THE WOMEN Lawyers Association of Queensland recently named Minter Ellison consultant Margaret Brown as the “Woman Lawyer of the Year 2007/2008” and Clayton Utz senior associate Samantha Lentell as the “Emergent Woman Lawyer of the Year 2007/2008”.
The awards were presented at a gala dinner at the Marriott Hotel in Brisbane, which more than 130 guests attended. Guests also heard from a panel of industry experts comprising Leneen Ford, the Chancellor of Griffith University, Megan Mahon, the President of the Queensland Law Society, barrister Jean Dalton QC and Justice Margaret McMurdo, the president of the Queensland Court of Appeal.
The aim of the awards is to recognise, encourage and support the endeavours and contributions of women lawyers. The “emergent” women lawyer award is targeted at women with less than five years post-admission experience, and a quick glance at Samantha Lentell’s credentials shows why she was an obvious choice for the prize.
Lentell has worked in Clatyon Utz’s banking and finance services group for about four years, and was promoted to senior associate at the beginning of this financial year. She’s also been the firm’s Brisbane pro bono co-ordinator for the last three years, in which time, she said, the amount of pro bono work the office does has increased by about 48 per cent.
“Essentially, [the position] involves me co-ordinating the pro bono practice for the firm locally,” she said. “I have formally allocated a day a week to do that — but in reality it takes a lot more time than that.”
Aside from the dramatic increase in the quantity of pro bono work the Brisbane office is undertaking, Lentell said she has also focused a lot on narrowing the types of matters the office engages in.
“I have done a lot of work to tighten up the type of work we’re doing so that it strictly fits within the policy of Clayton Utz, which is to assist the disadvantaged,” she explained. “Most of the [pro bono] practice is to do with individuals or not-for-profit organisations, but with not-for-profit organisations we try to limit that to not-for-profits which assist the disadvantaged. That’s what we’ve chosen as our focus.”
Projects that the firm is currently involved with include operating a free legal service at a homeless mens’ shelter and assisting at a service which has been set up by the Queensland Public Interest law Clearing House (QPLICH) to providing advice and assistance to self-represented litigants. She estimates that there are about 30 to 40 staff members involved.
Lentell has also initiated meetings between the pro bono co-ordinators of different firms in QLD in an effort to pool ideas and discuss problems.
“It’s quite unique to pro bono, in that, although from a commercial perspective, we might compete with other firms, we’re more than happy to work together because we see it as making a better difference,” she said. “So no-one has a problem with meeting up and sharing what their pro bono issues are and sharing strategies for increasing pro bono work in private practice. It’s been quite successful.”
Lentell has also recently been invited to join the board of the QPLICH and she will take up the position shortly.