"Was there any moment in your youth that influenced your career choice?
I was fortunate to be raised in Newcastle by parents who instilled in me from a young age the importance of education not just in the formal sense but to experience the wider world and learn from those around you. I began my university studies undertaking a general business degree which included legal studies. I had a great lecturer, Professor Frank Bates, who really inspired me to pursue my interest in law. In the final year of my business degree, UoN was in the last stages of establishing its then new Faculty of Law. This gave me the opportunity be part of what became a unique experience as one of only 16 students in the first graduate intake for the Newcastle Law School. It is great to be one of the first lawyers out of what has become such a highly regarded law school.
Why have you based yourself in Newcastle?
Newcastle and the Hunter has always offered me great work since I began my career. I've been fortunate to work for some great clients and work on some large and fascinating matters and haven't seen the need to move from my home town.
What are your areas of specialisation?
I have practiced in dispute resolution since leaving law school and have specialised in commercial litigation for the last 15 years.
As a principal at SWS Lawyers, what does your average day look like?
Busy! An average day can be quite varied and often long. I have some great young lawyers who work with me in my group and whom I credit with making my day manageable. Whilst I live in Newcastle, a large part of my work requires me to often be in Sydney. I am often on the M1!
Law is a high-pressure environment for women who also want to have a family and retain their career. Is there more flexibility these days for women compared to when you began your career? If so, what has facilitated that?
Law can be a high pressure environment regardless of gender. What has changed since I began my career is workplace flexibility across the board, for both men and women, which is the key to achieving real family balance in any work environment. The real key is workplaces offering flexibility to all employees and encouraging men as well as women to explore that option. There is still some way to go in this area but I think we are really starting to see some change in this space and a growing conversation that I think will bring more change in the future.
What personal beliefs drive your actions as an advocate and strong supporter of female lawyers who are trying to balance their professional and personal aspirations?
What I have learnt over my career is that you have to make time for all aspects of our life, not simply your professional life, and that a career does not need to be a straight line. It is vital to make time for other things, whether that is family or other pursuits or interests.
Do you believe more needs to be done in this respect, both to provide more flexibility to women but also, for example, to fathers who wish to take more paid parental leave, which is currently limited?
There is definitely more to do in the space of workplace flexibility and families. There is no doubt however that the conversation around this is increasing and we are starting to see workplaces embrace and encourage both men and women taking parental leave.
SWS Lawyers runs a summer clerkship program that gives Newcastle law students the opportunity to work in a high-expertise area. Does it rival what is on offer in Sydney law firms?
SWS has a strong commitment to the UoN Law School and our summer clerkship program is part of that commitment. With our principals all having worked in top and mid tier law firms, we like to think we offer an experience that definitely rivals experiences in Sydney practices. Whilst working with us we ensure our summer clerks get access to great work whilst having some fun as well.
How do you believe Newcastle is seen as far as its legal talent pool and do local graduates have opportunities locally that are on par with those in capital cities?
There is no doubt the graduates from UoN are highly regarded both locally and in Sydney. Newcastle and the Hunter region certainly offers some great work. This is increasingly being done by local firms which in turn is offering UoN graduates opportunities to live and work in Newcastle and the Hunter whilst getting great experience to start their careers.
You have been nominated to join the Mai-Wel Board. Why did you throw your hat into the ring?
As a Novocastrian I have been always been aware of Mai Wel and its long history serving Newcastle and the Hunter. When the opportunity came up to join the board I jumped at the idea. I have previously served on a NSW not for profit board in the family support sector, not that dissimilar to the space within which Mai Wel operates. I am looking forward to learning more about the organisation, the people it supports, and contributing to its continued work in the disability services space."