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As a young lawyer, I discovered early on in my career that I was not cut out to be a litigator and that I was better suited to transactional types of legal work. One of the reasons why I love practising property law is that I often need to come up with practical and commercially viable solutions which takes into consideration the legal issues and risks, as well as the client’s needs and objectives. I enjoy brainstorming options, considering all of the potential risks and benefits, and finding the reasonable common ground where both parties can achieve a mutually beneficial outcome.

Helping those in need

In 2022, I was given the opportunity to participate in Massons’ two month secondment program with Human Rights for All (‘HR4A’). HR4A is a charitable law firm which provides pro bono assistance focusing on seeking liberty for refugees and stateless people in Australia.

As Massons specialises in commercial property law, this was a great chance for the graduates at Massons to not only be exposed to and learn a new area of law, but to also gain hands-on litigation experience and provide resourcing relief to help the team assist more people.

During my time at HR4A, I assisted the team at the protection process stage. This involved preparing submissions to the Department of Home Affairs / Immigration as well as various United Nations bodies such as the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, case preparation and attending hearings at the Federal Court. It was a great opportunity to work directly with individuals in need and to be able to aid in their access to justice.

Adjusting to a new practice area

Adjusting to a new practice area is not without its challenges. Not only were human rights/immigration law areas that I was not familiar with, but the type of work was quite different from my normal practise – for example, I found going through discovery documents quite difficult (like finding a needle in a haystack, and the needle may not exist). Initially I found it quite challenging, but luckily I was seconded with a great team that helped and taught me along the way. It was not too hard to adjust to a new practice area as there are some skills that you can apply across almost every practice area (e.g. attention to detail, drafting/interpretation, managing clients).

My advice to other young lawyers would be to go into the secondment experience with an open mind and be ready to learn and gain different perspectives.

As a property lawyer, I was never required to go to court nor was I engaged for dispute work so I was unfamiliar with the procedural elements associated with attending hearings and liaising with judges and court staff, except for some minor exposure during university and at the College of Law. It was interesting to communicate with clients (or their friends and family) through interpreters, which would sometimes add an extra layer of difficulty as you have to rely on someone else to correctly convey what you wanted to say including the tone and delivery when communicating verbally.

Some of my colleagues who participated in the secondment program continued to volunteer at HR4A before pursuing other opportunities in different areas of law. For example, another graduate in my cohort volunteered at HR4A for a few months before going into Technology Law, where he is currently practising. I think the general consensus was that it was an enriching experience and a great opportunity to be able to help people with limited access to other legal remedies.

Participating in the secondment program helped me to reaffirm my interests. The experience cemented my desire to continue practising as a commercial property lawyer. However, I would not diminish the opportunity I was given at HR4A as I was able to improve my problem-solving abilities when navigating the human right issues that I was presented with every day during my secondment, which also changed and challenged the way I approach legal issues in my current role.

I have been back with my original team at Massons for almost a year now – when I first came back it was abit difficult to get back into things and see how the transactions I worked on before I went on secondment had progressed, but I was (and still am) very excited to be practising commercial property law again.

Opportunity to experience something different

My advice to other young lawyers would be to go into the secondment experience with an open mind and be ready to learn and gain different perspectives. I believe it is very important for young lawyers to gain diverse experiences and learn as much as they can to develop a well-rounded skill set. I am interested and invested in progressing as a commercial property lawyer, however, I would not say ‘no’ if another secondment opportunity came up – perhaps having a secondment in-house to see how it differs from private practice.

I would definitely encourage young lawyers to apply and participate in secondments. It is a great opportunity to gain real-life experiences in different areas of law. This can complement your existing legal experience, which you can use in your existing role, or help you discover new interests/skills that you can take moving forward in your career. I was very fortunate to be a secondee with a great team at HR4A where I met experienced lawyers who provided great support and valuable insights to the legal system which I may not have been exposed to otherwise.

Catherine Kim is a lawyer at Massons. Catherine is the Secretary of the NSW Young Lawyers Property Law Sub-Committee.