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Golden Gavel finalists have to think on their feet. A scant 24 hours ahead of this public-speaking competition on 9 June, five early-career lawyers received the topics they would be required to address. And their humour, legal knowhow and public speaking skills would all be on show: a tall order.

Comedian Peter Berner and Law Society President and Gavel judge Cassandra Banks picked up some early laughs as MC and speaker at the breakfast event, held at the Fullerton Hotel in Sydney.

The Law Society’s Senior Vice-President Brett McGrath also put his hand up to act as a judge alongside Scott McDonald, Commercial Litigation Partner at Spark Helmore, the event sponsor.

The speakers provided spirited entertainment for the more than 350 spectators who braved the early starting time of 7:00am.

Kristen Centorame, Senior Associate at Baker McKenzie, was the first speaker, on the topic of ‘The right to privacy while staying with your parents’, and was ranked first by the judges. Her speech combined realism and humour to highlight the privacy infringements that ensue when an adult is forced to live with her parents as a result of “a disconnect with Reserve Bank interest rates”. As winner of the NSW Golden Gavel Award, Centorame will face off with the winners of all state and territory competitions at the National Golden Gavel.

Centorame was followed by India Monaghan, a lawyer in Gilbert + Tobin’s Tech + IP team. Monaghan played both judge and plaintiff in a case to prove ‘Why my legal advice is better than ChatGPT’s’.

Next on the duty list was Alana Rafter, an Associate in the Workplace & Employment Team at Australian Business Lawyers & Advisors. Her treatment of the topic ‘Who skied into who? Tackling celebrity legal feuds’ impressed the judges, who lauded her skill with citation; particular mention was made of her references to Goop and Gwyneth Paltrow. Rafter was awarded Runner Up in the NSW Golden Gavel Award.

Tudor Filaret, a solicitor with DLA Piper, provided sound advice on the topic ‘I think you’re on mute: a beginner’s guide to Teams etiquette’,  including a set of edicts on appropriate conduct while online.

The final competitor, Yenée Su, a Community Legal Centre lawyer, won the Sparke Helmore People’s Choice Award for her treatment of the topic ‘Applying the reasonable person test to your daily commute’. Drawing on lived experience, she had the audience sharing her frustrations about prejudiced commuters, and she dug deep to unravel the ethical dilemma of travelling on public transport without a wallet. Her audience engagement device – having the audience indicate agreement by taking a sip of coffee – evoked universal participation.

While the judges deliberated and counted votes, the audience heard from the Runner-Up in the Student Golden Gavel. Meg Abbott from the University of Notre Dame read her ‘Confessions of a Law Student’, to the accompaniment of many a rueful nod of agreement from the audience.