It's a wrap!

By Reporter|21 July 2015
Event 30 under 30

An impressive crowd turned out to celebrate the best young lawyers in Australia at the Lawyers Weekly 30 Under 30

The evening’s award winners, who represent the 30 most talented lawyers under the age of 30 across 10 categories, received the accolade in front of 400 people at Establishment in Sydney on 5 June.

Lawyers Weekly editor Leanne Mezrani gave an address thanking young lawyers for their contributions to the profession.

“You are the innovative, entrepreneurial generation,” she said. “You are the heart of major matters and a source of fresh ideas that have improved the practice of law in Australia.

“You are also the most vocal advocates of social justice.”

Of the 30 awards handed out on the evening, 20 went to female lawyers, reflecting data that shows 65 per cent of law graduates in Australia are women.

Women made a clean sweep in the Corporate Counsel and Insurance categories and one accomplished female entrant became the first lawyer to pick up multiple awards on the night.

Suzanne Kathryn Brown from McKays Solicitors was a winner in the Energy & Resources and Government categories.

The Lawyers Weekly 30 Under 30 was open to lawyers throughout Australia, in private practice and in-house, who were under the age of 30 at 5 June, the night of the awards.

Three winners were selected from each of the 10 categories.

Lawyers Weekly would like to congratulate all of the award recipients.

Commercial minds

The Hotly contested Lawyers Weekly 30 Under 30 Banking and Finance prize went to three business-minded young lawyers.

Speaking to Lawyers Weekly after collecting his award, Mitchell Thorp of Baker & McKenzie said: “I was very surprised – I wasn’t expecting to win; so many good lawyers were nominated, it’s a privilege and honour and I am very humbled.”

Mr Thorp said he had wanted to be a lawyer since high school. He found working in the banking and finance practice rewarding because “you’re always learning – it’s always something new”.

One of Mr Thorp’s recent career highlights this year was advising the Bank of China (Australia) Limited on a partnership with Australia Post.

Lucienne Cassidy, a Victorian lawyer from Ashurst, said she was “very excited, very proud” to receive the Banking and Finance award.

She also said her practice area was interesting because it required lawyers to offer “very practical legal advice” that was sensitive to the client’s commercial needs.

Ms Cassidy has worked in the restructuring and special situations group with Ashurst’s finance team for more than three years.

The third winner in this category, King & Wood Mallesons’ Anna Bennett, was described by partner Kate Jackson-Maynes as having “this unique ability to look beyond the law”.

“[Ms Bennett] is genuinely business-minded and has an instinctive nature to turn market trends into real business opportunities.”


Happily engaged in-house lawyers

Australia's best young in-house lawyers have pointed to client engagement as the highlight of their roles. 30 Under 30 Corporate Counsel award-winner Charlotte Lau from Telstra believes in-house roles allow for greater engagement with a client’s business.

“I started in marketing law and found there was a lot more interaction with clients in the corporate role,” Ms Lau said.

She led the implementation of the marketing helpdesk at Telstra, a central hub for marketing law assistance and training.

“The formal training and informal mentoring I provide supports Telstra Legal’s success by equipping both lawyers and commercial clients with the knowledge they need to ensure our products and marketing are legally compliant,” Ms Lau said.

Fellow winner Alison Eveleigh was unable to attend the awards ceremony. However, like Ms Lau, she believes lawyers need to understand their client’s key business and deliver their advice in an accessible way.

One initative she spearheaded at Nova Entertainment was a competitions and campaigns clinic, with colleagues able to book appointments to discuss legal matters in a  personal, timely way.

The final winner, Clara Edwards of the Australia Council for the Arts, was lured to her role by the promise of working with artists.

“It’s a passion of mine to work in the arts,” she said.

So far in her career, Ms Edwards has provided advice on ethical issues arising out of funding applications and dealt with intellectual property, IT and media contractual obligation issues.


Boutique’s winning streak

30 Under 30 Dispute Resolution award winner Diana Biscoe is the second lawyer at her firm to take home the prize in the past two years. Ms Biscoe joins Webb Henderson’s Tom Bridges, who was a winner in this category in 2014. After accepting the award, Ms Biscoe said she was “very surprised and very excited” to be recognised as one of Australia’s top lawyers under the age of 30.

Her advice to younger lawyers was to “say yes to every opportunity”.

Ms Biscoe was one of the lead lawyers acting for the ACCC in cartel proceedings in the Federal Court and has also taken the lead for KFC in a dispute with a major franchisee.

“As a core member of a small and busy team I have high levels of responsibility and visibility on substantial matters,” she said.

Fellow winner Alexandra Kirby, from DibbsBarker, is also no stranger to responsibility.

She was recently involved in inquiries before the Independent Commission Against Corruption, and successfully negotiated a dispute between a principal of a large professional services firm and the national regulator in an appeal to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.

Andrew Bass from Minter Ellison, the final winner in this category, spent the early part of his career as a television news journalist, but has since moved on to tackle litigation.

His work in a major class action concerning live cattle exports earned him recognition for being a “dedicated lawyer” with strong interpersonal and leadership skills.


Star from the south

The only Lawyers Weekly 30 Under 30 finalist from South Australia, Paul Gordon from NDA Law, beat tough competition from the northern states to be named a winner in the Intellectual Property category.

“I’m really excited to be included in the list along with some of the most amazing young lawyers around the country,” said Mr Gordon following the awards ceremony.

He only recently started at NDA Law and says his primary motivation in joining the firm was to address the “major failings” of larger law firms. In his submission, Mr Gordon criticises time-based billing models for discouraging efficiency and questions the “general hesitance to have a collaborative and interactive relationship with clients”.

In his new role, Mr Gordon is focusing on value-based billing and “agile project management”, which promotes ownership of projects by clients by engaging clients in review processes.

Another IP award winner, Ashurst’s Jessica Norgard, was described by referee barrister Justine Beaumont as a “proactive” and “diligent” leader.

Ms Norgard said she feels lucky to have been involved in landmark litigations that have shaped the future of IP law.

Meanwhile, award winner Anna Spies has also been involved in high-profile IP litigation as a member of King & Wood Mallesons’ dispute resolution team, which covers a range of areas from copyright, advertising and social media through to trademarks and patents.

Ms Spies said she is often given a high level of responsibility by partners in running matters and was recently put in charge of the day-to-day carriage of a trial.


Gen Y shakes up insurance sector

Young lawyers are bringing a new perspective to the practice of insurance law.

Melissa Zen, who was a senior associate at Sparke Helmore before moving to Hall & Wilcox, believes young lawyers are challenging the way insurance law has traditionally been practised.

“By bringing my Gen Y way of thinking to the industry, I bring a fresh approach and question things perhaps more than other lawyers who accept things as they are on the premise that they have always been a certain way,” Ms Zen said.

In her seven years at Sparkes, Ms Zen has distinguished herself as a lawyer, according to former Sparkes partner Daniel Stoddart, who is also now at Hall & Wilcox.

“Not only is she making law, she is obtaining excellent results for her clients,” Mr Stoddart said.

Another award winner, Emily Archer from Minter Ellison, specialises in asbestos litigation, which she believes requires a nuanced approach.

“Within an insurance company, the asbestos portfolio is closely monitored and highly sensitive,” she said, adding that a major aspect of her role is to balance the needs of the plaintiff to achieve a fast resolution, while thoroughly advising and protecting the rights of her client.

Meanwhile, Tejas Thete has been effectively running a litigation practice at Gadens under the oversight of a senior partner.

A career highlight included being involved in the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, where prepared witness statements and liaised with the Royal Commission and media.


Sunshine State lawyers shine

Two out of three Government award-winners hailed from Queensland this year. Luke Grayson from Colin Biggers & Paisley said he was “pretty surprised, really” to be taking home the award.

Among his career achievements, Mr Grayson counts advice given to a number of public sector clients, including Sunshine Coast Regional Council, Ipswich City Council and Logan City Council.

“Luke’s work with government often involves solving unique legal and policy issues, for which there is no precedent,” said partner Ian Wright.

“I am continually struck by Luke’s ability to dissect such issues by cutting to the core of the legal and policy problem and identifying and implementing a solution in the public interest.”

Mr Grayson has also contributed to discussions in the government sector by penning a number of articles on infrastructure funding and delivery.

Stella Loong, a 29-year-old lawyer from Ashurst in the ACT, was also recognised for her work with the firm’s government clients. Highlights of Ms Loong’s career include a secondment to the Procurement Contracting and Support Branch of the Maritime Systems Division of the Defence Materiel Organisation. During the secondment, Ms Loong often took a leading role in maritime procurement projects. One referee described Ms Loong’s natural enthusiasm, commitment and energy as impressive.

Suzanne Kathryn Brown from McKays Solicitors in Queensland was the third winner in this category. One of her career highlights is becoming one of only four female Queensland Law Society business law accredited specialists. Another is “balancing motherhood while still pursuing my career goals”.


Young principal hits golden double

Suzanne Kathryn Brown from McKays Solicitors made history, becoming the only lawyer to win two Lawyers Weekly 30 Under 30 awards in the same year.

“I’m so excited!” she said when speaking to Lawyers Weekly after accepting the award.

“I can’t believe I won two categories. I’m just over the moon.”

Ms Brown, who stood out in both the Energy and Resources and the Government categories, said “hard work, long hours and dedication” are the secrets to her success.

She skyrocketed to the role of principal after setting up McKays Solicitors’ mining team three years ago at the age of 26.

“I did a market analysis as to how our practice could ‘stand out from the crowd’ and identified, surprisingly, that there was no competitor who had a dedicated mining team,” she explained.

“At the time, this project was a huge risk for me – if it failed, it would have dramatically impacted on my reputation.

“I was determined to ensure it was a success and therefore oversaw all business development and marketing and tirelessly attended industry events, upskilled on specific laws and industry knowledge.”

Ms Brown is the only Queensland Law Society business law-accredited specialist at her firm.

She is also the only female on the board of the North Queensland Bulk Ports Corporation.

At just 26, Ms Brown is the Corporation’s youngest director, a position she assumed earlier this year.

Liam Davis of McCullough Robertson Lawyers also won the Energy and Resources 30 Under 30 award.

Mr Davis has advised Adani on the development of its huge coal mining project in Queensland, involving investments of $7 billion.

He has also been responsible for managing indigenous relations at multiple sites in NSW and Queensland.

“For me, the highlights of my career [are] introducing new clients to the firm and seeing ‘dirt turned’ after negotiating approvals for my clients’ projects,” he said.

McCullough Robertson’s chairman of partners Dominic McGann said Mr Davis has “a profound sense of putting back into the community” and is a “tremendous embodiment” of the firm’s ideals.

Twenty-four-year-old Eugene McAuley was one of the youngest 30 Under 30 winners this year.

Mr McAuley is a Queensland associate at three-office firm McCarthy Durie Lawyers and specialises in landholder rights.

“Eugene shows both determination and the ability to succeed,” said firm director Bruce Durie.


Dealmaker takes on the globals

A lawyer from corporate firm Arnold Bloch Leibler has beaten international competitors to win in the Lawyers Weekly 30 Under 30 M&A category.

ABL’s Gavin Hammerschlag was recognised for his work on a transformative acquisition by an ASX-listed shoe retailer, as well as advising on Slater and Gordon’s $1.2 billion acquisition of Quindell’s professional services division.

He believes graduate recruitment in Sydney is in need of reform.

“I believe the profession would benefit greatly from implementing a model similar to Victoria, which allows firms to offer a greater number of clerkship positions,” Mr Hammerschlag said.

“Not only will candidates be advantaged by the increased opportunity for them to secure a graduate position, but law firms would also be rewarded by gaining access to a larger pool of talent to select as graduates.”

Of the 12 finalists in the M&A category, seven came from global law firms.

However, Michael Compton from Herbert Smith Freehills was the only lawyer from an international to win in the M&A division on the night.

Mr Compton advised on a transaction between Seven Group Holdings and Nexus Energy, participating in consultations with regulators, instructing counsel and liaising with stakeholders.

In 2012, he was also appointed a member of the team advising Freehills on its merger with Herbert Smith.

The final winner was Jacqueline How, a senior associate at major domestic firm Minter Ellison.

Ms How advised on the acquisition and subsequent public float of Dick Smith in 2012, described as the “quickest and most successful private equity turnaround in Australian history”.


Making pro bono a career

A winner of the 30 Under 30 Pro Bono category turned a passion for volunteering into a full-time job.

At just 29, Kara Cook is the principal solicitor of the Women’s Legal Service, a Brisbane organisation that provides free legal advice to women on family law or domestic violence matters. Ms Cook previously spent five years as a volunteer for the service while working in private practice. In 2012, she took the plunge and joined the organisation as a full-time lawyer, being promoted to principal solicitor in 2013.

“Access to justice has always been a passion of mine and for me, the work I do is incredibly rewarding,” Ms Cook said.

However, lawyers at major firms can also have a significant impact on the pro bono sector, as proved by the other 30 Under 30 category winners, Philippa Macaskill from King & Wood Mallesons and James Johnston from Ashurst.

Ms Macaskill is a solicitor in the dispute resolution team, but is also actively responsible for coordinating several pro bono initiatives, dedicating 400 hours to it in the past 12 months. She is an accredited international criminal investigator and has participated in actions by the International Crimes Evidence Project. She is also acting for three Nauru detainees who have lodged complaints to the Australian Human Rights Commission.

Meanwhile, Mr Johnston juggles his role in Ashurst’s employment, workplace relations and safety practice with his work at the Queensland Public Interest Clearing House (QPILCH).

Within QPILCH, he has worked with the LegalPod program, helping disadvantaged adolescents transitioning out of state care.


Working at the coal face

This year's Workplace Relations, Employment & Safety award-winners are at the heart of employment law matters. Ajay Mukesh Khandhar from Minter Ellison told Lawyers Weekly his love for advocacy emerged at school after he got involved in public speaking and debating: “I come from a family of lawyers, so there was always very lively debate around the table and law seemed like a natural fit,” Mr Khandhar said.

He finds working with “intelligent people and very sophisticated clients” rewarding.

“The challenges clients face are very complex, but very interesting,” he said. 

Mr Khandhar advised the NSW Treasury last year on the leasing of Port of Newcastle, the world’s largest coal export port, to a consortium for $1.75 billion.

Another winner in this category, Jessica Main of McKean Park Lawyers in Victoria, recently led negotiations with WorkSafe, resulting in the successful resolution of a prosecution and avoiding a conviction against construction company Hansen Yuncken.

She received a glowing reference from a partner at her firm. “Jessica displays a genuine passion for the law and her leadership capabilities are very evident,” said partner Chris Molnar.

Award winner Alana Heffernan from Maurice Blackburn has also been praised by her managing principal, Giri Sivaraman. He described Ms Heffernan as being “at all times exceptional”.

Ms Heffernan sits on the management committee of the Queensland Working Women’s Service and co- founded the Maurice Blackburn LGBTI network.

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