, the general counsel of Special Broadcasting Service Corporation (SBS) won this year’s Australian Government Lawyer of the Year Award, being recognised by the judges for her unique range of legal practice within the Australia media. She was commended for the very small number of claims or litigation which SBS has been involved in, and her contribution to the advancement of learning on media law.
Other hot contenders were Stephen Bouwhuis, the assistant secretary in Office of Internal Law at the Attorney-General’s Department, and Joanna Davidson from the Victorian Government Solicitors.
The legal team at Caltex were also celebrating after being named the Australian In-house Team of the Year Award, beating out tough competition from the Workplace Ombudsman Legal and Advice Branch in Brisbane and the Woolworths legal team.
The judges gave the Caltex team points for having successfully instituted processes and forums for continually gauging what their internal clients value. Their own internal clients have rated them highly in terms of responsiveness, operational excellence and partnering with the business.
Taking out the newly created Excellence in Sustainability Award was the Canberra Greening Group of the Australian Government Solicitor. According to the judges, the Canberra Greening Group demonstrated “a very high level of credible commitment and leadership in the promotion of sustainability principles in their organisation and beyond”.
It also scored points for working collaboratively with environmental groups in other state and territory offices to increase staff engagement in sustainability issues. It nudged out the National Australia Bank’s GN2010 Legal Australia for the prize.