Round tables at the Sydney Careers Law Fair proved popular this year, with students struggling to gain a spot to hear from leading law firms who presented on topics such as climate change, litigation and intellectual property.
Dominic Bortoluzzi, partner at Mallesons Stephen Jaques, helped present a round table on the firm's sustainable enterprises and climate change practice. He told students carbon compliance was an economic transformation task which is fundamentally changing business.
He said there were 900 to 1000 businesses which fall within the net of the reporting legislation and threshold for emissions.
"This is politically driven, as the fewer taxing points the government enforces the more administratively simple the scheme will be and the fewer people directly affected who might vote against them," he said.
"Clients might not be directly affected but suppliers pass through the costs."
Bortoluzzi gave an example of a dispute between two corporate giants on inserting a clause into a contract to pass on the economic impact of the new carbon legislation.
"We had to tell the client not to sign the contract as it was not transparent. It was not fair to be stuck with other costs that were not directly attributable to carbon compliance," he said.
The rationale behind the scheme is letting market forces drive outcomes so that regulators get the most efficient responses, Bortoluzzi said.
"If you put a cost on carbon, you drive the market to be innovative and find the best response," he said.
Students were also given the opportunity to meet young lawyer Anthony Wicht from Mallesons, who has been practising for just over two years, but is the firm's leading expert on the details of climate change schemes, after being given what was described as a rare ground-floor opportunity.
"It is good fun and really exciting being on the cutting edge. There is nothing worse than poring through legislation and feeling like nothing comes out of it, but I'm ... talking to people and how they are going to spend millions of dollars," he said.
"Everyone is focused on complying with the legislation, and environmental solutions are part of the competitive edge, especially in the downturn," he said.
Wicht said clients were viewing lawyers in the practice group as the thinkers and relying on them to understand how the risk will play out and how the "chessboard moves."
He said there was demand for advice not just pertaining to the scheme, but also surrounding the government's policy position and how that is likely to change in the future.
Stephen Klotz, partner at Deacons, held a roundtable on litigation and fielded questions from students about client interaction.
"It's important as a litigator - and any lawyer - to exercise good judgement, and that is knowing when to fight and when to settle. Clients rely on that judgement," he advised the round table participants.
Students were also keen to know what attracted Klotz to practice in litigation.
"What I enjoy is the intellectual stimulation of receiving instructions from a client in a matter which concerns an unfamiliar issue - for example, a matter which went to judgment was a dispute over a profit share arrangement that depended on the application of internal rates of return and I came to understand the calculation of internal rates of return while working out the answer," he said.
Klotz advised students to get a broad range of experience at the beginning of their legal careers, to be open-minded, to ask questions and to enjoy the work.
Michael Williams, partner at Gilbert + Tobin, hosted a round table on intellectual property. He told students that a third of the work in the firm's practice group emanates from overseas.
"Companies are increasingly looking to Australian firms to be the foot in the door for Asia," he said.
Williams said gone are the days when graduate or junior lawyers were not seen as critical to the business and that, in one case, a client had asked to meet the whole IP team.
"I think that clients are increasingly wanting to know what skills we have at the graduate and junior lawyer level because they know they are doing a lot of core work on the file and I've had an occasion where clients have retained us on big matters but have made it part of their interview process when coming to Australia to actually want to speak to graduates and junior lawyers," he said.
"I think that is a very sophisticated attitude towards due diligence by buyers of legal services these days [and] quite a shrewd move."
After the roundtable, Klotz told Lawyers Weekly that he found the students intelligent, enthusiastic and motivated and said he believed the round tables were a good idea.
"Just as there is competition for summer clerkships, the firms compete for the best candidates, and the round table provides an opportunity to present our firm in a slightly different way to having a booth. It's more intimate," he said.
- Sarah Sharples