Faces of the Regions: Bundaberg

Graduating law is no easy feat and after years of late nights and early morning lectures, come graduation, law students are ready to throw their graduation hats in the air and are raring to get involved in the legal profession.

But as their studies draw to a close, the question then turns to – where to start a legal career? A particularly challenging decision in a very competitive market.

Many lawyers – including graduates – become focused on city-based careers; however, there is a huge range of opportunities to be discovered outside the major cities. Access to justice in remote, rural and regional areas is a serious issue for many Australians and for some, practising law in a rural town offers law graduates and students the chance to have a tangible impact on their local communities and gain experience with clients in a wide range of legal matters.

Most law graduates crave a job that sets them on a career path of success but also one that affords them interesting work, career progression, job satisfaction and time to enjoy life outside of the law. Many graduates are finding that a sea change and employment in a regional firm offers an excellent opportunity to launch a legal career.

So, I decided to go straight to the horse’s mouth and speak with four passionate, Bundaberg-based early-career lawyers about their experiences and benefits they found working in the legal profession in a regional area.

If you’re considering a change of scenery in your legal career… read on and start packing your bags!

Lani Olafsson – Admitted solicitor, Legal Aid Queensland

On career progression…
I obtained my Law degree from the University of Queensland in 2016 and was admitted in February 2017. I began working for the Director of Public Prosecutions in September 2010 as a clerk whilst completing my studies. In early 2016 I move d to Legal Aid Queensland.

The move to a regional office has been a positive one and has provided me with valuable experience particularly with respect to the variety of work and cases as well as being able to interact with different Magistrates, Judges, Police and Prosecutors.

On work-life balance…
Bundaberg is a coastal town and provides excellent quality of work-life balance. It is a very affordable location, which allows myself and my partner enough space to have pets and beautiful scenery at our doorstep.

A typical day of work for me involves walking my dog along the oceanfront in the morning before leaving for work. I usually have court appearances in the morning, file work on either side of lunch and conferences and/or advice clinics in the afternoon.

In my experience, working in a regional office interacts more as an extended family. Everyone is accepted for their quirks and support is quickly available from superiors. Everyone I have worked with, including colleagues in other firms have genuinely wanted to provide assistance and see me succeed.

On experience and opportunities…
Working regionally has exposed me to a variety of cases that may not necessarily be available in a capital city. The work is challenging and rewarding. The ability to constantly learn, grow and achieve new goals provides for a very satisfying work experience.

The experience has helped me learn a substantial amount about the law, very quickly making me a much more capable, experienced and confident advocate for my clients.

Michelle Rekow – Admitted Solicitor, Baker O’Brien and Toll Lawyers

On why she chose to work in Bundaberg…
I was born and raised in Bundaberg and moved to Brisbane after high school for study. I completed both my Bachelor of Laws and a Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice with QUT.

I was fortunate enough to spend 4 years working part time in property, finance and securities at a Brisbane law firm whilst studying and then full time after my admission. Ultimately, the city was never where I saw myself long term, and I was able to get a job in Bundaberg in February 2020.

On Invaluable experience…
Regional practice has exposed me to a wide variety of practice and experience with unique matters such as agricultural contracts, minor civil matters and criminal matters which I had not previously seen.

It’s been very hands-on from the start and within my first week, I had multiple face-to-face client appointments. My typical day is balanced between a few client appointments and enough time to work independently on my own matters and the partners’ files. I mostly practise in commercial, property and estates, however, I am exposed to a wide range of work including court appearances and drafting advice to clients.

On work-life balance
One of the big drawcards for me is the work-life balance. Living in the city, I could spend anywhere between 20 minutes to almost 2 hours commuting to and from work which extended my overall workday.

I now live 5 minutes from my office and I’m able to utilise hours before and after work for social or sporting commitments, and my lifestyle is generally more relaxed. My firm also encourages work-life balance and is open to flexible working arrangements and providing the ability to work remotely. 

On job satisfaction…
I find working in a regional law firm busy and at times challenging when it involves managing or dealing with a number of matters and different areas of law daily.

I learn directly from partners in the firm who have been practising for over 30 and 40 years and some experienced staff who have been working in the legal profession equally as long. I’ve also interacted with clients, local businesses, professionals, and legal colleagues more frequently and I feel part of the local community. It’s a good feeling to make a connection with a client and be able to assist in different areas and stages of their lives and see the direct impact of the work I do.

I also enjoy the work environment of a regional law firm. I feel I am continuingly learning and developing professionally, building relationships and I always feel my work is recognised and appreciated.

Advice for graduates…
I would definitely recommend law graduates or early career lawyers consider working in a regional or rural law firm. Even if it is for a short-term period, there are so many professional and personal benefits.

There are opportunities to run your own files, gain firsthand and practical experience, have direct contact with partners and there is more flexibility with learning and continuing professional development.

Another positive is the ability to establish a network within the local legal profession and community, which can lead to business and professional opportunities that you may not otherwise get as early in your career.

On the future…
Personally, I don’t see myself moving back to the city or practicing in a non-regional firm. I think as the benefits of regional early career practice are highlighted and priorities evolve towards job satisfaction and work life balance, engaging in early career regional and rural legal practice will become a popular avenue for both short term experiences and long term practice.

Zoe Green – Law student, Maloy Law

On the reason to study law…
At the age of 19 I realised a career in hairdressing wasn’t for me, so I took some time to reflect and went on a working holiday to Hamilton Island where I lived and worked for 2 years; I then moved to Bundaberg.

Upon my return, I was successful in my application for a receptionist position at the firm I currently work for. This job really sparked my interest in a legal career. I was offered the position and the rest is history!

On the invaluable experience…
Working in a regional law firm has opened my eyes on both a personal and a professional level. Being a smaller firm we develop close working relationships within the community and the clients we represent have developed a professional relationship with us. Word of mouth is a very big asset in a regional town.

It’s also given me the opportunity to develop close relationships with my colleagues, the legal profession and the community. We work very closely with all firms of a similar nature and I have developed great relationships with their staff and solicitors.

On job satisfaction…
Job satisfaction means a lot in the firm I work for. I am assistant to the Director so my experience has been very ‘hands-on’. The Solicitors are very motivated in helping me learn and there is no task that they don’t first allow me the opportunity to attempt.

They will often ‘throw me in the deep end’ lending a hand if I need. Whilst this can be frightening at times, they are always reminding me of their confidence in me.

Trent Osborne – Admitted solicitor, Charltons Lawyers

On working for a regional firm…
I work for a small, family-oriented firm. Because the firm consists of three partners and myself in addition to support staff, I have a high degree of autonomy and responsibility for my caseload which primarily includes civil and commercial matters and conveyancing. I have also had the opportunity to work on criminal matters and appear in Court. The partners are approachable and have an ‘open door’ policy.

I am learning directly from the partners which is providing me with invaluable experience. I also enjoy working in an environment where a large focus is on being an integral part of and serving the local community.

On the future…
I plan to stay in Bundaberg. I live on a rural property only a short drive from the office and not far from the beach. I have made the decision that I am suited to a family-oriented regional firm and the advantages that come from living and working in a regional community. I hope to one day achieve partnership and know that I have realistic prospects of achieving this at my current firm.

Advice for graduates…
In the current competitive job market, do not dismiss working for a regional firm. There are many advantages which include a variety of hands-on experience, work autonomy, flexible hours, career progression and an affordable lifestyle. The relationships that you can foster in a regional area both with colleagues and clients can be extremely meaningful. Regional Queensland is full of career opportunities waiting to be discovered.

Zack McKay – Admitted solicitor, Finemore Walters and Story Solicitors

On working for a regional firm…
During my studies, I started working at Finemore Walters & Story Solicitors, a regional practice, with 13 practitioners spread across 3 regional offices. Working in a regional law practice is definitely a combination of challenges and rewards.

I think most regional practitioners would agree you are expected to cover a multitude of practice areas.  However, this has given me the ability to practice in a variety of areas in my early years, becoming more focused as my career progressed and I now have a clear goal of specialising in my field. I love that I am able to achieve all of this whilst still being part of a team that is able to collectively deal with any scenario – no matter the topic of law.   

On work life balance…
We work in an industry where work life balance is always a topic of debate. Perhaps I’m lucky, but it is certainly great to leave work in the afternoon (and drive only 15 minutes home!), take some time to enjoy the remaining daylight and unwind.

With flexible working arrangements becoming the norm, it’s easy to catch up on work at a time that suits, whether that be late in the evening to prepare for a Court appearance, the next morning or a Sunday afternoon to get ready for the week ahead.

Advice to early-career lawyers…
I’d recommend working in a regional practice to any new graduate or early career lawyer. It allows you to learn skills in a vast array of practice areas, find your footing in the industry and grow your career, whilst meeting and helping clients who genuinely appreciate your help.

Lawyers have the ability to change their client’s lives for the better and it’s always rewarding to hear positive feedback from your clients, and word certainly spreads quickly in a regional town!

Lexi Kehl is the Queensland Law Society PR & Media Executive. Got a story? Know of a lawyer doing great things? Get in touch today: l.kehl@qls.com.au.

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