Sometimes it’s not always easy to trust your instincts but this award gave me the reassurance that being myself is not necessarily a bad thing
Maria Markoulli is a solicitor at Harmers Workplace Lawyers currently practising in discrimination law, human rights law, and employment law. She has a particular interest in dispute resolution and works on both applicant and respondent matters. Markoulli is Chair of the NSW Young Lawyers Human Rights Sub-Committee and was awarded the NSW Young Lawyer of the Year award in late 2022. Markoulli shares her experiences and advice for young lawyers.
1. Why did you choose to pursue a career in law?
For as long as I can remember, I have been fascinated by the interaction between morality, law, and justice. I enjoyed studying legal studies at high school, but law was actually my second degree. Prior to law school, I completed a commerce degree. I gained many transferable skills in the corporate world but there were days when I would ask myself, “What if I’d done a law degree instead?” Eventually, I stopped asking “what if” and enrolled in a Juris Doctor degree. I have never looked back. Lawyering is rewarding, intellectually stimulating and no day ever looks the same. I am very happy I decided to roll the dice and change career paths.
2. What are you most passionate about?
I am passionate about empowering my clients to fully understand their rights and responsibilities, to ensure the best possible outcome is pursued. I am also passionate about various human rights and social justice issues which I have engaged with through my volunteer work in community legal centres, Young Lawyers, the Law Society of NSW, and practising anti-discrimination law. I also enjoy legal tutoring. It is very rewarding to provide students with the tools to succeed and observe their growth along the way.
3. What does it mean to you to have won Young Lawyer of the Year?
To be selected as the NSW Young Lawyer of the Year by our 2022 patron Graeme Innes AM, an inspiring human rights and anti-discrimination lawyer, was an extremely humbling experience. It was a special honour which I will never forget. Sometimes you don’t know whether you’re on the right path, necessarily. I try to follow the advice one of my mentors gave me, which is, ‘Maria, just be yourself’. Sometimes it’s not always easy to trust your instincts but this award gave me the reassurance that being myself is not necessarily a bad thing.
4. How important is it to remain connected in the profession?
While it may be daunting, it is always a good idea to build networks within the profession. I have greatly benefited from serving as Chair of the NSW Young Lawyers Human Rights Sub-Committee. It is rewarding to work alongside like-minded people on submissions, guest speaker sessions, panel events and articles. From a career standpoint, I think my work through Young Lawyers allowed me to expand my managerial skills, which I otherwise would not have had the opportunity to develop at such an early stage in my career.
5. What are your hopes for the future of the legal profession?
I hope the legal profession continues to become more reflective of the society it serves. While the profession has come a long way, there is still more work to be done to ensure that a career in law is accessible and realistic for all people who wish to pursue it, regardless of socio-economic status, disability, race, sex, ethnicity, age, sexual orientation, and gender identity. My other hope is the legal profession continues to support the mental health of its members. Many lawyers are exposed to heavy material on a daily basis, and it is important we remain aware of vicarious trauma. We need to look after ourselves and our peers to ensure we can be the best lawyers for our clients.
6. Any advice to young lawyers seeking to follow in your footsteps?
Do not be afraid to take the less common route. I am living proof there is never one “right path”. After my law degree, I did not take the typical graduate program route and instead opted to work as a tipstaff. Remain open minded and avoid pressure to choose one specialisation if you’re not sure. I would encourage all young lawyers to avoid operating in a vacuum. Getting involved in the Law Society’s Young Lawyers sub-committees and attending industry events is a great way to grow your career and be exposed to opportunities to give back to the profession and the wider community.