Five minutes with… Brooke Massender

Brooke Massender, head of pro Bono and citizenship, Australia & Asia at Herbert Smith Freehills, tells Australasian Lawyer why she decided to become a lawyer.

What made you decide to become a lawyer?
An inquiring mind, a passion for justice and student debt.

How long have you worked at HSF for and what brought you to that position?
Over 15 years. I grew up in the North of England and came to Australia backpacking after Uni. I was due to train at Freshfields in London but my head was turned by Freehills’ inclusive culture (and Sydney beaches). I was a senior associate in commercial litigation before moving into the pro bono practice full time six years ago.

What’s the strangest case you’ve ever worked on/been involved with?
That would be my first ever defended hearing in the Local Court as a pro bono secondee to the Shopfront Youth Legal Centre. My client’s defence was that they had been set up by an imposter who had stolen their identity. It sounded utterly implausible. We eventually found an unlikely alibi in a bank statement featuring ATM withdrawals that put the client miles from the scene. An important early lesson in really listening to the client.

If you could invite three people for dinner, dead or alive and excluding family and friends, who would they be and why?
Well, I am hopeless at cooking, so we’d have to go out for dinner (see next question).  Broadly speaking I am interested in authentic leaders who have not been afraid to break down barriers and share their personal values in a professional context. Barack Obama, Sheryl Sandberg and Anna Bligh spring to mind but the list is long.

You’re based in Sydney – where’s the best place to go for a drink and/or dinner after work?
The Bondi Trattoria – nothing fancy but always reliably good.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given (work or personal)?
“Shy kids get nowt” (spoken in a thick Yorkshire accent by my Dad). An early forerunner of “Lean In”.

Do you have any hobbies/interests outside of work?
I follow the Sydney Swans every week and since meeting my partner Alan Jones (an award winning fine artist) I have a growing appreciation for modern art.

Complete this sentence: If I wasn’t a lawyer, I would be…
Heading up the social investment strategy in a corporate or professional services environment or running an NGO.  

What do you think will be single biggest issue facing the legal space in Australia in 2015?
Leveraging diverse talent to take advantage of the opportunities presented by the Asian century.

What do you love about your job?
I really enjoy being the point of connection between community needs and professional skills.  When you get a result that is a real game changer for an individual or a community there is a genuine sense of satisfaction. Participating in pro bono work is also a real highlight in terms of skills development and engagement for our lawyers.

What would you change about your job right now if you could?
The tyranny of the inbox. 

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