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Remaining ahead of the curve to provide the best possible service to clients and embracing every opportunity for growth, innovation, and going that extra mile are the marks of a standout lawyer. All of Australasian Lawyer’s Rising Stars 2023 display these attributes.
Nathan Simm, legal recruitment consultant at Gatehouse Legal Recruitment, praises this generation of legal professionals.
“They have a strong passion and drive to succeed,” he says.
Simm also emphasised how this year’s Rising Stars are the best lawyers in an impressive, high-calibre cohort.
“I believe the standard of lawyers is higher today than in previous times, simply because they have access to more mentorship, guidance, first-class training and development programs that were not on offer previously,” he adds.
“I think what helps me stand out is that level of pride. If you can take more personal ownership of something, it really helps empower it – that ability to take control, take charge, and still go out and reach out for help and feel comfortable doing it”
Adrian Curtis, Australian Family Lawyers
Rising Star Rema Hamdan, legal counsel in Source’s employment and safety team, is ahead of the game by taking the lead on client relationships and business development.
“We are offering legal services in a way that’s a little bit different,” she explains.
Some of Hamdan’s clients include:
• a leading start-up in the second-hand automotive industry, where she acts as the key legal advisor, manages client relationships, and handles all employment and safety issues arising on a business-as-usual basis
• a growing recruitment agency, where she supports a team of internal managers and recruiters on a range of on-hire employee issues and placements related to various industries, namely banking and finance
• a mining client with complex workforce, payroll and industrial relations needs, where she is a key advisor
• a university client, where she supports the senior legal counsel in managing complicated and evolving needs in workforce planning, restructuring and the management of claims
“We price and value based on how our clients value and price the service. We do retainer-based pricing on a monthly basis as our usual approach, which means that I will be your de facto in-house legal counsel for business-as-usual legal needs. I work with my clients as a member of their team to be part of important discussions and a stakeholder within their business,” Hamdan adds.
Also in alignment with this model is Adrian Curtis, who began his career as a lawyer with Legal Aid ACT in 2017, before starting in 2021 with Australian Family Lawyers. A year later, the Rising Star became a senior associate and practice leader in Canberra. The Canberra team supports over 100 clients in negotiation, mediation and litigation, while Curtis has also overseen the opening of an additional office in the region.
“I think what helps me stand out is that level of pride. If you can take more personal ownership of something, it really helps empower it – that ability to take control, take charge, and still go out and reach out for help and feel comfortable doing it,” says Curtis.
This is echoed by fellow Rising Star Michael O’Connor, who is part of Holding Redlich’s corporate and commercial team and specialises in investment, superannuation and financial services law.
“In terms of deeper relationships with clients and a disruption model, it seems to be that the best success stories that we’ve had are when we’re building that rapport with the clients, in a way where you're both in the trenches,” he says.
Under the leadership of partner Luke Hooper, O’Connor has advised on over $15bn in successor fund transfers, wholesale investments and other investment-related matters, including:
• successor fund transfers
- $3bn successor fund transfer between two superannuation funds in November 2021
- $11.7bn successor fund transfers between two superannuation funds in April 2022
- an ongoing $6.2bn successor fund transfer between two superannuation funds
• investments/due diligence
- $80m into an infrastructure fund in November 2021
- $100m into a global private investment fund in January 2022
- $40m into an infrastructure fund in July 2022
“Having that scientific background lets me rapidly grasp new technologies and, when combined with my IP knowledge, weave innovative solutions for our clients”
Stephen Rohl, Maddocks
Previous Rising Star in 2021, Mica Cole, senior associate at Clyde & Co, says junior lawyers who aspire to be Rising Stars and among the best lawyers in Australia should find an area of law they’re passionate about.
“If you’re not interested in the area of law you find yourself in, don’t necessarily think the law isn’t for you. Reach out to your colleagues and your networks. Find the area of law that suits you. If all junior lawyers can find an area of law that they’re passionate about, then they are 95% of the way there,” she says.
With law and science degrees, Rising Star Stephen Rohl, a senior associate at Maddocks, stepped into the intellectual property (IP) space early and now has 10 years’ experience as an IP lawyer.
“It’s great to be able to combine my passions for science and IP law, especially patent law. Having that scientific background lets me rapidly grasp new technologies and, when combined with my IP knowledge, weave innovative solutions for our clients,” he explains.
Part of Rohl’s glowing reputation is based on:
• his expertise and success in significant patent infringement and revocation cases before the Federal Court and High Court of Australia, covering industries from pharmaceuticals and biotechnology to mechanical engineering and mining
• the thought leadership he offers, including as editor of “The Prescription”, Maddocks’ biannual publication addressing topical legal developments and trends in the healthcare and life sciences sectors
O’Connor also describes how finding a professional passion in financial services and superannuation was the key to advancing.
“That passion helped me develop a set of skills very quickly to assist clients and to assist the partner that I work with,” says O’Connor. “The challenge is that because it’s a niche area and every person that works there has a very in-depth skill base, the gap between the juniors and the partners, all those that are experts versus those that are learning, is quite large. But if you’re passionate about a particular part of the law, you’re going to find it easier when the challenges do come up.”
Hamdan tried different areas in her early days as a graduate and found employment law to be the most dynamic.
“I think for early-stage lawyers, it’s important to be open to working in different practice groups to be outside of your comfort zone and to gain exposure and insight, because you wouldn’t know what an area involves until you’re in it doing it with the experts,” she says.
A common theme among this year’s Rising Stars is offering support not only to clients but also to colleagues.
Curtis even focused on himself in order to become a better lawyer. He took a year off from family law to do generalist employment law and tribunal appeal work.
“The easiest way to deal with it is if you need to take a little bit of time off, there’s no shame in it. Just do what’s best for you, but know that you can always come back,” he says.
As a result, Curtis has more to offer his clients. One example is by taking a holistic approach to case management and ensuring that clients have access not only to legal services but also to social support and counselling services.
“I do see it as part of our role. Given that it touches on every aspect of a person’s life, you need to be equipped to help that person access services for every part of their life. Better to help them try and do everything as much as you can,” Curtis explains.
Helping her fellow professionals is one initiative that Hamdan pursues.
“I’m very involved in diverse women in law that is working to remove structural barriers for diverse women, empowering them to be the lawyers that they can be through different types of initiatives like mentoring and networking events,” she says.
“If you’re passionate about a particular part of the law, you’re going to find it easier when the challenges do come up”
Michael O’Connor, Holding Redlich
Hamdan takes responsibility for helping fellow lawyers by giving them the opportunity to be part of mental health initiatives.
“It’s critical that we constantly talk about mental health and make sure that there’s no stigma around speaking to your colleagues about where you’re at and accessing support when you need it, specifically in the legal profession, as we’re dealing with a lot of complex and wide-reaching potential problems faced by our clients and this can have a heavy burden personally,” she says.
While the 2023 Rising Stars have rightly been recognised for their prowess, their mindset is focused on continuous progression.
“My goal is to continue to grow in my career as it is, while also really maximising and helping evolve this unique approach and offering legal services - something that’s quite different from others in the market,” Hamdan says.
And Curtis aims to create a better legal environment.
“One of the things is trying to make sure the more junior lawyers, at least those younger than me, are supported and trying to help the next generation of lawyers after us by giving them the tools and the knowledge to have a better career themselves. I think that’s a really important role for people at our level,” he explains.
Last November, Australasian Lawyer accepted nominations for the 2023 Rising Stars list. The standout young stars from the Australian legal profession were invited to put their names forward; those who knew of and wished to highlight such talent were also asked to submit nominations.
Nominees needed to be 35 or younger as of 31 January. They had to have committed to a career in the legal profession and shown a clear passion for the industry. The Australasian Lawyer team also required nominees to cite their current position, responsibilities and key achievements over the past 12 months.
The team considered recommendations from managers and senior industry professionals in the review process conducted after the nomination period. After considering all aspects of the many submissions received, 71 emerged as the brightest young stars of the batch.