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Leading, learning, mentoring
When it comes to presence, Australia’s legal profession has tipped in favour of women. They comprise 53% of all solicitors, and since 2011, their numbers have risen by 67% compared to their male cohort’s increase of 26%.
Australasian Lawyer’s Elite Women 2022 are at the vanguard of this and have all broken boundaries to support and succeed. They hold leadership roles within their organisations and are dedicated to mentoring and supporting other women in their legal careers. Many volunteer their time to non-profit causes, and every one of them is unwaveringly passionate about the area of law they practice in.
Genevieve Dee is a partner at Lander & Rogers and a member of Women’s Network Australia.
“As more women have entered the profession as young lawyers, we are seeing them progress into senior roles,” she says. “An even more influential factor has been the adoption of flexible work practices, which are particularly suited to women and enable them to stay longer in a firm. I think firms are understanding the advantages that come with having diversity of thought through a better mix of leaders, both in terms of gender and culturally.”
“The legal environment is always evolving, and so embracing change with a learning mindset and surrounding yourself with great people to enjoy the journey with is key”
Kristy Redfern, AIA
Justine Zhou, one of 2022’s Elite Women, is a partner at Quantum Law Group. Describing what has enabled her to stand out, she says: “My passion, sustained by intellectual curiosity.”
She is an advocate of maintaining a progressive mindset, and explains how this has allowed her to turn a crisis into an opportunity during the pandemic.
“I make the choice every day to choose a ‘yes’ mindset and be open and present to opportunities and feedback, and then adapt in innovative ways,” says Zhou. “I have learned to leverage the ‘crisis-tunities’ that the pandemic brought to increase our competitive advantage and respond to changing client needs. Being client-centric and highly attuned to my clients’ feedback and needs, as well as boldly innovating our systems and technology – this has all brought about our growth and success in being able to serve our clients better.”
She adds: “I am a great believer that your attitude is the greatest key or obstacle to your success. The choice is yours.”
Another Elite Woman who is admired for her attitude is Holding Redlich’s Nareeta Davis, who only undertakes pro bono cases.
“The work I undertake and the insight that I am able to provide through the lens of an Indigenous person to the corporate arena takes much energy, thought and deliberation. I am constantly balancing between that the expectations of western organisations and the important and sacred cultural protocols of Indigenous communities,” she says.
She also volunteers on various boards, assists schools in low socioeconomic status areas, and mentors law students.
Davis credits role models in her community for giving her an example to follow. “Coming from a very humble childhood taught me well… [it] shaped my view and commitment to hard work and persistence – I learnt this from the women in my life.”
She adds: “Every day I walk into my office, I know that I am being true in my spirit and self to assist the less fortunate.”
Clients demand results. With that mind, Cooper Grace Ward partner Belinda Winter admits to having a “raw authenticity” and adds, “Our industry can be intimidating for those who work within it and for those who need to access our services. I am not here to impress you with my legal knowledge, I am here to help you.”
Within that framework, she maintains a code that resonates through all parts of her life. “I have learnt from that experience to be clear on what I value and make my decisions that align with those values in my professional and private life.”
Another of 2022’s Elite Women, AIA Australia’s general counsel Kristy Redfern agrees with this.
“I have learnt over the years that I am at my best as a lawyer when I am able to be calm and objective, and to an extent, bring an independent mindset. The legal environment is always evolving, and so embracing change with a learning mindset and surrounding yourself with great people to enjoy the journey with is key.”
“Every day I walk into my office, I know that I am being true in my spirit and self to assist the less fortunate”
Nareeta Davis, Holding Redlich
Trailblazing in innovative fields
The law evolves over time, and a lot of this change is being driven by talented female lawyers.
As one of these lawyers, Zhou is combining her tech skills and her legal training to create cutting-edge enterprises. She has developed non-fungible tokens (NFTs) in an exclusive project with the Disruptive Innovation Association and coded smart contracts, along with advising on the legal matters and projects between investors, developers and promoters in the cryptocurrency, blockchain and metaverse world.
“I followed my passion in legal technology, artificial intelligence and developments in the blockchain and cryptocurrency world and aim to incorporate innovative solutions into our legal practice,” she explains.
“I have led many technological projects in the firm, developed and designed the firm’s websites and integrated a buy-now-pay-later payment option. I am leading the firm’s projects for the development of further NFTs and the firm’s expansion into the metaverse.”
Coming at innovation from another angle is Winter, an accredited Mental Health First Aid Instructor.
She presents at national conferences, serves on industry wellness committees and participates in employer mental health helplines.
Winter adds: “I see mental health and wellbeing as an incredibly important challenge to tackle for many people in and around the legal industry. Offering this training to employers gives them the skills and resources to create safer and healthier workplaces for everyone. These added pursuits, on top of my ongoing practice in workplace relations and safety, allow me to stand out as an Elite Woman in a very talented crowd of my peers.”
“I am a great believer that your attitude is the greatest key or obstacle to your success. The choice is yours”
Justine Zhou, Quantum Law Group
Supporting younger colleagues
KLM Solicitors founder and managing partner Kelli Martin, also an Elite Women 2022, opted to build a network and support those following behind her. She invests “significant time guiding and mentoring young lawyers.
This is echoed by Marissa Mackie, who feels mentoring is a key role for top-performing women in law.
“I would not be where I am today as a barrister, president of the Women Lawyers Association of South Australia, and soon-to-be vice president of the Law Society without the mentoring, both formal and informal, that I have received throughout my career, and from the networks that I have formed along the way,” she says. “Seeing women who have battled the odds and worked tirelessly to demonstrate their worth encouraged me. I am a full-time single mother at the Independent Bar.”
Several of this year’s winners regularly dedicate their time to supporting aspiring legal talent. ADCO Constructions’ legal counsel Cassandra Kirby is described as a “strong advocate for women” in her industry and has worked on reforming parental leave and flexible work initiatives in her previous organisations. Criminal justice lawyer and business owner Emma Turnbull acts as a mentor to other firm owners and was a registered mentor with the Law Institute of Victoria. Fellow winner and Elite Lawyers founder Danielle Snell regularly offers mentoring sessions to young people looking for guidance and inspiration and provides her team with the flexibility to undertake volunteer and pro-bono work.
When offering young women guidance, Redfern’s advice is to dream big.
“Law is an exciting and fast-paced career and has taken me to roles in London, the Middle East, New Zealand and Australia. Be courageous and find an organisation that matches your values and purpose, and you will thrive.”
Zhou says to any lawyers hoping to be future Elite Women, “You cannot instantly change anyone, but you can instantly be the change.”
When it comes to change, there is still a long journey ahead. A gap still remains between male and female lawyers in salary which widens further in the higher age and income ranges, and women are still underrepresented in senior roles.
Australian Women Lawyers president Leah Marrone says of Australasian Lawyer’s Elite Women 2022, “I obviously congratulate these women. It’s great to focus on people who have achieved and do get through the system, but it’s really important to not forget that it’s actually the system that needs to change.”
“Our industry can be intimidating for those who work within it and for those who need to access our services. I am not here to impress you with my legal knowledge, I am here to help you”
Belinda Winter, Cooper Grace Ward
- Alexia Ereboni Yazdani
- Amanda Banton
- Anna Cody
Western Sydney University
- Anne-Marie Cade
Divorce Right Pty Ltd
- Annette Bain
- Annette O’Hara
- Ashleigh Blewitt
Chamberlains Law Firm
- Caroline Snow
- Cassandra Kirby
- Cathy Hoyle
- Charmian Holmes
- Clare Eves
- Courtney Steele
- Danielle Snell
Elit Lawyers by McGirr & Snell
- Danny King
Danny King Legal
- Eliza Carter
Chamberlains Law Firm
- Emma Turnbull
Emma Turnbull Lawyers Pty Ltd
- Fiona Crosbie
- Fiona Yiend
- Genevieve Collins
Lander & Rogers
- Gina Szwider
- Joanna Green
- Jodylee Bartal
Schetzer Papaleo Family Lawyers
- Justine Zhou
Quantum Law Group
- Kellie Morton
- Kelli Martin
- Kerry Awerbuch
- Lisa Kozaris
- Luisa Gaetani
Coutts Lawyers & Conveyancers
- Marguerite Picard
Support for Lawyers and MELCA
- Melissa Lyon
- Michelle Grossmann
Lander & Rogers
- Mitzi Gilligan
- Nicole Graham
NSW Land Registry Services
- Paula Robinson
Ailier Pty Ltd
- Rachael Zavodnyik
- Rachel Scanlon
D2 Legal Technology
- Rebecca Maslen-Stannage
Herbert Smith Freehills
- Simonetta Astolfi
- Zina Edwards
- Zoe Lynam
Nominators were asked to describe the nominee’s standout professional achievements over the past 12 months, along with her contributions to diversity and inclusion and how she has given back through volunteer roles and charity work. Recommendations from managers and senior industry professionals were also taken into account.