The 2022 QLS Excellence in Law Awards are now open for peer nomination, with the added inclusion of four new award categories this year.
Queensland Law Society’s awards program seeks to acknowledge the extraordinary efforts of Queensland’s legal practitioners, and provide solicitors, teams and organisations the chance to showcase their contribution to the legal profession and the wider community.
Do you know a practitioner who deserves to be recognised for their incredible work? Read more about the 2022 QLS Excellence in Law Awards and nominate now!
QLS Proctor is featuring some of the many past QLS award recipients who continue to make a significant impact to this day.
One such recipient is Bundaberg Magistrate Edwina Rowan, who was awarded the Agnes McWhinney Award in 2019.
Named in honour of Queensland’s first admitted female solicitor, this award recognises a female lawyer who has forged new pathways for themselves and those around them through a commitment to excellence, equity, professionalism and service.
Magistrate Rowan stepped into her judicial role at the beginning of this year. Her Honour was previously a Partner at the century-old Bundaberg firm, Charltons Lawyers, and has also been a stalwart contributor to many community organisations.
Magistrate Edwina Rowan
As QLS Immediate Past President Elizabeth Shearer said at the time, “(Her Honour’s) appointment to Bundaberg, where she has already made such a strong contribution to the community is particularly welcome. Her contribution to the legal profession and community was recognised in 2019 when she was named the winner of the prestigious Agnes McWhinney Award”.
Her Honour recently shared more of her story with QLS Proctor.
QLS Proctor: Could you tell me more about your magisterial work and what you enjoy most about your current role?
Magistrate Rowan: My new role has so many varied aspects to it. The areas of law that I am dealing with are far-reaching. It has been wonderful to be appointed to my hometown. I also travel to Gladstone on circuit.
There are so many very skilled practitioners and prosecutors in regional areas. It has been wonderful to witness the advocacy of skills of early career lawyers improving and their confidence building as they settle into their careers and develop their craft. I have enjoyed the assistance provided by the capable and skilled senior practitioners and prosecutors who appear in the court each day.
The role of Magistrate has recently been described as a cornerstone of our justice system and the interface between the general public and our court system. I am acutely aware that the role carries the greatest responsibility for ensuring that the public has confidence in justice and the rule of law.
QLS Proctor: What has been the highlight of your legal career so far?
Magistrate Rowan: I felt such a sense of pride becoming the first female Partner of Charltons Lawyers, which is a law firm that was established in 1885. Charltons Lawyers, as I came to know, had a very strong history in Bundaberg. Sir Charles Powers, who was appointed to the High Court in 1913, was a solicitor at Charltons Lawyers and was very vocal for women’s rights at a time when this was really not common.
I have been blessed with wonderfully supportive mentors throughout my career, and the benefits that come from a supportive work environment and colleagues cannot be understated. The highlights of my career include my admission as a solicitor, being part of the Legal Aid Queensland Regional Solicitor program, becoming a Partner in the law firm and winning the QLS Agnes McWhinney Award in 2019.
QLS Proctor: What did receiving that award mean to you?
Magistrate Rowan: I was nominated for the Agnes McWhinney Award by a colleague. That award recognises the inspiring and trailblazing spirit of its namesake, Queensland’s first female solicitor.
I remember sitting at the table in an enormous auditorium thinking that the other candidates were so intimidatingly well accomplished, and that a kid from a regional area would never be in the running for such a prestigious award compared to such accomplished nominees. I recall Bill Potts (2019 QLS President) making a joke about how long it took me to get to the stage, because I was absolutely shell shocked when my name was announced.
The award has meant so much to me on a personal level. It was wonderful recognition for the ‘behind the scenes’ work being undertaken by the quiet achievers in the domestic violence space.
QLS Proctor: You’ve been very involved with your local community over the years. Could you tell me more about your voluntary work, and what drives you to keep giving back?
Magistrate Rowan: Prior to my appointment as a Magistrate I had served as Vice Chair and President of the Bundaberg District Law Association. I was also involved with a number of local organisations including the EDON Place Domestic and Family Violence Centre Inc and the Bundaberg Enterprise Centre. I thoroughly loved my volunteer roles. The skills I developed across all my voluntary experiences have stood me in good stead for the current role.
I am deeply aware that the demands of the court must be tempered with an empathy for the people who appear before it, many of whom will be facing the justice system for the first time and may be overwhelmed by the experience. My volunteer roles afforded me the opportunity to be deeply connected to the community and also gave me a great sense of pride to be making a contribution and a difference in my hometown.
QLS Proctor: What advice would you give to an early career lawyer who is considering moving to the regions?
Magistrate Rowan: I am very passionate about regional service because it creates such wonderful learning opportunities, at any career stage. Regional service offers more direct and personal relationships with clients in addition to broad, hands-on experience.
My advice to early career lawyers is to embrace the opportunities of regional experience with both hands. In the current competitive job market, do not dismiss working for a regional firm. Working in a regional area provides so many career and lifestyle opportunities for early career lawyers. There are many advantages which include hands-on experience, work autonomy, flexible hours, career progression and a family friendly, affordable lifestyle. The work opportunities can be both challenging and rewarding.
I do count myself fortunate to have been given the opportunity to grow into my career in a regional law firm. They really did wrap their arms around me and support me in every endeavour that I chose to do. Many of my memories of my life and the court in Bundaberg are woven together, and I feel very blessed to have been chosen to serve in a regional community.
QLS Proctor: You completed a Bachelor of Journalism in addition to your law degree. How have you applied your journalistic skills throughout your legal career?
Magistrate Rowan: My Bachelor of Journalism has been invaluable throughout my legal career and I could not have anticipated the opportunities that degree has given me. My journalism degree gave me the opportunity to undertake volunteer work at the Prisoners’ Legal Service as a media officer whilst still studying. It was such an exciting time when the service was appealing the validity of the Dangerous Prisoners (Sexual Offenders) Act 2003 (Qld).
I was able to work with the lawyers and prepare media releases on behalf of the service. As part of that work I was also given the opportunity to meet Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter when he came to Australia in 2003 with the Griffith Law School’s Innocence Project. Those experiences really fostered a love of the law for me.
After I settled into private practice I was fortunate to be offered a weekly column in the local newspaper. In 2019 I had a young exchange student staying in my home. One day she came home from school with an assignment based around a column I had written related to the issue of juvenile justice reform. It was such a heart-warming moment to know that my published piece had been noticed by educators and was being read by young people. I didn’t appreciate until that point that my humble little articles were having a positive effect on people or their understanding of legal issues.