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SA legal veteran returns to the coalface

The managing director of Johnston Withers and immediate past president of the Australian Lawyer’s Alliance (ALA) has left the only firm he has ever worked at to return to legal practice.

user iconLeanne Mezrani 13 June 2014 The Bar
SA legal veteran returns to the coalface
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Speaking with Lawyers Weekly, Tony Kerin (pictured) said it was his decision to leave Johnston Withers after almost 30 years with the five-office South Australian firm. Kerin was Johnston Withers’ managing director for the past nine years and a director for 22 years. He is replaced by director Graham Harbord.

“Leaving Johnston Withers was one of the more difficult decisions I’ve had to make but … I felt it was time to move on from a position of management and see what the rest of the world had to offer, bearing in mind I’d never worked anywhere else,” said Kerin.

Kerin has joined Adelaide firm Grope Hamilton Lawyers as a partner specialising in personal injury litigation, WorkCover and employment law.  He also sits on the ALA National Council after serving a one-year term as the ALA national president from 2012 to 2013.


As president, Kerin made the National Disability Insurance Scheme a top priority for the ALA.

More recently, Kerin has been an outspoken critic of what he described as “savage” changes to South Australia’s Compulsory Third Party Insurance Scheme.

The SA Government has extended lifetime care to individuals catastrophically injured in an accident, but has also cut payments to those with minor injuries. CTP premiums fell as a result; however, Kerin claimed this kind of “economic rationalism” should not dominate provision of the rule of law.

“There are some things you can’t put a cost on, but I reckon I’m in the minority there.”

He added that his new role at Grope Hamilton Lawyers will allow him to ramp up his involvement with the ALA and devote more time to speaking out against such “harsh laws”.


Management pressures

Another benefit of stepping down from a leadership position is greater work-life balance, continued Kerin, who admitted South Australia’s challenging legal market has placed added pressures on firm managers.

“I wholeheartedly believe that management is the toughest part of legal practice,” he said.

“I think I coped with [the pressure] reasonably well for a long period of time but there comes a point when you think ‘is this all there is, is this what I’m going to do for the next 10 to 15 years?’.”

Despite these pressures, Kerin claimed Johnston Withers is “one of the greatest firms you could ever work at”, paying homage to the firm’s founder Elliot Johnston QC, whom Kerin said is “one of the greatest legal identities in the state’s history”.

Johnston established the firm in Adelaide in 1946 and later became a judge of the Supreme Court of South Australia. He is also remembered as the final Commissioner of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody.

Adelaide firm Grope Hamilton Lawyers was established in 1983.

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