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Career Panel - Event Report

You’ve seen our flyers, you’ve read Stephanie’s post, you’ve seen a post on the MLS Facebook announcing this event promising career advice from five inspirational women, accompanied by wine and nibbles. You also know that one lucky attendee could win a membership with Victorian Women Lawyers.

The event began with an address by our president, Laura Blanthorn summarising the achievements of our network. Thanks to you, our members, we have seen a growth in the number of members, and we are encouraged by your enthusiasm to reach out to more of you. Your feedback in the recent wellbeing survey has allowed us to convince Faculty to add Family Violence as a discrete ground in special consideration. We are also working with faculty to ensure that those of you who are parents or caregivers have access to appropriate services both within the university and outside.

We were introduced to our panelists, who were each asked to talk about how they came to their current roles within the legal industry, whether they think these roles are suitable for those of us with parents or caregiving responsibilities, and finally, what pearls of wisdom they have for us as later law students in seeking a career.

First up was Jennika Shaw who recently joined the Bar. Jennika was a cellist before deciding to embark on a law degree. She started her degree in 2009 at Melbourne Law School. Jennika became pregnant in her second year. Luckily for her, some accommodations were made – the university arranged for someone to wait outside the exam hall during her tax and remedies exam in the event she went into labour!

Jennika’s basic advice to everyone was that you had to work out what your priorities are, and what you are like as a person. She viewed her family as important, but so was doing the law. She did not see herself joining a big law firm because she liked her independence too much. This influenced her earlier career decisions: she was a research assistant for Elise Bant and Jeannie Paterson, then she went to be a judge’s associate for Justice Bucchanan, followed by Justice Tate. Jennika later became a Registrar presiding over debt and commercial matters.

Jennika says that she find her current role challenging and that it is like being a musician. She explains that her role allows her to ‘bundle everything in’ – she could take her child to school and still do her work.

Next came Jane Penberthy who works as a lawyer in InTouch Multicultural Centre Against Family Violence. Jane’s sister teases her for being a sales person at heart due to her previous experience in retail. She began her law degree in University of Western Australia. She said to us that whatever our experience, understand that it brings with you a wealth of calmness and thoughtfulness. Her path itself has been convoluted.

Jane began her career at Mallesons as an articled clerk. She was admitted to practice and became a solicitor at Mallesons. In fact, she would continue being a solicitor in private practice for a number of years before she felt that she needed a new challenge. So, she tried legal recruitment. Three months in legal recruitment was enough, and she left to become an inhouse counsel in an electricity company which dealt in renewable energy such as solar energy. Unfortunately for Jane, the company underwent restructuring and many inhouse lawyers were made redundant.

After some thought, Jane decided that she would try her hand at being a general practitioner. She remarked that she admired anyone who continued in that role – most of the time she felt that she was doing more debt recovery and administrative work than being a lawyer. She remained as a general practitioner for five years before she was introduced to the world of community legal centres or CLCs.

Jane remarks that she found CLCs to be a great fit for her because it offered flexible work arrangements and was family friendly. She works at InTouch four days a week, leaving the extra work day free for her to be a mediator. Jane explains that she is a persuader, not an arguer. Mediation allows her to persuade parties to reach settlement, while her work at InTouch enables her to be a voice piece for those without a voice. Needless to say, she found the work very rewarding indeed!

It is interesting to note that Jane works at a plant nursery in her spare time. It shows us that life outside the law is indeed important!

Jane’s main advice is that you have to be true to herself. Her path made her realise what she is as a person, and her current roles enable to enjoy the variety that she had as a child.

Next up was Shobbana Richmond who is a legal recruiter from Taylor Root Recruitment. Shobanna has been working at Taylor Root for ten years, and she has been a legal recruiter for 12 years. She says that people usually do not do a law degree wanting to be a legal recruiter, they are more likely to fall into it.

Shobbana graduated from University of Melbourne in 2000 with degrees in both Arts and Law. She enjoyed the Arts side of her studies, but not so much the law side. She was also a keen debater, having participated in debating competitions in the University and elsewhere.

Shobbana did her articles at Freehills (now Herbert Smith Freehills). She explained to us that as a firm, it was very understanding and accommodating. She found commercial law quite dry and desired some client contact. She also wanted to try her hand at academia. So, she requested for a part-time arrangement with Freehills while she pursued her Honours degree. The firm agreed.

Shobbana considered the year in Honours quite lonely as she was doing research and having little contact with people. She was offered a scholarship to do a PhD, but she felt that she did not have the commitment to go through with it. She started looking for work on, and she began adding legal recruitment roles to it. She applied for a role with Michael Page. After a series of interviews, the company offered her the job. She remained with Michael Page for two years before being head-hunted by Taylor Root.

Looking back, Shobbana says that she was glad that she took up the offer. The role fitted her perfectly as she had client contact, and she had the experience from debating, thus making her skilled at persuading people. Shobbana also has legal experience which is not essential in a legal recruitment role, but it enables her to gain credibility with the candidates. She counts her life experience useful at understanding cultural fit – each firm has its own culture after all!

Shobbana likes the flexibility that her work gives her. She now works full-time, but for a couple of years, she was working part-time so that she could care for her children. She comments that the best part about it was that she could interview a candidate while doing grocery shopping!

Next up was Patrizia Mercuri from Lander and Rogers. Patrizia remarks that her path was in many ways more mainstream, but in many ways it was not mainstream either.

Patrizia did her degrees in Arts and Law at Monash University in the eighties. Prior to that, she did the International Baccalaureate. This gave her a broader perspective and she was able to omit science from her list of options.

Patrizia joined Minters as an articled clerk. She spent 13 years in Minters before being made Partner where she remained for in that role for five years. She was involved in commercial litigation, mostly acting for the banks. Patrizia did not find that work to be her cup of tea.

Minters seconded Patrizia to Canberra where she worked in industrial relations for the government. During that time, she learnt what it was like to work within a non-law environment while being part of the legal framework. She also found those times to be exciting as many changes were happening in the area of industrial relations. Upon her return, Patrizia worked in the industrial relations practice at Minters.

Following the birth of her first child, Patrizia took a break from her career to spend time with her family. She began lecturing at Monash University in both undergraduate and postgraduate subjects. Lander and Rogers approached Patrizia to establish the industrial relations practice. Patrizia wanted to do some lecturing, so both parties agreed that she could work three days a week.

Patrizia found the early days of establishing a practice exciting. It involved business development, building a practice, sustaining it and it was highly competitive. Patrizia said that to date the industrial relations practice in Lander and Rogers is a thriving practice and she is proud to be a part of it. Two and a half years ago, Patrizia began working full time again.

Patrizia’s main advice for us is: you have to figure out what you want to do, and finding the right place is important. Furthermore, the legal profession is changing. Even though we are later law students, we are younger than many of our superiors and more adept at using technology and finding new ways of creating inroads into the legal industry.

Last but not least was Jane Doyle, case analyst of the Financial Ombudsman. Jane did her law degree in Melbourne Law School from 2010 to 2012. She did her Arts degree in anthropology and politics.

Jane had an interesting career path before coming to law: she taught in London, she made films and she worked in the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. While working with a lawyer on governance, it began to tick that the law could be something that she could be good at. She enjoyed participating in negotiations regarding contractual terms and the problem-solving aspects of the law.

Jane had children during her time at the ABC, so she switched to working part-time. Unfortunately, her team got disbanded due to restructuring and she was made redundant. Jane took a gamble and re-trained in law. Her gamble paid off – she loved every moment of reading the judgements, analysing how they arrived at the decisions they did.

Jane’s parental responsibilities made it difficult for her to do clerkships, so she did her practical legal training at College of Law. She found networking to be a useful way of tapping into the hidden job market. Jane worked at Slater and Gordon before someone recommended her a role with an intellectual property lawyer. Jane had also been volunteering at Justice Connect, and a colleague recommended that she apply for a paralegal role in Allens. It was meant to be a short-term position, but she ended up getting admitted to practice and eventually working as a lawyer at Allens. In fact, she ended up working at Allens for 18 months!

The rest of the panelists agreed with Jane’s advice: at networking events, guests are always keen to get to know students and mentor them. In a difficult job market, lateral thinking is sometimes required to get legal experience. In the words of Jane Penberthy, ‘Get your foot in the door, break the door if you have to.’

The talk ended at 8.30 pm and we went out to enjoy more wine and nibbles. Alumni members relived their happy times in law school. All in all, members felt happy that they had taken time out of their night to attend the panel. Many thanked us for putting together a diverse panel and looked forward to our next event.

The following morning, the winner of the draw was announced, and it was Clare van Balen! Photos of the draw went live on Facebook and many people congratulated Clare on her prize.

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