Sarah Ross-Smith - Partner at Ashurst


We recently caught up with Sarah Ross-Smith, partner at Ashurst to discuss her views on achieving your career goals, what it’s like to be a female partner and her favourite binge tv recommendations.

Ashurst has recently been awarded the Workplace Gender Equality Agency's Employer Choice for Gender Equality. How have you been supported in the workplace as a woman lawyer?

I think like many lawyers (and not just women lawyers) I have benefitted from flexible working arrangements – whether that be part-time or working from home as my personal needs have required.  Often women need that as primary caregivers to children or parents but increasingly we are seeing that male lawyers are accessing that as well which is great.  I think the more men work flexibly, the more that challenges the stereotypes of what it is to be a "typical" lawyer,  I am thinking now of some of my male colleagues who are very successful and who provide real role models for both male and female lawyers to see that there is more to life than being in the office.  That life outside the office matters, that family matters!

What is one thing you see preventing women from achieving their career goals today, and how might we start to fix it?

I often look at my younger female colleagues and think – do you know how good you are?  Men are often very eager to tell you of their accomplishments, but women can be quite reticent and almost shy in sharing their successes.  Sometimes that holds them back and I would really urge young women to look at what they have achieved and ask if they are valuing themselves.  Because that reluctance could mean you don't get a promotion or a raise when you deserve it. 

People say that the view from the top can be isolating. Do you find it lonely as a female partner? Please describe your support team.

I am really fortunate in that four of our six partners in the Canberra office are women so I don't feel lonely at all as a female partner.  In a broader sense, we have a terrific group of female counsel, senior associates and lawyers who started the Canberra Office's Women's Network to really make sure that gender issues were being addressed and we are joined by our male colleagues in a lot of the work that we do.  At a national and global level our Managing Partner, Paul Jenkins (who himself is a Male Champion of Change) instituted a group of female and male partners who are part of Ashurst's Committed to Change program which meets via phone to share ideas about promoting gender equality.  

What's your favourite binge-worthy TV show at the moment? 

The OA Part 2 – but I am concerned that it is going to be way too long until Part 3 comes around.  So I am waiting for Terrace House – the Japanese reality TV show which is utterly addictive.  Think Big Brother, with housemates who enter the house with life "goals" and leave when they feel their time is "up".  No humiliating "public votes you off" process.  And hilarious Japanese commentators who often help explain the cultural context for non-Japanese viewers….Next season should be out in mere days.

Prisca Ochan - Law Student and Paralegal at Sparke Helmore Lawyers


Did you know that WLA ACT offers free student memberships? We recently caught up with Prisca Ochan, Law student and Paralegal at Sparke Helmore Lawyers as part of our #WomenLawyersoftheACT series, to chat about her reasons for signing up as one of our student members, her favourite WLA events so far and her interest in studying law.

What motivated you to study law?

I was about seven years old when I decided that I wanted to become a lawyer. Of course, when I was seven years old, I did not know what a lawyer was! But that did not stop me from telling everyone that, that was exactly what I would do. Several years later, here I am about to complete my legal studies and hopefully, enter the legal profession.

What cemented my desire to study law, and of course, has motivated me to continue with this degree, is my passion for social justice and access to justice. I also realise that things such as your skin colour, your English ability, your accent, and your socioeconomic status can affect whether or not you are able to access justice and the quality of legal representation and advice that you receive. I want to be in a position to change that. And finally, I just want to see more people who look like me in the legal profession here in Australia!

When did you join WLA ACT and why did you decide to join?

I signed up to be a student member of WLA in early 2018. I signed up because membership is free for students! I thought that this would be an excellent way for me to build my professional networks, make friends and get advice from women who are already working in the legal industry. I do want to become a lawyer, and as someone who did not know any lawyers before commencing law school, being able to forge and maintain these connections is so important to me.

What has been your favourite WLA ACT event that you have attended so far and why?

I have two favourite WLA events that I have attended so far. The first is More Than One Barrier: Your Role in Promoting Gender and Cultural Diversity in The Law Panel Discussion. And my second is the 2019 Law Week Dinner. Both of these events focused on diversity in the law, and as a woman who comes from a culturally and linguistically diverse background, they really resonated with me. I could relate to many of the struggles highlighted by the speakers and I enjoyed having conversations with these various women afterwards.

Who do you look up to and why? 

I look up to my mother. She is an incredibly tenacious woman and inspires me to do and be better each and every day.

Larissa Toozoff - Senior Associate at Ashurst


Larissa primarily advises on procurement and commercial contracting, focusing on construction and infrastructure projects. She also advises on general commercial law, acts as probity adviser on major commercial projects, and advises on funding grants and statutory interpretation. We spoke with Larissa to get her thoughts on a wide range of issues of relevance to our members.

Ashurst has recently been awarded the Workplace Gender Equality Agency’s Employer Choice for Gender Equality. How have you been supported in the workplace as a woman lawyer?

Ashurst has a strong track record as an Employer of Choice for Workplace Gender Equality (this is our 16th year of being recognised) and has demonstrated a meaningful commitment to gender parity. One thing Ashurst is focusing heavily on is increasing the percentage of women in leadership positions and it's showing results. For example, 52% of this year's partner promotions were female and the firm is also focusing on translating those figures into female representation in equity partner levels and into senior management. I've been given very direct, meaningful support and assistance to assess and look forward to promotion and leadership opportunities within the firm. There has also been a great track record of strong female mentorship, which I've found extremely helpful in re-evaluating how I view my own place and contribution in the workplace. I think, as females, we have a tendency to underrate our own skills and getting over that and pushing ourselves forward, in spite of the imposter syndrome shadow, is so important.

What motivates you to go to work every day?

I love my clients and am fortunate to work on really interesting matters but, ultimately, it's because I adore my colleagues. I work as part of a collegiate and well bonded group and, on those days when you might otherwise struggle for motivation, the desire to support and not let those around you down you really pushes you forward. There have been offers throughout my career, but the quality of the teams I get to work with is the key reason why I stay.

What do you love most about being a Senior Associate?

As a relatively senior Senior Associate, I really enjoy the autonomy I have to work with my clients the way I consider best and with my own, individual style and to manage my matters with them. There is always an extremely strong level of support and guidance when it is required, and of course work is reviewed and cleared, but being given the freedom to flex your muscles is very enjoyable. It exhibits a level of trust that has been earned over time and that I don't take for granted.

How do you strike a balance between professional and personal work commitments? Do you believe that women lawyers can 'have it all'?

I actually don't believe that women (or men, for that matter) can "have it all" and I think that's one of the biggest and most problematic myths that has been peddled to women, in particular. Many women I know who work in senior or leadership positions seem to be able to balance everything best when they have meaningful support from their partners and families. This includes where a partner takes a step back from their own career and either takes on a primary care role with the kids or picks up the domestic slack. I think it's dangerous to tell women that they can have gangbuster careers, be everything to their kids at all times, train their dogs, help out their ageing parents and still have time for nights with their friends. In sending that message, we are setting ourselves up for failure, or feeling that we're never doing anything well enough. However, I'm delighted to see that, increasingly, couples seem to be sharing roles in less traditional ways to facilitate their individual aspirations at various times. For my part, I don't have kids and I know that takes a huge amount of pressure off me in relation to how I choose to allocate my time.

What's your favourite binge-worthy TV show / podcast at the moment?

Unfortunately, I'm a bit of a reality TV tragic and am very much enjoying the current series of Masterchef. I'll get to the Game of Thrones finale eventually (no spoilers!). I also love podcasts in the car and can't go past a good true crime series. I've recently listened to "Who the Hell is Hamish" and "Dirty John" and, like the rest of Australia, am waiting to see the outcome of the Chris Dawson prosecution in the wake of "Teacher's Pet". I've also been a listener to "This American Life" and the ABC's "Conversations" for a long while now.

What has been the most memorable feedback you have received from a client?

When clients give you feedback that you have heard their needs and delivered commercially pragmatic solutions, that is the best feedback of all. We are all expected to get the law right, but when you know that the advice you give is helpful in a very real way and reflects the commercial pressures and realities being faced by your clients, then you know you're doing something right.

Tanya Herbertson - Special Counsel at Snedden Hall & Gallop


We caught up with Tanya Herbertson, Special Counsel at Snedden Hall & Gallop Lawyers as part of our #WomenLawyersoftheACT series, to chat about finding joy in practice and finding a work-life balance.

Where do you currently work and what is your position?

I am Special Counsel at Snedden Hall & Gallop Lawyers. I specialise in Personal Injury and Wills & Estates.

What made you go into Personal Injury and Wills & Estates as your primary practice areas?

Before becoming a practitioner I worked at NRMA. Through this position, I had a relationship with Richard Faulks, who was often on the other side of matters. Richard lured me across to the plaintiff side and when Snedden Hall & Gallop Lawyers merged with Stacks I took on that client base as my primary Personal injury clients. I wanted some different experience and exposure and moved into the Wills & Estates practice area. It is a nice balance between Personal Injury and Wills & Estates as I find that they are both quite different but still client focused. The wills work is often quite transactional, whereas I have a long term relationship with a lot of my personal injury clients and it is quite a privileged relationship where I get to know them and their circumstances really well. It’s a privilege to build the trust and relationships with these clients.

What aspect of your work do you find to be most enjoyable?

The work is all about the clients and about problem solving. For me, I would not enjoy working in an area, say, reviewing contracts. Some clients or situations can be really difficult at the outset of the matter but that to me can be the most enjoyable work. I enjoy being able to take a difficult and challenging situation and find a resolution and have a satisfied client by the end of the matter.

Having said that, it can be quite stressful.

What are some techniques you use to deal with that stress, to “switch off” and to relax?

Keeping work and home separate. Being healthy also helps me manage stress. The big ones for me are reformer pilates and boxing. I attend 5 – 6 classes per week at Lucas Studio. It’s a must for me and I just make this time happen no matter what is going on with work and/or family. For me, the time I spend at the gym is my me time.

Angela Li - Alliance Family Law


We caught up with Angela Li, Solicitor with Alliance Family Law as part of our #WomenLawyersoftheACT series, to chat about the need for perspective and networking outside your practice area. 


You’re a solicitor with Alliance Family Law, how long have you been there?

Ever since I started practice, about four years ago. When I started with Cristina Huesch she had started Alliance the year before in her lounge! Then about two months before I started with her she got the formal office in Deakin next to Relationships Australia. We’ve slowly grown over the years and we now have four lawyers including myself.

Have you always wanted to practice in family law?

I was working as an admin support person at Phelps Reid when I was at university. I was exposed to family law through Margaret Reid, Brooke Johnson and Annie Visser. When I graduated, family law was all I had really known and I sort of fell into it.

 If you could give one piece of advice to your first-year professional self, what would it be?

That’s always really hard. I feel like what I would say to my first year self now being four years out would be different to what the future me would say to my first year self also. The main thing would be not to get too bogged down with a bad day at work, and to appreciate professional constructive criticism and not take it negatively or personally. As law students, we are always use to getting Distinctions and High Distinctions so I think there is that inherent pressure and expectation, but when you get into practice your “cohort” is different, and you should give yourself time to build that up in practice. It’s about finding the right balance and appreciating that you are still learning and that it is okay to make mistakes.

Who is a professional that you look up to and why?

Cristina, because she has been my main mentor for the past four years. I have learnt a lot from her not just how to be a good lawyer, how to deal with clients, but also the broader context like how she is as a boss, how she runs her firm, how she treats her staff. There are a lot of traits I’d like to inherit from her if one day I end up running my own firm.  Cristina is really good with making sure that each employee has the space and opportunity to do what is important to them, outside of work. For example, travelling is something that is very important to me, and she gives me time off to do that, so I can come back and work well.

Do you think flexible working arrangements, whether you want to have children, or be a carer, or travel, are important in the law?

Definitely, I think that is where we are headed. As an employee, I think what is important to my employer is that I am able to be my best at work. I can only do that if I have the time to do other stuff that’s important to me outside of work. I think self-care is very important – everyone needs time to recharge, and everyone has different ways of doing that.

You are an active member on the WLA ACT Events Subcommittee, what interested you in joining WLA ACT?

When I was admitted to practice, Cristina was involved with WLA ACT at the time and suggested that I attend a meeting and see what WLA ACT do. I turned up to the AGM and joined the Events Subcommittee.

I still remember back then WLA ACT had a smaller membership base. We typically would get around 15-20 people to a mentor breakfast (one of the first events I assisted with). Now, we have 60-70 people turn up to our mentor breakfasts. The recent Judicial Mentoring Lunch sold out in 45 minutes, which I think is our quickest record so far. WLA ACT is a great way to meet other lawyers, especially as a young lawyer, if you’re not from Canberra and if you work exclusively in one area of law.

Katherine Yang - King & Wood Malleson


WLA ACT recently caught up for a coffee with Katherine Yang, Solicitor at King & Wood Mallesons as part of our #WomenLawyersoftheACT series to chat about how her early work in the public sector has placed her in good stead to excel in the private.


Where do you currently work and what is your position

I work as a solicitor with the Corporate Mergers & Acquisitions team specialising in advising clients on Australia’s foreign investment regime.

 What do you find most enjoyable about what you do?

Unlike other areas of M&A, where you are only doing due diligence on a very small part of a bigger matter, I am in a niche little team which allows me to build close connections directly with the clients. While initially it was scary being called by clients asking specifically for me, I find I’m now able to give advice off the cuff!  Another benefit of my area is that it only has one piece of legislation, allowing me to master a specific area of law rather than knowing a small amount of several areas.

My day is varied, often with me working in and out of 5 – 6 different matters. It is also an area that is much more involved in the political side of the law, with legislation that is constantly shifting to match what is going on in the world. But the best part of my role is not only about making the deal work for my clients, but about making sure the policy implications work for all the stakeholders involved.

Coming from a public sector background, I can walk my clients through the process having that understanding that it can take a bit of time for bureaucracy to get things sorted. I think having that public service experience is hugely beneficial. 

 How long have you been a WLA ACT member, and what interested you in joining?

I have been a member of WLA ACT for about 2 years. I was encouraged to join through Georgina McKay (WLA ACT Vice President), who was telling me about this organisation that she was helping to build that encouraged female lawyers. Georgina was advocating WLA ACT when it was initially really small, and I’m amazed at how it has grown.

When you go to the events and you meet the women there, they are these women who do so much and are interested in helping others progress.  The last WLA ACT event I attended was the 2018 Pay & Conditions Survey release. I think the survey and its work is really important as it is difficult, particularly in the private sector, to know what others are getting paid and to have discussions about what is the market standard.  Reflecting on the survey results, I think there is definitely room for movement, especially for young female lawyers.

 If you could give one piece of advice to your first-year professional self, what would it be?

To be less concerned and worried about making mistakes. To know that every job you get, even if you don’t 100% love it, is teaching you something and giving you an opportunity to learn.  I felt the first job I had, had to fulfil me and put me on the right path. But now I know and can be confident that whatever you’re doing, is getting you to that path and getting you to where you want to be.

 Who is a professional that you look up to and why?

My female colleagues, and especially colleagues that are on at my level professionally. I find them inspiring that they get out there and are asking for more pay, asking for better conditions and pressing through invisible barriers to excel.

Dr Suzanne Akila - Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

Suzanne Akila.jpg

As part of the #WomenLawyersoftheACT series, WLA ACT had the privilege of speaking with Dr Suzanne Akila, Assistant Director in the Sea Law and Antarctica Section at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, about opportunities and the law.


You’ve had an amazing professional journey: from your role as a prosecutor for the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (WA), to your work abroad for Amnesty International with the International Justice Team, to your current role as Assistant Director in the Sea Law and Antarctica Section of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Did you always envision your career progressing in such a manner?

I was a busy little beaver in high school and university – I knew I wanted to be an ‘international lawyer’ and that I wanted to study further, but not more than that. I threw myself at opportunities to intern and volunteer during my law degree. My vision over time became clearer and I became a prosecutor as a foundation for work in international criminal law. Since then, I have tried to understand work as a process and progress in itself, rather than the achievement of a vision. This attitude has allowed me to take things up as they come and to make the most of each opportunity. I have to say, all the work I have done has been a privilege – it’s been dynamic, challenging and rewarding.


In 2012 you received the Sir Roland Wilson Scholarship, which provides full pay scholarships for EL1 and EL2 Australian Public Service employees to complete a PhD research program at the Australian National University. Can you tell us a little bit about this opportunity, and where it ended up taking you?

I was awarded the scholarship in the inaugural year of the programme and it has been one of the most transformative things I have done. My PhD examined the way in which States, with the support of non-State actors, protect their citizens abroad. I compared the approach of three States: Australia, Germany and Mexico. My scholarship enabled me to spend some extended time in Mexico and Germany, including as a visitor at the Max Planck Institute of International Law. I interviewed a range of people in those places, as well as Belgium, the Netherlands, the USA and the UK. In addition to the physical destinations, my PhD also took me to an important intellectual place where I was able to explore the way in which legal principles manifest themselves in the real world. I also was the beneficiary of supervision from Professor Hilary Charlesworth – an experience of immeasurable value.


At WLA ACT, we believe in affording as many women in the law as possible the opportunity to excel. One way we do this is by partnering with the Women in Law Organisation mentor program, which pairs professional women in the legal sector with women law students. Could you tell us about a mentor you have had over the years who has empowered you?

I am lucky to have had many wonderful colleagues and mentors who have guided me. My PhD supervisor, Professor Hilary Charlesworth, or another academic supervisor from UCL, Elizabeth Wilmshurst. Professor Michael Wesley, a board member of the Sir Roland Wilson Foundation has always encouraged me to think dynamically about my career, and Bill Campbell, my former supervisor at the Office of International Law empowered and supported me at work and during my PhD programme. One mentor in particular, Stacey Nation, brought me into the International Law Section at DFAT in 2015. She is a smart, supportive leader who lifts her team up. She put me forward for a range of interesting and challenging work and equipped me with the skills to perform at a high level. She models the humour, humility and honesty you need in a mentor, and embodies the intellect and quick-wit of a diplomat and lawyer. She always has time to talk and never ceases to give thoughtful and sound advice.

 As someone who has worked across the public sector and studied extensively, what else do you think our employers and universities could do to ensure more women stay in and progress in the law over the long term? 

It seems that many work places are moving towards flexible work arrangements that enable everyone, not just women, to engage in work in a more dynamic way. One thing that may contribute to retaining more women in the law is for employers to enable men to take responsibility for parental/caring duties, for workplaces to support flexible work and to create a culture where this is the norm. Employers also need to be conscious in their hiring practices and to make adjustments to ensure that women and people from CALD backgrounds are appropriately represented – not simply in an ‘organic way’, but in an active manner that results in diversity and acknowledges talent in those who may not be the obvious choice.


Nigel Oram - Key Chambers


Apologies for the confusing hashtag. We recently sat down with Mr Nigel Oram, Barrister of Key Chambers (previously, Principal Solicitor of ACT Government Solicitor) as part of the #WomenLawyersoftheACT series to chat about his views on parenthood and gender equality.

You are a father to two children. How long were you on leave from work following the birth of your two daughters?

I took 23 weeks off after the birth of each of my two daughters; 4 weeks off initially, and then a further period when I became the primary carer when the girls were 5 months old.

What were some of the obstacles you faced in securing paternity leave and flexible working arrangements?  

One of the attractions of working for the ACT Government Solicitor was having access to paid parental leave, and flexible working arrangements.  

I was a bit concerned, however, about how my leave application would be received, given that it is reasonably unusual for the father to take primary carer leave. While a little surprised, much to their credit, the ACT Government Solicitor supported me taking leave.  I have heard stories from fathers in the legal profession who have had very different experiences taking relatively short periods of leave after the birth of their children (1 to 2 weeks).

My workplace was also supportive of me returning to work on a part-time basis. Like all working professionals, I have struggled with workloads and have ended up working considerably more than a full-time load within part-time hours. Again, however, much to the credit of the ACT Government Solicitor, I was able to work full-time flexibly, over nights and weekends. This is an arrangement that has suited both me and my workplace. 

Have you always felt strongly about taking time out of work to care for your children?  What factors influenced your decision? 

I had and do have strong feelings about taking time out of work to care for my children in the first year of their lives. 

I always wanted children. The most contented moments of my life have been spending days with my children and, before that, my nieces. 

I want to be a significant part of my children’s lives and a truly equal parent. I think it is very difficult to be an equal parent unless you have had the opportunity to be the primary caregiver, as the other partner will define routines and rituals, and children will naturally look to that person for affection and support. However, while it is something I always wanted to do, as a career-focused person I found the idea terrifying. 

Having children does have a significant impact on your career. After an extended period of leave, office dynamics change, and those people who once depended on you may no longer do so. Further, when you do return, your attention is divided between home and work. Employers are aware of this. I know of women who have been asked in job interviews when they expect to start a family. As a man, it is inconceivable that I would be asked the same question. Even where the discrimination is not so overt, it will be a question in the back of many employers' minds.

I think it is important to acknowledge the career impact, as this is the almost invariable consequence for women who choose to start a family.  My wife is in many ways more accomplished and successful than me. It should not be presumed that she will compromise her career to give our children a solid and supportive home-life. I do not think that there can be gender equality until both parents are expected, or even required, to take equal time off after the birth of their children.

Have you come across individuals who have been taken aback by your choice in taking time out of employment OR curious in how you and your partner juggle your work and caring responsibilities? What are some of the common questions asked? 

Generally, people are very supportive. For example, I was surprised and appreciative that my parents group accepted me as an equal member – given that these groups provide significant support for women who are experiencing a whole range of issues in early motherhood.

I have to say that the only people who have been horrified that my wife and I split the primary caregiver role were mothers who would not have wanted to give up that early period in their babies’ lives. I do understand these feelings. It is a very special time and you do create a strong bond with your baby in these early days. I am ashamed to say that it filled me with warmth to have my children run past their mother to me when they needed affection and support. I am very appreciative that my wife was willing to split this time with me.  I do think, however, that until our parental leave provisions are generous enough to support both parents taking extended leave, achieving gender equality requires sacrifices on both sides. Ultimately, however, it is a decision for all couples based on both personal and practical factors. 

Do you think that in today’s society, there is still a preoccupation with masculinity and caregiving?  

I have to say that in my group of friends and acquaintances, men generally want to be seen as active and loving fathers. 

Despite this desire, I think that it is still so ingrained that children are the primary responsibility of mothers; a good and active father ‘helps out’ the mother. I think that part of this is due to fathers not having the earlier caregiver role, as the mother becomes the expert in how to look after the child and the father is waiting to be told, asking for advice, or even seeking permission as to how to look after their children. One thing my wife and I have discussed is that, as parents, it is important that each of us is entitled to parent even if we get things wrongs or do things is a sub-optimal way.  

In your opinion, how can we disrupt gender norms around caregiving more generally?  

There are still many areas of life where discrimination is the norm. It is so engrained that, even when trying, you still assume that certain things are or will be. 

For example, I had a strong view that when we got married, my wife and I should have the same name - as we were starting our own family. I was named after my grandfather and his great uncle. Both these men had achieved significant things, and my name gave me a strong sense of identify that supported me through my earlier life and through difficult times. My wife also had a strong affinity to her family name. I was working on encouraging my wife to take my name, when I had a conversation with a friend who is a very successful female scientist. She asked me why it had to be my wife that gave up her name. It is an obvious question with an obvious answer, however, it illustrates how ingrained gender inequality is even among the well-intentioned. Our family is now proud to take on my wife's family name. 

I think it is important that we have the opportunity to be equal parents from the beginning of our children’s lives.  This is an important step to addressing just one of many gender presumptions. 

Georgina McKay - Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade


WLA ACT recently sat down with Georgina McKay, Legal Officer at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade as part of the #WomenLawyersoftheACT series.

Where do you currently work and what is your position? What do you find most enjoyable about what you do?

I currently work at DFAT and have just moved to the Transnational Crime Section of the Legal Division. I love the international aspect to my work and the wide variety of work we get in the Legal Division. As a general rule though I find the people you work with to be the most important factor in job satisfaction. So, I’m fortunate to have a great Director, and work with smart, engaged and collegial lawyers in my team and in the broader branch and division.

What are some of the challenges you have faced since becoming a lawyer?

There are all the general challenges that go with starting new jobs and learning what it is to be a lawyer. I’ve worked at two different departments and have been lucky to work in different teams in each. This has been great experience as a junior lawyer but leads to its own challenges – not least of which is getting across a new area of law quickly, just as you feel like you were finding your feet in the last team!

Do you think your experiences have stood you in good stead for your career in law? How so?

All of the work experiences I had throughout my undergraduate Arts degree and JD, whether part time jobs, internships, volunteering or committees, definitely stood me in good stead when I started my career. They all allowed for the practical application of different skills that you develop at school and university, and meant that I got a much better understanding of how different workplaces worked. Working in lots of different places and with different people also meant I got a better sense of what I wanted to do when I left university. And apart from anything else, it was all useful for job applications and interviews!

You've accomplished a lot prior to completing your jurisdoctor in 2013! In hindsight what was your biggest accomplishment?

Prior to starting my JD the accomplishment I’m most proud of is my work with Oaktree, a youth run aid and development organisation. I volunteered there for a couple of years in one of their university volunteering programs and then as National Director of Administration, which sounds boring! But it meant I got to run two big conferences for all of the Oaktree volunteers. At that time, the successful execution of the conferences were probably my biggest professional achievements. It was a lot of hard work planning the conferences alongside work and study commitments, but they were incredibly fun and satisfying. While at Oaktree I learnt a lot about how to run big projects and events, how to work well with others, and the importance of volunteering and giving time and money to important causes.

You’ve been a member of WLA for four and a half years, can you tell us a bit about how you became Vice President of WLA?

I joined WLA when I first moved to Canberra. I became a committee member about 6 months later and took up the Membership Officer role. For a lot people, WLA provides a great networking opportunity. Whilst I like the networking aspect of the WLA, one of the main reasons I became a member and a committee member is that I enjoy contributing to the community and feeling a sense of community. I took on the role as Vice President because I really like what WLA stands for and what it offers to female lawyers in Canberra, and I can see how much more great work can be done. I find being on the committee very energising. Ultimately, the best thing for me is being able to hang out with a bunch of awesome women who are all so committed to women and the law.

What's on the horizon for you?

When I was studying, including when I did my law degree, I didn’t think I’d want to practise as a lawyer, but here we are four and half years later! I would like to practise for a few more years and get more international law experience, and then work overseas in some capacity.

Angie Freeman - Clayton Utz

Angie Freeman - Clayton Utz.jpg

WLA ACT recently sat down with Angie Freeman, Partner of Clayton Utz Canberra as part of the #WomenLawyersoftheACT series to pick her brain about her career.

You have recently been made a partner at Clayton Utz, what has been the biggest change in being a partner as opposed to being a special counsel?

The biggest change for me has been probably been the daily focus shifting from 'doing the work', to taking on that leadership/managerial and supervisory role in our team and being actively involved in what’s going on more broadly in the firm, which I have really enjoyed.

You have two small children, a two year old and a four year old, how do you manage being a partner at a top tier law firm with that responsibility?

I manage it by having a good support network in place. I have a very supportive husband who, between us, takes the primary carer role. We also have childcare arrangements in place which the kids really enjoy going to and works well for us. It is also having a really good support network internally, within the firm and within my team. My colleagues help support me in being able to work flexibly when I need to and greatly assist in ensuring that I can appropriately balance my personal responsibilities as well as the needs of our clients and the team.

What has been the biggest challenge in your career? 

The most challenging time in my career so far was the first three months after I returned from maternity leave after having my first child.  It was really challenging for a wide range of reasons.  I had to transition to a different way of working and it takes time to find the way that works best for you in balancing your career and family.   The other challenge that I have found is that on occasions the generalisation is still made that as I am the female, the primary carer role must sit with me. You need to look at each person's situation as a family unit. Everyone has different circumstances and everyone has different arrangements that work for that family unit. I think that’s how we all need to look at it.

What has been the biggest highlight of your career?

Joining Clayton Utz as a partner in their Canberra office. It is a great privilege to be in that position.

Do you have any advice for women aiming for partner?

Whether you are aiming for partner or aiming for something else in your career, I think you should always communicate what it is that you want to do and what your goals are. Inevitably you hear experiences of other women that are not so positive, where they have found progressing their careers really challenging for whatever reason. Yes, those stories are relevant and that’s what we really want to fix for the future, but you shouldn't let that have too much influence over what your particular path is because it doesn’t have to be your story. I think it is really important to stay positive about what it is that you want to achieve, whether that’s to become a partner or take another step in your career.  Drive your own path and find those great sponsors and mentors, within and outside of your own workplace, that can help you achieve your goals.

We had a mentor breakfast recently with Associate Justice McWilliam of the ACT Supreme Court and she was saying there is no perfect mentor, but a number of them, has that been your experience?

I have been very fortunate in that I have an incredible mentor, Debra Tippett, a fellow partner at Clayton Utz, who has been my mentor at all stages of my career (and just quietly, I think she ticks all the boxes)!  But I do agree that it is important to look for mentors in all areas of your life. There are valuable things that you can learn from different people, be it a client, a friend, a family member. I think it's important to keep your mind open to getting those great snippets of advice.

Jennifer Jaeschke - Meyer Vandenberg

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WLA ACT recently caught up with member Jennifer Jaeschke from Meyer Vandenberg to learn more about her commercial leasing practice and her career in general. 

How many years post admission are you? - Eight years

You are a commercial leasing lawyer. Have you always practiced in this area? - I started off in more of a general property role and doing some wills and estates. As I got different jobs along the way I started to specialise more in leasing.

What do you enjoy about commercial leasing? - I enjoy that it is both property law and contract law based. Its transactional, so generally the parties are working together to get a deal done. I enjoy working with clients to get the deal done and to solve any problems along the way.

So you enjoy that it’s not acrimonious? -  Correct. I have respect for litigators, because I could not be a litigator.

Do you have any advice for junior lawyers?  - I think my advice would be to take opportunities as they come along. I certainly didn’t think that I would end up being a leasing lawyer when I was at uni. When I was at uni I thought I was going to be a criminal lawyer. I enjoy what I do now, and I am glad that I have taken the path that I have. Really, that has been because I took the job opportunities that came up and learnt along the way. I think it is good to remember that you will continue to learn throughout your career. When you are a junior lawyer you generally feel like you will never know everything. Remember, that you will never know everything and you need to continue to learn. Try different areas of law and different things when you are starting in your career. You will have time to specialise later.

You are a mentor with the Women in Law Organisation at ANU. What do you enjoy about being a mentor for WILO? - I think I have enjoyed being able to calm some of the anxiousness about the unknown. I definitely remember feeling that anxiousness, particularly in my later years at uni. I remember worrying about what lies ahead, what does it look like, what do I need to be doing now? I enjoy telling them my story. I didn’t get a clerkship and I didn’t get a grad position, but I am still a lawyer. I have told my mentees that there are other avenues and encouraged them to take a bit of pressure off themselves. Sometimes it is not possible to balance having a job, be getting HDs, be engaged in a social committee at uni to show that you are awesome and also keep friends and family. Sometime you have to say no to some things.

WLA ACT’s Pay & Conditions Survey revealed that 25% of lawyers in the ACT have been bullied or harassed at work. Have you ever witnessed bullying or harassment at work?  - Not while I have been working in Canberra. In Sydney I have worked in a firm where I have seen bullying happen. I was not the victim, which I am very grateful for. However, I did see a culture where bullying was not dealt with and was sometimes excused. I have definitely worked in firms where there has been a boys club. While there hasn’t been overt sexual behaviour, there has definitely been an “us” and “them” mentality and times when I felt uncomfortable with the conversations. Those were the firms that I identified early on that I would not stay for the long term due to the culture. I have had a solicitor on the other side of a transaction tell me not to get my tits in a tangle.

What has been one of the biggest challenges in your career? Learning how to deal with mistakes. That is always a challenge. Part of that, but different, is having a mentor or a boss who you can go to with that mistake to talk about it and work out how to deal with it. I think it has the potential to really affect whether you want to continue being a lawyer. Everyone makes mistakes. It sucks, but you have to learn how to overcome that.

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Elaine Li - Robinson + McGuinness Family Law

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Elaine joined Robinson + McGuinness Family Law in 2017 currently practises in family law.

Robinson + McGuinness Family Law are a WLA ACT Corporate Member.

Why did you join WLA?

I joined WLA to become part of a community of women lawyers who regularly meet to exchange ideas and network together. Through WLA, I have met women lawyers from diverse legal, organisational and cultural backgrounds. I have also had the opportunity to attend the WLA hosted social events and seminars that offer a unique perspective on gender issues.

What WLA event have you enjoyed attending this year and why?

I particularly enjoyed the Annual Law Week Dinner this year, with the formidable Clementine Ford as guest speaker. The dinner was held at the Deck at Regatta Point and the atmosphere felt very intimate even though there were a high turnout of attendees.

Who is a professional that you look up to you and why? 

I am very grateful for the strong, intelligent and compassionate women who have been my mentors since early on in my career. I look up to all of them as they have lead by example and set a high standard of professionalism and personal integrity. Over the years, these women have offered me guidance and advice, and encouraged me to apply for new positions and negotiate working conditions.

If you could give one piece of advice to your first-year professional self, what would it be?

Embrace every challenge as a learning opportunity and practise in as many areas of law as you can. Within my first year, I was able to practise in civil law, family law, domestic violence litigation, and even did a couple of bail hearings on Saturdays just for the fun of it. It can be a rewarding experience exploring different areas of law and gaining a better understanding of your strengths and interests.

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Emily Bowler - Baker Deane & Nutt Lawyers

Emily joined Baker Deane & Nutt in 2015 and currently practises in Personal Injury Litigation.

Emily was profiled for our November 2017 Newsletter. Baker Deane & Nutt Lawyers are a WLA ACT Corporate Member.


Why did you join WLA?

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Following my admission in 2015 I joined the ACT Young Lawyers Committee to meet other young lawyers and to become more involved in the ACT legal community. It was through my involvement on the Young Lawyers Committee that I discovered WLA and thought that this would be a wonderful opportunity to meet other lawyers at various stages of their careers. At the time I did not know many other lawyers beyond those I worked with and so joining the WLA allowed me to depart from my comfort zone and start meeting some new people. I began attending some WLA events and before I knew it had started to develop a wider network of friends and colleagues in a range of different areas of law.

What WLA event have you enjoyed attending this year and why?

I have thoroughly enjoyed all of the WLA events that I have attended and am always impressed with how the WLA is regularly updating their events to suit the needs of its members. A perfect example of a new event that met my needs was the “Come to the Bar” Information Evening held at Blackburn Chambers in June 2017.

My long-term career goal is to go to the Bar, but with this goal comes many
questions about the pathway to the Bar and what life is actually like as a Barrister. When the above event was advertised I jumped at the opportunity – as did many others! The evening provided all attendees with the opportunity to ask a panel of current practising barristers about their individual journey to the Bar in a relaxed setting. It was an incredibly valuable and empowering experience which left many attendees motivated to join the Bar. I am hopeful that over the next few years this will lead to an increase in the number of female Barristers within the ACT.

Who is a professional that inspires you and why? 

Following my attendance at the Come to the Bar Information Evening, I left feeling a deep sense of admiration for the female barristers currently practising in the ACT. After hearing their stories of how they juggled their many commitments to get to where they are now, I truly admire their hard work and determination. In addition to coming to terms with their new lives at the Bar, many of these women have taken the time out of their busy schedules to speak at Young Lawyer events with a view to imparting their experiences and in turn educating young lawyers. I have really appreciated how they have discussed their experiences in such an open and relatable manner and look forward to following their journey in the future.

If you could give one piece of advice to your first-year professional self, what would it be?

My advice would be to get a mentor and also to become a mentor yourself. As a young lawyer it is extremely valuable to have the opportunity to meet with a more senior practitioner and to ask questions regarding career progression, different working environments and life as a lawyer in a confidential setting. Conversely, it is equally valuable for law students to have the opportunity to ask a young lawyer about their experience obtaining their first job and how they navigated their way through the final stages of law school.

In my experience, being both a mentee and a mentor has made me a better mentee as I am more aware of the time volunteered by mentors to be involved in the program and also what does and does not work within a mentoring relationship. I would recommend that first- year lawyers become involved in the ACT Law Society Mentoring Program as well as the ANU Women In Law Organisation (“WILO”) mentoring program supported by the WLA. Both are incredibly worthwhile participating in and have greatly assisted me in getting a better understanding of different legal careers available.

Nisha Selvaraj - Senior Legal Officer, Indigenous Affairs Legal, Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet

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Artwork by Doreen Djorlom from the Oenpelli area in West Arnhem Land, NT

Nisha was profiled for our July 2017 newsletter. The Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet is a WLA ACT Corporate Member

Why did you join WLA?

I joined the WLA because I wanted to support the work of the WLA in advocating and promoting the interests of women lawyers in the ACT. I know the WLA has already made significant headway in drawing attention to issues such as pay conditions of junior lawyers and diversity in judicial and tribunal appointments in the ACT. Being part of the WLA means that I can contribute to future work of the WLA in this space. It also provides some great development opportunities for lawyers in the ACT, as well as the chance to hear and learn from the experiences of other women lawyers.

What WLA event or initiative are you looking forward to, and why? 

I am looking forward to the Mentor Breakfast with Jennifer Wyborn on September – I think it will be a great way to start the day! As a government lawyer, I am particularly interested to hear about Jennifer’s experience working in government versus her current role in private practice.

Who is a professional that inspires you and why? 

I would have to say I have learned a great deal from many of my colleagues in the public service. In both my current role as a government lawyer, and in my previous job as a legal policy officer, I have been lucky enough to work with women and men who have shown great leadership and strength in both their professional and personal pursuits.

I am still in the relatively early stages of my career, and it has been quite inspiring to see how other legal professionals – in various stages of their careers - have dealt with the challenges of balancing their professional roles with their personal roles as carers, partners, friends and mentors. In particular, I’ve admired their courage to take time ‘out’ of their careers, whether it has been because of family responsibilities, to pursue further study, to travel or even to make a complete career change.

Quite a few of my colleagues have now become a great source of guidance, support and friendship to me in my own career.

If you could give one piece of advice to your first-year professional self, what would it be?

I think the best piece of advice I could give myself, and it’s a piece of advice I have given to friends and colleagues alike, is to back yourself.

When I began my first job as a graduate lawyer, I was constantly underselling my abilities, even when I received positive feedback from others. But eventually I learned that people don’t give positive feedback just to be nice; they give it to you so you can keep harnessing and developing your strengths. The confidence that others had in me has helped me to build up my own confidence in myself.

Dr Loretta Zamprogno - Deputy Chief Solicitor, ACT Government Solicitor

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Dr Zamprogno was profiled for our September 2016 newsletter.

Why did you join WLA?

I used to attend ACT Law Society Law Council meetings on behalf of the (then) Australian Corporate Lawyers Association, and I was always impressed by the reports given by WLA representatives, including Nithya Sambasivam when she was WLA President. Nithya is now a lawyer in my office, the ACT Government Solicitor, as is Tamara Sullivan, WLA ACT VicePresident. A couple of years ago WLA had a membership drive and at that time Tamara was WLA’s Treasurer. It was clear that it was time to support such a wonderful organisation.

What WLA event are you looking forward to, and why? Or alternatively, what WLA event have you enjoyed attending this year and why?

It’s hard to choose, but at the moment I would say I’m so pleased to see WLA ACT’s support of the Women in Law Organisation program. I really hope that many WLA members will offer themselves to mentor women law students of the ANU, and to share their experiences in the legal sector from across the public, private and tertiary education fields.

Who is a professional that inspires you and why?

Lynn Du Moulin, currently ANU Legal Workshop Senior Lecturer and Coordinator of the Master of Legal Practice completion courses, and for many years before that Special Counsel (e-Commerce) with the Health Insurance Commission until, through various machinery of government changes, she rose to Deputy General Counsel within the Department of Human Services.

Lynn has been an inspiration to me in several ways, including through her passion about inter-disciplinary approaches to legal practice, and in the post-graduate education and training she delivers. In the 25 years I’ve known her, I’ve always found Lynn deeply interested in a wide range of specialisations, with an ever enquiring mind, and well informed about how other fields can enhance the work that lawyers undertake.

Her training and mentoring law graduates and young lawyers is selfless and has been highly valued by a succession of lawyers and students. The generosity of Lynn’s time with colleagues shows a genuine care which we should value highly in whatever career or workplace we find ourselves.

If you could give one piece of advice to your first-year professional self, what would it be?

Definitely to join an organisation like WLA or the Young Lawyers Association. Having relocated across three jurisdictions over a number of years while I was studying law as an external student and working, I didn’t have a network of friends outside of my law firm when I came to Canberra in 1990. Joining an organisation whose members were in the same profession, and with whom I could have shared common experiences, would have given me an interest to balance the long hours of legal practice. That’s why I think WLA is such a vital organisation for the legal profession in the ACT.

Belinda Miller - Women's Legal Centre

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Belinda was profiled for our newsletter in June 2016.

Why did you join WLA ACT?

I joined the WLA because I wanted to get to meet more female professionals in my field. I think it is a great way to stay engaged with issues affecting us as women in the legal community, and also meet some great new people.

What WLA ACT event are you looking forward to, and why? 

I am most looking forward to the mentor breakfasts. As a young career professional, the opportunity to hear from local women with successful careers and meet other people in a similar position is really exciting. While there is a lot to be said for learning from inspiring leaders like Julia Gillard or Dr Fiona Wood, as someone at the beginning of their career, it is also extremely useful to hear from people in a similar position to where you are, with recent experience of the difficulties you face when starting out.

Who is a professional that inspires you and why?

My current boss is someone who really inspires me. She is extremely clever and efficient at her job, gets things done and isn't afraid to make difficult decisions. She works really hard and has been incredibly successful, but also really values work life balance and works part time (as does her husband) to care for her child. She has taught me that you don't have to sacrifice your personal life to be a successful professional, and to always be brave in completing your work.

If you could give one piece of advice to your first-year professional self, what would it be?

Having not been a 'professional' for too long, my advice would be to take every opportunity, don't take things too much to heart, never be afraid to ask people for advice, and trust that things will work out alright.

Eileen Webb - ACT Government Solicitor

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Eileen was profiled for our newsletter in March 2016.

Why did you join WLA?

I first joined the WLA because I liked the concept of women in the legal profession joining forces to offer support, exchange experiences and learned wisdoms, and share cake. The concept of high tea should not be underestimated. Seriously.

More recently I had the opportunity to join the Committee and I jumped on board for two reasons. Firstly - and I appreciate this may sound bonkers - in recent years I have taken to setting a theme for the year ahead, and the theme for 2016 is involvement. Jumping into situations, events, social situations and locations that I wouldn’t ordinarily. So far my theme has me signed up for guitar lessons despite my demonstrative lack of rhythm, taking a hot air balloon ride in blatant disregard of my lack of enthusiasm for heights, speed dating Europe (London, Bath, Paris and Sweden in 2 ½ weeks), aaaaaaand joining the WLA Committee.

Secondly, it has been slowly dawning on me that expecting equality isn’t enough; if you want something to happen you need to be a positive agent for change. So here I am.

What WLA event are you looking forward to, and why?

I’m looking forward to the book launch of Dr Skye Saunder’s book, Whispers from the Bush: The Workplace Sexual Harassment of Australian Rural Women. I think this book will offer a fascinating (and horrifying) insight into the conditions female employees in a rural setting have been subject to, and how our legal system has responded to either protect or hinder these women. Melinda Tankard Reist (Women & Girls Advocate) and Belinda Barnard (Deputy ACT Discrimination Commissioner) are the guest speakers for the launch; I’m pretty keen to hear what they have to say on the subject.

On a separate and shallow note, I’ve got high hopes that I can persuade Dr Saunders to sign my copy and then in 20 years’ time I can sell my autographed first edition for a bajillion dollars.

Who is a professional that inspires you and why?

That’s a tough one. I admire a lot of people for a lot of reasons. I think I’m going to have to identify a class of professionals rather than a specific person. I am in constant awe of working mothers. I’ll be honest, at least 50% of the time I find it a challenge to turn up to work in a dry cleaned suit and stockings without holes in them and then get home at a reasonable hour to feed my cat. My obligations end at that point. Working mothers NEVER STOP. The decisions never end. The obligations never end.

The requirement to be a functioning human being who can juggle work and parenting commitments is relentless. Every time one of the mothers in my office describes their day to me, my jaw figuratively drops. I think it takes bravery, persistence, resilience and fantastic time management skills to navigate through the day, and those are skills I admire greatly.

If you could give one piece of advice to your first-year professional self, what would it be?

Don’t be afraid to fail. Don’t be afraid to get it wrong. You are going to do both of those things anyway, so take the leap and soak up the lessons that come from stumbling. That’s a piece of advice I continue to give myself today! As you get further along in the legal profession you gather more knowledge and skills, but if you are doing it right, the learning never ends.

Julia Heinze - Infinity Legal

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Julia was profiled for our newsletter in October 2014.

Why did you join the Association?

I think that it is very important to surround yourself with other women in the same industry to build positive networks and support systems. I joined the association to be able to support other women and act on my belief that gender equality within the law is important for both men and women.

What WLA initiative or event are you looking forward to, and why? 

I am looking forward to the Survey Launch Event on 30 October 2014 which my firm Infinity Legal has been fortunate enough to sponsor. I believe that the annual Pay and Conditions Survey done by WLA ACT is a very important initiative to help young lawyers, both women and men recognise their value. I also encourage my staff to attend as many WLA ACT events as possible to be able to meet other likeminded people and form supportive networks throughout the wider legal community.

Who is a professional that you look up to/ inspires you and why? 

Whilst not a comment on her political views, for me Julia Gillard is an example of a female lawyer who achieved great success. Julia Gillard is an inspiring example of what intelligence, hard work and a passion for your chosen career can have. I think that all female lawyers can use our first female Prime Minister as a great example of a woman leading the way.

If you could give one piece of advice to your first-year professional self, what would it be?

“That it will get easier.” Entering the legal industry as a graduate is daunting and you become very aware of how much you didn’t learn at law school. However, as you gain experience everything becomes easier and you will feel comfortable. Law really is a rewarding career, despite the often long hours and hard work and I enjoy mentoring young lawyers throughout their first few years of practice.