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The Law Society of New South Wales President's Medal has been recognising our most outstanding members since 2009. This annual award acknowledges a NSW solicitor and member of the Law Society of NSW who has made a significant personal and professional contribution to the improvement of law and justice in the community.

The 2022 recipient is Nicholas Stewart, Partner at Dowson Turco.

Nicholas Stewart wears many hats: partner at Australia’s only “out, loud and proud” LGBTIQ law firm Dowson Turco, director of several large non-government organisations, a published writer, and a keynote speaker.

Now he is adding another string to his bow: the prestigious Law Society of NSW’s President’s Medal for 2022.

Stewart’s outstanding contribution to human rights law over his 10 years in practice, was recognised at the Annual Members dinner on Tuesday 6 December. He is praised as a leader in his field, fighting for justice on multiple fronts. His colleagues and clients say he “energises” the legal profession, continually breaking barriers to improve diversity and representation in the law.

Stewart is the current Vice President of Australian Lawyers for Human Rights and a member of the Law Society of NSW’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee as well as the Chair of the Women’s Advancement subcommittee.  One key project Stewart has been involved in on the committee is the revision of the Charter for the Advancement of Women, looking at how the modern workplace can adopt and promote diversity and equality.

Stewart told LSJ’s Just Chat podcast in 2022 how he has witnessed the profession change for the better over his time in practice.

“We are ethnically diverse. There are people from all walks of law entering the profession. You only have to go to a law student graduation ceremony to hear all the different names and realise the profession has changed,” Stewart said.

“It’s exciting. It provides colour. It provides depth and complexity, which is positive for clients. You want lawyers who can work with different clients.”

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Image credit: Oneill Photographics

“There are people from all walks of law entering the profession. You only have to go to a law student graduation ceremony to hear all the different names and realise the profession has changed.”

Stewart adds, “Around Australia, we have seen judicial appointments involving First Nations people as well, which is fantastic from a legal and cultural perspective.”

He has also spent the better part of a decade advocating for a parliamentary inquiry into historical LGBTIQ hate crimes committed in NSW, as well as advocating for examining the adequacy of police investigations after complaints about violent crimes were made.

A Special Commission of Inquiry into historical LGBTIQ deaths was announced in April 2022 and is currently in the process of hearing witnesses. While Stewart says the Inquiry is a positive step forward for the community, his firm are pushing for a Royal Commission with wider terms of reference, considering all hate crime assaults and robberies, not just murders.

“When I was 14, I worked at a KFC store on the lower north shore, and one night we had a relief manager who was wearing the women’s pink uniform, not the traditional blue uniform that men wore. During the night, one of my colleagues came up to me, pointed at him and said that he and his friends would sneak up on ‘poofters’ in parks and bash them,” Stewart said.

“As someone who has legal qualifications and works in criminal law, I feel like I can speak up for all those people who were murdered and bashed. What I have learnt is that that wasn’t unique, a one-off.

“We now live in a much fairer society, and the LGBTIQ community is not so much on the fringe. We are now part of the mainstream, and the law treats us equally. It is time for justice and truth.

“It’s a truth telling exercise. The Special Commission of Inquiry has enormous powers … it’s going to be a moment where the community really sees our government acting to hold people accountable for the crimes committed against the LGBT community.”

Working on the frontline of human rights can be taxing, Stewart admits, but he has developed mechanisms to cope with the heaviness. He said all lawyers should adopt practices that facilitate a meaningful and sustainable career in the law.

“I like to live a positive life; I exercise a lot, I socialise a lot, and spend time with friends. We have a close team of criminal lawyers, and we debrief from matters I’ve got on,” Stewart said.

“Ultimately I divorce myself from the fact that it isn’t me being prosecuted: it’s a client. And I’ve got to be in my best space of mind to defend them. At the same time, it’s hard not to be affected by that when you are dealing with someone’s life.”

Highly Commended

The Law Society of New South Wales President and Council would also like to extend their congratulations to Clarissa Huegill, recognising her as highly commended for the 2022 President’s Medal.

Huegill is a specialist property lawyer with 25 years’ experience. She has looked after Conveyancing Plus in Ballina since 2006 and acts for clients not just in northern NSW, but also around Australia, and overseas.

Huegill is deputy chair of the Property Law Committee of the Law Society of NSW and has sat on that committee for number of years.  This puts her at the forefront of developments in property law in NSW. Clarissa was also the president of the Far North Coast Law Society for a number of years and continues to play an active role within that Society.

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Clarissa Huegill - Highly Commended

Stewart joins an acclaimed cohort of President’s Medal recipients.