Rising Stars 2021

From the bushfires to the COVID-19 pandemic, 2020 was a year to remember for Aussies. Those two events battered the country in the first quarter of the year; the pandemic in particular resulted in ‘normal’ being redefined across the country and the globe, with lifestyles undergoing drastic shifts as a result of lockdown measures.

The Australian legal industry wasn’t immune to the effects of the pandemic. The profession had to adapt on the fly to rapid changes in business operations as working from home became a necessity – the use of technology to facilitate the continued delivery of services became crucial, and lawyers young and old had to make the shift to online media such as Microsoft Teams and Zoom.

While the country was in lockdown, mental health became an important consideration as well, and many firms took the opportunity to put a focus on lawyers’ mental wellbeing. The year also saw great strides being made in pro bono work and in diversity and inclusion across the industry as issues of racism and discrimination were brought to the fore through movements such as Black Lives Matter, which began in the US but reverberated globally.


A new focus on technology

One of the most significant changes that took place in the legal profession was the quick adoption of technology – legal-focused and otherwise – to keep operations going during COVID-19. This initiative was seen not only across law firms and legal teams, but also in the courts, where remote proceedings via audio-visual link or telephone became standard practice for several months.

“The pandemic is another great example of why the legal industry must remain flexible and adaptive to emerging technologies and look to constantly be pushing the boundaries, rather than shy away from these technologies,” says Rising Star Jacob Corbett, director/lawyer at Bradley & Bray Lawyers. “Law firms should want to be at the forefront of emerging technologies, not always trying to catch up with them, as it seems the legal profession has done in the past. The community relies on lawyers and the legal community as a pillar of society, keeping business and order progressing along even in times of crisis, which is why we must be adaptive and offer a better solution to the delivery of legal services.”

Corbett points to to the greenlighting of legislation that facilitated easier adjustment to tech-based processes as a positive step, as well as lawyers’ use of online platforms to disseminate accurate legal information.

“The pandemic really showed us that in difficult times, people will generally look to professions such as the legal profession for help,” he says. “Quick legislative changes allowed businesses to progress, notwithstanding the obvious difficulties that arose from COVID-19, such as the electronic signing of legal documentation, digital settlements and relaxations around witnessing wills, etc. Lawyers using their platforms to create and disperse legal information to the wider community was also helpful, given that the fear that came from the pandemic appeared at times to be spreading misinformation, which was unhelpful.”

Nonetheless, Corbett admits that it was challenging to acclimatise not just staff, but also clients, to the new remote working arrangements during the pandemic.

“Many clients were insistent on coming to the office in the height of the pandemic,” he says, “so finding easy and accessible means for these clients to access legal services could be at times challenging, especially to the elderly and clients who were not as computer-literate.”


Mental health and D&I

While technology made it easier for members of the legal profession to carry out their services, the updated processes also raised new questions for lawyers.

“My practice was thrown into chaos at the start of the lockdown restrictions,” says Rising Star Michael Bidwell, a solicitor at Herbert Smith Freehills. “I was working closely with clients at all hours of the day to answer legal questions that had never been asked before – for example, how do we comply with conditions of our environment and planning approvals without breaching lockdown restrictions? The courts immediately turned to all appearances by telephone, which has been beneficial for accessibility but, in my opinion, has raised challenges for without prejudice discussions between lawyers right before the review.”

Bidwell also highlights the effect the pandemic had on many lawyers’ mental wellbeing, noting that law firms’ support of staff will continue to be valuable this year.

“We are very fortunate in Australia to be in the position that we are in with COVID-19, but I think most lawyers operated on autopilot mode in 2020,” he says. “We were all in it together last year, and this year will be more challenging as lawyers come to terms with their mental health through the pandemic and the bushfires. It will be more essential than ever before for employers to make sure that they are genuinely supporting their staff.”

Bidwell acknowledges that some simple practices have had a positive effect on members of the legal community, including virtual coffees, lunch breaks and after-work drinks, which have “helped connect lawyers during a really difficult time for many”.

Major social justice events over the past year have also put an important spotlight on issues of diversity and inclusion. The Black Lives Matter movement prompted the legal profession across the globe to take a closer look at how diversity was reflected in their ranks and in their treatment of people of colour, particularly with respect to opportunities for promotion to senior positions. Several firms in Australia have extended diversity and inclusion efforts beyond race representation and have sought to embrace LGBTIQ+ representation as well.

“The legal profession must reflect the community that it serves,” Bidwell says. “Diversity and inclusion are valuable to deliver a well-considered product to clients and to boost the bottom line. Data shows us that employees are more productive and make the business more money when they feel included.”


The legal landscape in 2021

While 2021 is expected to have its own set of challenges, the outlook for the Australian legal industry has brightened.

“Our client base – as with most of the market during COVID-19 – were definitely hesitant initially,” says Rising Star Sarah Judge, an associate at HopgoodGanim Lawyers. “However, we are noticing a confidence returning to the market and our clients have adjusted really well to their new normal.”

“So far, 2021 looks incredible,” Corbett adds. “We saw an amazing finish to 2020, with strength in most areas of the legal profession and business generally. As the legal profession looks to transition back into its ‘new normal’, the support for the community will need to remain as strong as ever amidst COVID-19 outbreaks, which are forcing lockdowns at random times in capital cities, and the end of government incentive schemes.”

Corbett notes that the demand for legal work has been trending higher than expected, and he expects this trend to continue throughout the year.

In this new environment, many young lawyers have been delivering excellent work despite unprecedented challenges. Australasian Lawyer’s 2021 Rising Stars list recognises 37 early-career lawyers who shone the brightest among their peers in a crucial time, and from whom the Australian legal profession expects great things. Read on to find out which young Australian lawyers are ready to take the world by storm.


Rising Stars 2021

  • Andrew Pearce
    Senior Associate, Johnson Winter & Slattery
  • Angela Mansour
    Legal Counsel, Coca-Cola Amatil
  • Annabel White
    Graduate, K&L Gates
  • Cale Woods
    Senior Associate, Ashurst
  • Callum Fleming
    Lawyer, K&L Gates
  • Dalyna Khong
    Legal Counsel, Aoyuan International
  • Daniel Taha
    Associate, Allens
  • Daniel Tracey
    Senior Associate
  • Dean Levitan
    Associate, MinterEllison
  • Diana Liu
    Senior Associate, King & Wood Mallesons
  • Gabrielle Sheehan
    Lawyer, Clayton Utz
  • Georgia Marwick
    Associate, Johnson Winter & Slattery
  • Helena Papapostolou
    Associate, Greenwoods & Herbert Smith Freehills
  • Ingrid Kristiansen
    Associate, Kennedys
  • Jacob Corbett
    Director/lawyer, Bradley & Bray Lawyers
  • Karena Leung
    Associate, Gadens
  • Karina Veling
    Legal Counsel, Coca-Cola Amatil
  • Keertan Samra
    Solicitor, Women's Legal Service Queensland
  • Kevin Pai
    Partner, Budgen Allen Lawyers
  • Lara Douvartzidis
    Associate, Johnson Winter & Slattery
  • Lauren Kelindeman
    Associate and wellbeing champion, Legalite
  • Lauren Wright
    Solicitor, Herbert Smith Freehills
  • Lisa Christo
    Associate, NDA Law
  • Maddalena Rinaldi
    Legal Counsel, Cricket Australia
  • Mathew Short
    A/Team leader & senior litigation lawyer, chief counsel portfolio and criminal assets litigation, Australian Federal Police
  • Mica Cole
    Senior associate, Clyde & Co
  • Michael Bidwell
    Solicitor, Herbert Smith Freehills
  • Michael Korn
    Solicitor, Korn MacDougall Legal
  • Michael Starkey
    Senior Associate, Baker McKenzie
  • Monty Loughlin
    Senior Associate, Hamilton Locke
  • Morgan Sheargold
    Lawyer, Hamilton Locke
  • Sarah Judge
    Associate, HopgoodGanim Lawyers
  • Shirley-Anne Hu
    Senior Associate, Clayton Utz
  • Tristan Shepherd
    Senior Associate, Ashurst
  • Victoria Gordon
    Associate, Holding Redlich


Starting in November 2020, Australasian Lawyer invited law firms and in-house legal teams to nominate outstanding young professionals in the Australian legal industry for the third Rising Stars list. Nominees had to be age 35 or under (as of 28 February) and have shown leadership qualities and recorded significant achievements early in their careers. To ensure the focus remained on emerging talent, past winners were not eligible to enter again. The Australasian Lawyer team asked for submissions to be supported with both qualitative and quantitative data where possible.

The team received nominations from across the board, including top corporations, leading global firms and boutiques in various markets. The team evaluated more than 100 high-quality submissions, taking into account major transactions nominees had played a role in, contributions they made to the culture of the legal and various initiatives they were involved in, along with the recommendations made by colleagues and superiors. After examining the nominees’ leadership and achievements, the team whittled down the list to the 37 most promising young lawyers in Australia’s legal industry.