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Excitement, optimism and interaction. The atmosphere was palpable on Wednesday night as hundreds of early career lawyers, admitted to practice during 2020-21, were suitably welcomed to the profession in a first-of-its kind event hosted by the Law Society of NSW.

The cohort, made up of varying backgrounds, ages and areas of expertise, gathered at the Museum of Contemporary Art overlooking Sydney’s spectacular Vivid festival, united by the shared experience of graduating during a time of upheaval and uncertainty.

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic meant the group of future leaders couldn’t attend their long-awaited graduation ceremonies with proud family and friends watching on nor snap the obligatory admission photo on the Supreme Court steps.

The gala event represented the culmination of years of dedication and study and despite many already beginning their careers straight after university, they never got their chance to celebrate.

27-year-old Mark Elias, corporate lawyer for King & Wood Mallesons was admitted to practice at the end of 2020. He told LSJ it was fantastic to be in a room with peers who experienced similar challenges at the start of their careers in law.

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“I really wanted to have a ceremony to take my parents to. They are immigrant parents, and it would have been really sweet for them to see. I am the first lawyer in the family,” Elias said.

“As much as I love working from home, it’s difficult not being able to interact with your peers. I learn a lot by osmosis and being around others. I have struggled not being in the office for a long period of time.”

Elias’s colleague Brian Whelan added the event felt like a return to the legal profession’s former glory. “Law is a networking profession, it’s a social profession. A night like this is great,” Whelan, 37, said.

“In the absence of a university graduation ceremony, of any kind of meet-and-greet sessions, this feels like the culmination of it all. It’s nice to actually have an event where I can celebrate the journey I’ve gone through over the last several years.”

Mark Speakman, NSW Attorney General Mark Speakman, NSW Attorney General

Make the most of every single opportunity that comes your way in this great profession. Be ethical, never compromise your integrity. Integrity alone won’t make you a leader in our profession, but without integrity, you’ll never be one.

Attorney General Mark Speakman delivered an inspiring address to open the evening. He spoke at length about the changing nature of the legal profession; how practitioners must continually evolve and adapt as technology advances and new areas of the law emerge.

“You have joined one of our oldest and noblest professions. That is a great opportunity. But with that opportunity comes responsibility,” Speakman said.

“Upholding the rule of law is an obligation of every one of you. Every single legal practitioner, whatever your role. It underpins crucial public trust in our legal system.

“At the heart of you being a member of a profession, is ethical service to others. That includes ethical treatment of your colleagues and helping access to justice for those who otherwise can’t afford it.”

Speakman implored the group to never “lose sight of the human aspect of the law”, and to uphold the values of integrity, honesty and humility. “Throughout your legal career, you need to remember that who you are and who you’ll be is far more important than what you do,” Speakman said.

“Make the most of every single opportunity that comes your way in this great profession. Be ethical, never compromise your integrity. Integrity alone won’t make you a leader in our profession, but without integrity, you’ll never be one.”

Attendees were also given the opportunity to hear from an esteemed panel of senior lawyers, hosted by President of the Law Society Joanne van der Plaat. The panel included NSW Crown Solicitor Karen Smith, Immigration Advice & Rights Centre Inc. Principal Solicitor Ali Mojtahedi, Partner at Baker & McKenzie Adrian Lawrence, and General Counsel for the University of Sydney Olivia Perks.

They discussed myriad ways lawyers can use their practising certificates; hoping to inspire and engage the newly admitted cohort with stories about challenges and successes.

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“These new twice-yearly events will afford first year graduates an invaluable opportunity to rub shoulders with and learn from some of the profession’s most senior practitioners in NSW,” van der Plaat said.

“Through this event, we aim to provide a sense of occasion to mark the end of years of hard and dedicated study and the beginning of a meaningful career in law. These individuals who represent the future of our profession deserved the opportunity to have their hard work acknowledged and to be welcomed to a profession which places a high value on collegiality.”

LSJ asked dozens of new solicitors what they were most excited about as the profession emerges from the trials and tribulations of last few years. Returning to the physical courtroom was the most common response.

“I recently went into the Family Court and did it for real. It was much more intense and way better than the zoom version of court,” wills and estates lawyer Michelle Dennis, 36, said.

“I hope the courts remain open, because it’s much more effective because the clients understand they are in a context in which things are serious. When they are sitting in front of their computer, they didn’t have that. It’s good to be back in the family court,” Dennis said.

While only a fraction of those who were admitted during 2020-21 were able to attend the function, the Law Society of NSW congratulates all those embarking on their careers in law and wishes them every success for the future.

The next ‘Welcome to the Profession’ event will celebrate those admitted to practice in 2022 and will be held towards the end of this year.