The incoming President of NSW Young Lawyers, Jennifer Windsor, believes 2019 is an exciting time to be a young lawyer.
The legal jobs market is diversifying, globalisation is creating international opportunities, and technology is taking over menial tasks like discovery that were once reserved for graduates and clerks. Young lawyers are freer than ever to sink their teeth into important legal work in an array of workplaces. But perhaps the most exciting part, Windsor told LSJ, is the increased push for firms to value these up-and-comers as humans rather than billing machines.
“Wellbeing is becoming a normal conversation,” said Windsor. “It’s okay to talk about depression and seeking help, and that conversation is so important. I think leadership from organisations like the Law Society and Young Lawyers has a lot to do with that.”
Windsor, a senior lawyer at Clayton Utz who also has extensive experience in government legal roles, took over from Immediate-Past President David Turner as President in October. In 2018, Turner ran several events preparing young lawyers for the future and disruption sweeping the profession. However, in 2019 Windsor wants to focus on the present. She said the organisation’s motto for the year was “making an impact”.
The idea of Young Lawyers is that if you’ve got something you care about – you want to initiate or contribute to a law reform submission, an event, a wellbeing or pro bono initiative or anything else – we’re the ones that can make that happen.
“We’ve got the networks, the skills, the resources to get you from thinking, ‘This would be great’ to ‘Let’s make this happen’,” said Windsor.
Windsor has already been busy making things happen for about 15,000 NSW Young Lawyers members, all of whom are aged 36 and under, in their first five years of practice or studying law. She will spend 2019 chairing monthly council meetings, attending educational and networking events, and reviewing law reform submissions (usually late at night, she says – the deadlines can be tight). There’s also a tiny bit of time for play, including at her favourite annual event, the Golden Gavel.
“You can’t go past a comedy breakfast like the Golden Gavel,” said Windsor. “Seven hundred lawyers in a room, all laughing at law jokes at 7.30am. You can’t tell those jokes at a typical dinner party because no one gets them.”
Windsor remarked that 2019 was also an exciting time to be a female lawyer. Women lawyers began to outnumber men in Australia for the first time in 2016, the ratio of female partners continues to climb at the nation’s leading firms, and the 2019 Law Society of NSW President is a woman. It’s a remarkable alignment in a profession that is still dominated by men in a ratio of about four to one in its senior ranks, according to the Australian Financial Review’s 2018 Law Partnership Survey.
“We just had a woman in my team at Clayton Utz promoted to Senior Associate while she was on parental leave, which is a real sign of the times,” said Windsor. “Firms and lawyers are waking up to the fact that lawyers can be any gender or race, they can have a life and still achieve. You will be valued for what you bring – and that’s more than just billable hours.”
Of course, networks can still be key to climbing ladders in the legal profession. Windsor was quick to remind young lawyers that there was a horde of “really personable, intelligent, and decent people” ready to assist them with free mentoring and advice.
“I studied law in Canberra and came to Sydney not really knowing anyone,” said Windsor. “The Young Lawyers mentoring program and events really helped me to connect with professional networks and new friends. Whatever kind of lawyer you are, we’ll help you find your people.”
To join NSW Young Lawyers or find out more visit the website.