EMMA HENDERSON & EMMA SHORT
Volume 1, Issue 7 (Originally Published on 16 April 2012)
De Minimis reporter Emma Henderson meets former Melbourne University law student Michael Gomm to find out about life at Allens. While Emma Shortt interviewed alumni Katia Sanderson.
Michael Gomm is a junior lawyer at Allens Arthur Robinson. He started his graduate year at Allens in 2009. While at the University of Melbourne, Michael studied a Bachelor of Arts/Law and took a half year break before his final year to travel. Michael graduated in the middle of 2008 and spent six months travelling and interning at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia before starting at Allens. He found the internship to be an “unbelievable experience” and maintains his interest in international law in his work at Allens.
Can you tell us about what you do at Allens?
“I began my rotation in commercial litigation, then moved to energy and resources for a year and have since settled in commercial litigation. I chose litigation as it was one of the hot spots in the firm and I enjoy being part of the international business obligation group as this has been an interest since uni.”
“Something good about my working life at Allens is that it’s quite varied. You never really know what’s going to come across your desk.”
Do you get opportunities to pursue your areas of interest or do you have to take what comes your way?
“There’s no simple answer. There are times where something needs to be done and you’re the person who has the ability or the time to do it so you have to. However, I’ve found people have been quite encouraging when you say ‘I’m really interested in this, I’d like to do more’. People are generally really receptive to that. People always enjoy having someone come up to them and saying ;I really like the sort of work that you’re doing can I help you with that’.”
What’s been a career highlight?
“I’m working on a matter at the moment that is progressing through the High Court and we had a hearing a couple of weeks ago. Getting to go up to Canberra and experience all of that was really exciting and an absolute highlight and it was a privilege to be a part of it.”
“There are career highlights that are more personal, really little things. Like being in a mediation and knowing where the right document is when people need it, a really insignificant thing but you feel like you played your part in the team. As a junior lawyer you are constantly feeling your way. You’re learning all the time and when you feel like your starting to get the hang of something that is a real sense of achievement.”
Why did you choose Allens?
“I chose Allens because I thought I would be challenged. I wanted to go to a firm where I would learn a lot and where I would feel a little out of my comfort zone, not in a social sense but in a professional sense. I got that feeling at Allen’s they expect a lot, they expect your best effort every time and its something I was drawn to. It was how I identified that I could become a better lawyer. That’s not to say there aren’t other ways you can do it. It is a certain type of practice at Allens you don’t get high volume, small matters ... it’s not a place where you are churning out files ... matters are quite big, massive really, you can get really absorbed into them. The example is the High Court one, this matter was going when I started as a grad in 2009 and it had been going long before I started and it’s still going now. That’s how I thought I wanted to learn.”
What are the challenging aspects of your job?
“ Definitely the unpredictability. As a junior lawyer, especially, you don’t see things coming. You plan ahead and then something comes across your desk and completely throws out your timing for everything you’ve been doing. It can be quite intense when you have multiple things needing to be done. But that’s when things get really interesting. That’s when the adrenaline starts flowing. It’s a double edged sword, you’re working longer hours, but from what I’ve found it kind of grabs you and you get really immersed in it.”
Who are the sort of people Allen’s want?
“They look for people who are diligent, interested, interesting. I’m always keen to find someone I’d like to work with. “
Any tips for the interview process?
“Be yourself. I always figured that if I was somebody that I wasn’t, if I was misleading about who I was, and they hired that person I’m going to have to be that person once I got the job. I always figured the people interviewing know about the firm in a way that I don’t, so if they don’t think I’m right for them then they’re probably right and it’s probably a good thing that I haven’t gone further.
There are different firms for different people.”
By Emma Henderson
Name: Katia Sanderson
“Firm”: Consumer Action Law Centre (CALC) Graduating
Year: 2010 Degree: JD
Prior to studying law Katia had worked as a social worker with Ardoch Youth Foundation, coordinating a project that supported schools in Melbourne’s West. The drive to study law came from a desire to induce “more systemic change”.
After completing her degree, Katia snagged a graduate position at Corrs Chambers Westgarth in the first round of applications immediately following the Global Financial Crisis (GFC).
The best things about working for a large firm include the “exposure to smart people who are exceptional at what they do” and the “tremendous amount of oversight, particularly in drafting correspondence and memoranda of advice”. Katia did three rotations at Corrs, spending five months in each of the firm's Litigation, Workplace Relations and Corporate Advisory practice groups, where she was exposed to commercial legal practices in an informative way.
Katia decided to direct her legal career back into the Community Legal sector after completing the graduate program at Corrs. It was a choice made in light of the original reason for pursuing a law degree, and the CALC role came along at the perfect time. The fit with CALC was also perfect, with CALC focusing on assisting and advocating for low income or otherwise vulnerable consumers. These objects, Katia says, was consistent with the “values I care about”.
The best things about working at a CLC for Katia are “the interplay of policy and casework”, which arises from the close interaction of the 7 solicitors and the 7 employees that focus on policy and campaigns work. An extra benefit is the organisation's commitment to helping their employees achieve the right work-life balance.
Although the graduate year at Corrs was a positive experience for Katia and invaluable from a skills development point of view, Katia stresses that there are many very good alternatives to the traditional Clerkship route. She says that she has watched fellow JD graduates take up exciting opportunities outside commercial practice, including:
1. placements arranged through the College of Law or Leo Cussens
2. the Victoria Legal Aid “New Lawyer’s Program”
3. legal research assistant roles
4. judge's associateships
5. paid and unpaid international internships, including at the UNHCR in Kuala Lumpur and the International Criminal Tribunals;
6. volunteering, then wotking at a CLC
A Mutiny of Sorts
Katia agreed that achieving a comfortable work-life balance could be more difficult in big commercial firms, particularly in transaction-focussed practice groups (surprise, surprise). However, she suggested that law graduates may benefit from “unionising” or acting collectively to ensure that any concerns they have about their rights in the workplace are heard. The source of the rights for law graduates (and only law graduates, not associates) is the award conditions that apply to graduates and include conditions such as minimum leave requirements for Practical Legal Training exam preparation. She says what may prevent graduates from doing this is the fierce competition for positions with major firms and the perception that there are countless other high-achievers ready to take your place. But she asks, what group of young workers is better able to understand, articulate and demand respect for their rights than young lawyers? Katia was pleased to learn that this point to be the subject of an upcoming article in De Minimis. Watch this space!
By Emma Shortt