Two tips for a happy career in law

Ashurst counsel Julia Sutherland says that unexpected career turns have taught her these lessons

Two tips for a happy career in law

Julia Sutherland has two tips for colleagues in the profession when it comes to finding happiness in a long career in law. This advice, she says, came to her through many turns in her career over the years – some of which were unexpected.

The Ashurst counsel’s advice also applies to law firms, which she said should focus on two key issues into the future.

In this interview, Sutherland also breaks down why her specialty area of employment and safety law is going to be exciting this year. This, and the fact that she just relocated from Sydney to Perth, where she started her career 16 years ago, has her excited for 2018.

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What made you choose a career in law?

Like many lawyers, I didn’t really choose a career in law to start with. I chose to study law because I thought it was a versatile degree and the exciting topics interested me. On my first clerkship with Ashurst, I found to my surprise that I really enjoyed it and that was the decision made.

What do you love most about your job?

There are a number of things I enjoy about my work. In my area of practice [employment and work, health and safety], people are often faced with personally challenging situations, such as workplace fatalities or serious workplace grievances. It is very rewarding to be able to help my clients through those moments. I also get a lot out of meeting new people, being invited to their workplaces and learning about their operations. One day is never the same as the next!

Julia Sutherland

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

The role of mentoring for women at the firm and within the profession more generally is a passion of mine. I have been involved in our firm's mentoring initiatives and events for women for many years. 

What was your proudest accomplishment in 2017?

I have seen some of my colleagues have some great results for clients in 2017. The pride I have in my work comes from my part in our team, and I'm not sure I could single out any one significant thing I have done personally. However, some highlights for the team include acting as the primary legal adviser to Qantas for its ongoing transformation programme and acting for INPEX in its negotiations with the Australian maritime unions to implement an innovative private dispute settlement process to apply to all potential industrial issues on INPEX Ichthys LNG Project.

What should the profession and law firms focus more on?

We all know that flexibility and diversity remain challenges for the profession. It is good to see that these topics are being recognised now as relevant not only to working mothers, but to the broader workforce, and getting this right is vital to attract and retain staff of all genders. This has been a focus at Ashurst, and I expect that these matters will continue to be focus areas for law firms and the profession into the future. 

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

I feel like I learn lessons every day about practising law. My career has taken many turns over the years, and not all have been expected. One piece of advice I would give is to be agile and flexible in how you approach your career and enjoy yourself along the way. It is a long career and if you don't enjoy what you're doing, who you are doing it with and have something outside of work to sustain you, it can make things more difficult to be happy in your work.     

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?

Employment law practice is never boring; there are always challenges as a consequence of new legislative change or social or industrial developments. 2018 will be no different. Some of the hot topics we have identified for 2018 are managing sexual harassment in the workplace following the focus on the #MeToo campaign; strategies around workforce engagement, [for example] because of the introduction of labour licensing laws and the focus on casual conversion; and increased focus on protections for vulnerable workers, including a possible Modern Slavery Act. In the safety area, there will be a review of the effectiveness of the model WHS laws this year, on which employers will have an opportunity to consult. 

In terms of the business of law more generally, offering real flexibility to lawyers and increasing diversity – not just gender diversity – within the profession will, in my view, remain challenges for the profession going forward.    

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

I have just relocated from our Sydney office to our Perth office, having started my career in Perth about 16 years ago. It is a big move for me and my family. I am very excited about the challenges that lie ahead for me in building relationships with our clients and learning about their businesses, as well as enjoying the benefits of living in this beautiful city.

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