A former mayor of Geelong has won Australia's leading in-house lawyer award.
Srechko Kontelj, the legal director, Asia-Pacific, for Specsavers, won the Corporate Lawyer of the Year Award at the Australian Corporate Lawyers Association (ACLA) In-house Lawyer Awards 2011 last night (24 November).
Kontelj, the mayor of Geelong between March 2001 to April 2002, beat a field of finalists including high-profile AMP general counsel and company secretary Brian Salter, Metcash general counsel Greg Watson, and Frances Russell-Matthews, senior legal counsel, consumer finance, from Westpac.
In accepting the award, Kontelj made light of the spate of recent litigation action his company has faced.
"Specsavers had a board meeting this evening, and I told the CEO that I couldn't make it because I was attending the ACLA corporate lawyer of the year awards, and he said, 'Are you up for any awards? Most litigated against lawyer maybe? Highest possible damages for a marketing case?'" said Kontelj in accepting the award before around 350 people at Melbourne's Regent Theatre.
"I am sure you are all well aware of Specsavers. We disrupted the market and we have ruffled a few feathers. I was told by our litigation team that there were 20 advertising marketing cases in the Federal Court this year, and Specsavers featured in nine of those. We have played our share in precedent creating."
Kontelj's award was the highlight of an evening where Australia's leading in-house lawyers were recognised across seven different categories.
Glenn Owbridge, the deputy general counsel, competition and consumer law, at the Australian Government Solicitor won the Government Lawyer of the Year Award, edging out Don Markus from the Department of Broadband, Communications & the Digital Economy.
"I would like to thank and acknowledge the ACCC who are my principal client," said Owbridge in accepting the award.
The Large Legal team of the Year was won by the 10-member Incitec Pivot Limited in-house team, with the eight-member Thiess John Holland team winning the Small Legal Team of the Year.
Other award winners included Lisa Chan from Curtin University, who took out the Young Lawyer Achiever of the Year, Westpac, who were a controversial choice as winners of the Excellence in Corporate Social Responsibility Award, and Melissa Kirby, who was awarded the Mentor of the Year Award.
Honorary Life Membership of ACLA was bestowed upon Virginia Rogers; Ron McCulloch, the first national president of ACLA; Neville MacPherson, the former head of the legal division of Shell UK; and the former Telstra general counsel, Will Irving.