In conversation with Maddison Harrington

“People who end up as ‘first’ don’t actually set out to be first. They set out to do something they love.”

– Condoleezza Rice, United States Secretary of State 2005-09

Such is the story of this month’s feature member: Maddison Harrington.

Maddison is one of Australia’s first openly trans lawyers. This was not without struggle, but Maddison had spent 6½ years studying across two countries. She wasn’t going to give up. Maddison has overcome incredible hurdles, personally and professionally, and is not only a legal officer with the Griffith University’s in-house counsel team, the Chair of Griffith University’s Staff Pride Committee, but the State Director for the Queensland division of Out for Australia, a nationwide organisation which supports young LGBTI professionals to be ‘out and proud’ in the workplace.

I’ve had the privilege to know Maddison in both a professional and personal capacity, and am very excited to share, albeit a fraction of, her incredible journey with the hope that her courage encourages you to be an advocate for your passions in life, and in law. Here are Maddison’s hopes for the future of the legal profession.

SD: Where would you like to see the legal profession in five or 10 years’ time?

MH: I think we’re on the right path, but I would love to see a profession where no one has to fear being open about who they truly are. I want to continue to see the profession stand up and be willing to accept more diversity in its ranks, be that LGBTI people, people of colour, migrants, etc.

I think that we can always do more, and aim for better outcomes. I still hear stories of other young LGBTI lawyers who are not ‘out’ in their workplaces, be that for fear of discrimination, bullying, or simply fear of damaging their career opportunities.

An increasing number of high-profile LGBTI lawyers have come out over the past few years, and they’ve been incredible advocates. As the legal profession learns and grows, I hope to see this continue.

SD: What do you think we can do, as a profession, to help realise that five to 10-year vision?

MH: We must ensure that we engage in more diverse hiring practices. The end goal must be to reach a point where a person’s background, experiences or identities simply don’t matter – what someone was born as, or who they love, for instance.

We should also start to see those characteristics as advantages, rather than limitations. I also would love to see an increase in the number of smaller firms working towards ensuring their workplaces are diverse and LGBTI-inclusive.

A big step that some areas of the profession still must make is removing the old unconscious bias surrounding diversity. This is especially true for LGBTI people, who have faced higher levels of discrimination in particular areas of the law.

We need to see more people actively calling out phobic, sexist and racist behaviour when they see or hear it. Ultimately, it’s about being an active participant in the pursuit of inclusion, rather than a passive bystander.

SD: What would be your advice to someone who is just joining the profession?

MH: Don’t be afraid to be your true and most authentic self. In addition, don’t be afraid to take an unconventional path to reach your goals!

SD: Could you speak to your life in law; associations you may be a part of, and how to find that balance?

MH: I’m incredibly fortunate to have recently been appointed as a committee member on the Queensland Law Society’s (QLS) QLS Early Career Lawyers Committee. I provide the committee and QLS with a junior in-house lawyer’s perspective.

Outside of law, I am the State Director for the Queensland arm of Out for Australia (OFA). This role takes up most of my time outside of work and includes leading a team of Queensland-based volunteers to put on events, connect with community and corporate organisations, and deliver Australia’s largest LGBTI mentoring program.

In addition to OFA, I have long held a passion for legal innovation and have previously been a mentor for The Legal Forecast’s Disrupting Law event and regularly attend their events.

I like being kept busy, particularly as someone who studied law full time through law school, whilst also working full time (to pay for my degree). I’ve learned to juggle competing priorities, and I always make sure to find time for myself, to either socialise with friends, or just be by myself!

Contrary to popular belief and social media slogan, the future is not female – it is intersectional. Maddison and her advocacy across several segments of the legal profession, is a testament to this and the importance of bringing your whole self to your work.

On that note, exciting initiatives are on the horizon, which will bring unprecedented opportunities to shape the future for the Queensland legal profession. Stay tuned.

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If you, or someone you know ought to be featured in Lawyers of Queensland, please email s.deo@qls.com.au.

Sheetal Deo is Queensland Law Society Relationship Manager – Future Lawyers, Future Leaders.

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