Piper Alderman partner: Never forget those who helped you at the start

Katie Winterbourne shares the one regret she has in relation to an old mentor

Piper Alderman partner: Never forget those who helped you at the start
Katie Winterbourne

For Piper Alderman partner Katie Winterbourne, there were many who helped her on the path to law, including a dean at the University of Western Australia and an old mentor who provided critical guidance to her early in her legal career.

Winterbourne learned that her mentor had passed away during an attempt to reconnect, and the memory of this has been a key part of the most important lesson she learned in 2023: “recognise and maintain connections with those people who have made a difference to your career”.

In this interview, Winterbourne talks why she’d defend the replicants in Blade Runner, her horticultural achievements, and the importance of retaining and developing future leaders.

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What made you choose a career in law, and what's your favourite part of the job?

I fell into studying law. At the end of my first year studying science at the University of Western Australia, I thought that research would be my only career option. I met with the Dean of Commerce and asked if I could do a double degree in science and commerce to broaden my horizons. He suggested that I apply for the science and law double degree and come back to see him if I didn’t get in. It wasn’t until I was able to choose electives in mining law, environmental law and international law that I really began to appreciate the diverse career opportunities in law. 

I was fortunate to get an opportunity to work with the WA government on water law reform early in my career and I think that pursuing unique and challenging opportunities has been my favourite part of the job. I have always been interested in questions of natural resource allocation. I am grateful for the opportunities throughout my career to work within different jurisdictions, listen to the perspectives of others with diverse backgrounds and experiences, and work within multidisciplinary teams on issues relating to access to resources and the use, overuse and misuse of our environment.

What is going on at the organisation? Are there any new programs and initiatives that you’re particularly interested in?

The Piper Alderman presence is still relatively new in the Perth market and I am looking forward to being a part of the growth and development here and working with some of the more established practices across the firm. One initiative that I am particularly interested to become involved with is the “Dynamic Board” series. The series features prominent industry leaders together with Piper Alderman lawyers, exploring the myriad of challenges facing modern board members and executives.

I am also interested in Piper Alderman’s ELEVATE Program, which is a professional development opportunity for our more senior lawyers, and which builds on the PLATFORM event series targeted at junior lawyers.

It is so important for any professional organisation that it develops and retains the future leaders in the organisation. I am keen to become involved with these initiatives at Piper Alderman.

What tech-related initiatives adopted by the organisation, if any, are you most excited about?

I am discovering that we are currently focusing on smart contracts in our blockchain practice and that we have a Masterclass series on space law. These sound fascinating and I’m looking forward to finding out more about them.

What’s the biggest lesson you learned in the past year and what advice can you give fellow lawyers about it?

The biggest lesson I have learnt over the past year is to recognise and maintain connections with those people who have made a difference to your career. Of course, this doesn’t just apply to your legal career! Last week I had lunch with one of my favourite clients. He is the kind of person who is always searching for novel, big picturesolutions and is great at building relationships. We were talking about some advice he recently gave his son, to never forget those who helped you when you were starting out.

This reminded me about a recent experience with someone who was instrumental in guiding my early career. This person encouraged me to relocate to Melbourne early in my career, listened to my woes when I became overwhelmed with work, and helped me to pursue a Master’s degree in Canada. A couple of months ago, I was planning to travel to Melbourne and thought I would reconnect with him, to discover that he passed away last year. I know he knew how grateful I was for all his guidance and that I had dedicated my Master’s thesis to him, but I wish I had done a better job of keeping in contact with Vale Professor Sandford D Clark.

What has been your proudest accomplishment in the last year or so?

My biggest accomplishment over the last year was to pull out the grass on my verge and a large number of the exotic plants in my garden and replace them with endemic vegetation. It was really hard work and not completely enjoyable at the time, but we now have some pretty impressive kangaroo paws. We also have some amazing birdlife around the garden.

What should the profession focus more on?

Working out how to demonstrate the value lawyers can provide to the challenges faced by their clients. I understand the Susskinds’ focus on legal pricing, efficiency and technology, but I still believe that the people in the legal profession have a lot to contribute to solving legal problems in society. However, we have to work out how to measure that value and ensure that it is recognised.

I always learn a lot from reading Professor George Beaton’s views on the profession. If you haven’t already, I’d recommend a read of his white paper, Why Professionalism Matters More Than Ever, published in May 2022.

What are the challenges you expect in your practice, and in the business of law in general, going forward? What challenges are particularly pressing in the country’s legal industry?

I anticipate that the biggest challenge will be helping to develop a strong, cohesive team in a relatively new office in Perth. Of course, this is now easier because we can so readily work across offices and other locations. I think that the legal profession has struggled for some time to determine the best way to keep junior professionals engaged. However, despite the hard work involved, the legal profession has so many rewards and personal opportunities. I think that is why I am so interested in the professional development initiatives at Piper Alderman.

What are you looking forward to the most in the coming year?

I am looking forward to contributing my legal experience and collaborating with others on projects that will help our society to progress in a sustainable manner. There are so many changes to environmental, and natural resources regulation and developments in stakeholder consultation happening at the moment, opportunities to participate in projects to minimise and adapt to climate change and its consequences, and projects to develop resources that society will increasingly need in the future. I am looking forward to assisting clients to navigate changing obligations and working on some of these projects.

If you had to defend a fictional antagonist/villain in court, who would you pick, and why?

This was a great question that provided hours of discussion within my household over the weekend. We started with some of the some of the more obvious science-fiction villains: Thanos, Magneto, Anakin Skywalker – who had reasons for their behaviour and, in some cases, noble goals. However, there is far too much violence in the world and there really isn’t a goal noble enough to justify mass genocide.

Recently, we watched Blade Runner again. I would defend Roy Batty and the other replicants in Blade Runner (based on P K Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep). Dick’s novel was written in the 1960s, but with the rapid development of AI, we still haven’t sufficiently debated the essence of humanity and rights of self-determination.


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