Elizabeth McDonald, Principal of the Property and Planning team, recently discussed the firm’s summer clerkship program and opportunities for law graduates in the Hunter with the Newcastle Herald. We’ve extracted her interview below:
SWS Lawyers partner Elizabeth McDonald on why the firm’s summer clerkship program is a gamechanger.
You studied law and economics in Newcastle then worked in Sydney. Why did you return to Newcastle?
I met with some of the lawyers at SWS who are now my business partners and they were thinking about starting a commercial law firm. Back then I couldn’t have known we would become one of Australia’s leading regional law firms but I could see it was an opportunity to be part of something unique.
You head SWS’s property and planning team – what is its core workload?
We handle anything from running a seamless conveyance to a protracted easement negotiation. We’re known for tackling complex, “out of the box” land and water related matters.
You lecture in leasing law at the University of Newcastle Law School. What issues are topical?
Renewable energy projects. Energy innovation is identified in RDA Hunter’s Smart Specialisation Strategy as a growth area in the Hunter region. The technology is developing rapidly as is the demand for novel legal structures that can make it accessible to customers and attractive to venture capital investment. We’ve done some interesting leasing/commercial work in that area which is of strong interest to students (and clients).
SWS just recruited three UON law students for its Summer Clerkship Program. What does it entail?
It’s an opportunity for fourth year students to get a taste of life as a commercial lawyer. They spend their summer trialling areas of law and getting their teeth into interesting matters.
The benefit to students?
Law school is a long slog and it can seem very theoretical. This is a chance to see what the subjects they have enjoyed at Uni are like in practice. It’s also gives them a feel for our firm’s culture.
We take the clerkship process extremely seriously because we are recruiting our future partners.
How common are these programs in Newcastle?
We are the only Newcastle firm that participated in the formal clerkship program this year. The national/global firms engage in the process to get a head-start on recruiting top students. We want Hunter students to know they have a genuine alternative and don’t have to move away. Our offering allows them to test us out. We have found over the last five years that our summer clerk and graduate lawyers are excited to confirm that they can have it all - the Newcastle lifestyle plus the complex legal work their peers may travel to Sydney to experience.
Are there opportunities for law graduates in Newcastle to rival those in national and global firms?
Absolutely. We have students pass up offers at national and global law firms to join us. Businesses in the Hunter and surrounds are doing amazing things which means lawyers in the region get to do fantastic work. For example, SWS recently worked on a transaction for a Hunter-based client that won a Global Merger & Acquisition Deal of the Year award in New York. There has never been a better time to be a commercial lawyer in this city.