Queensland has almost 14,600 solicitors practising across the state, providing legal services in heavily-populated city and urbanised spaces, as well as in regional and rural communities.
Queensland Law Society has this year recognised 11 exceptional practitioners and one organisation for exceptional service and outstanding contributions to the profession in the 2022 QLS Excellence in Law Awards.
A record number of nominations were received this year, and the standard of submissions was testament to the incredible work being done by solicitors state-wide. Over the coming days QLS Proctor will feature the 2022 winners from each award category.
A criminal lawyer instrumental in providing the only legal services in her region, and a Brisbane law student who has helped develop legal education programs for a local community, have been honoured as this year’s First Nations Award winners at the inaugural QLS Excellence in Law Awards Gala.
Nikita Sellin has been named the 2022 First Nations Solicitor of the Year, while Cameron Downey has won the First Nations Student of the Year title – both awards recognising their contributions in improving justice outcomes for Queensland Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
This year’s nominees were put forward by their peers, with winners of the two First Nations categories being selected from a field of eight finalists.
First Nations Solicitor: Nikita Sellin
Junkuri Laka Justice Group Chief Executive Officer and solicitor Nikita Sellin lives and works on Mornington Island – a remote community situated in the Gulf of Carpentaria – where she has played a key role in providing the region’s only legal services this year.
Ms Sellin grew up in Yarrabah, an Indigenous community in far north Queensland. Both her parents are Aboriginal and she identifies with Yindinji, Gunggari, Wakaman and Koa.
Images provided by Jon W / Event Photos Australia.
Following her admission to the legal profession in 2017, Ms Sellin had spent some time practising in wills and estate law, but has since shifted her focus to criminal law.
“Ms Sellin has thrived as a practitioner in an environment that I could describe as near on impossible,” her nominator said. “She has continuously provided legal services and referral services for some of the most vulnerable members of the Indigenous community.
“She is competent, well presented and committed to assisting the Lardil people on Mornington Island to achieve better outcomes in the criminal justice system and to assist and support victims.”
First Nations Student: Cameron Downey
Queensland Law Society (QUT) Bachelor of Laws and Bachelor of Information Technology final-year student Cameron Downey is a proud Ghungalu man from rural Queensland.
He works at Aurizon as a paralegal and at YFS (Youth and Family Service) Legal as a law clerk where he is part of a team developing community legal education programs for Indigenous peoples.
“In his various roles while studying law at QUT (including peer mentor, equity committee student representative, QUTLS First Nations officer) Cameron has demonstrated outstanding leadership and ongoing commitment to promoting and raising awareness of First Nations people,” his peer award nominator said.
Mr Downey has also represented QUT in mooting at national and international conferences, including the National Indigenous Legal Conference in Perth and the Global Legal Forum in the Netherlands.
Other nominees included:
Solicitor: Kirstie Smith – Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Legal Service (Qld) Ltd and Mikaela French – Marrawah Law.
Student: Nathan Clews – Gadens, Sariah Christensen – QUT, Marcus Traucnieks – UQ and Ceferina Villarin – Gadens.
Access to Justice: William ‘Bill’ Mitchell OAM
In the esteemed Access to Justice Award category, passionate social justice advocate Bill Mitchell OAM has been recognised for his decades of service to the community.
The Townsville Community Law Principal Solicitor and Registered Migration Agent has worked in human rights since his admission in 1992, and his involvement with community legal centres spans more than 30 years.
“Bill has represented Community Legal Centres Australia eight times before the United Nations in New York in debates around a new convention on the rights of older persons,” his nomination submitter added.
Mr Mitchell has also been involved in program service design for clinical legal education, elder abuse and disaster legal response. For his work in advancing human rights in Australia through the practice of law, Mr Mitchell was awarded the Australian Human Rights Commission Law Award in 2008. He received the Law Council of Australia’s President’s Medal in 2019 and was awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia in 2020.
Other nominees were: Tilé Imo – Caxton Legal Centre, Carolyn Juratowitch – HUB Community Legal, Ross Lee – My Community Legal and Andrew Morrison – New Way Lawyers.
Regional Practitioner: Benjamin Gouldson
A fellow regional practitioner and “one of the most well-respected lawyers in South West Queensland” Benjamin Gouldson won the hotly contested Regional Practitioner of the Year Award.
The Clifford Gouldson Lawyers (CGLaw) Director has lived and worked in Toowoomba all his life, and has a breadth of experience across many practice areas, including workplace law, intellectual property, estate planning, construction law and taxation.
“Ben continually shows up for the Toowoomba community, the legal profession, his family and his staff at CGLaw,” his nominator said. “Outside of running an excellent law firm, Ben has dedicated his time and effort to the local business and basketball communities and has sat on many boards and committees.”
Mr Gouldson is a well-known and trusted advisor to many Australian and international businesses. He is also a director of national employment law firm Anderson Gray Lawyers, Gympie-based firm Stanton Parkinson Solicitors and a start-ups-focused national virtual firm Bolter.
Other regional practitioner nominees included: Angela Carroll – Townsville Community Law, Deanne Drummond – Reaston Drummond Law, Beth Rolton – Travis Schultz & Partners and Scott Sier – Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Legal Service.
Emerging Leader: Tilé Imo
Last but not least, Caxton Legal Centre Coordinating Senior Lawyer Tilé Imo was bestowed the Emerging Leader Award for his ongoing contribution to improving justice outcomes for disadvantaged members of the community.
After a stint in private practice following his admission in 2013, Mr Imo has since joined the community legal sector. He is currently coordinating his centre’s multi-disciplinary health justice partnership with Metro South Health – known as the Older Persons Advocacy and Legal Service – that responds to elder abuse.
To explain why Mr Imo would be a worthy award winner, his nominator said: “Tilé has demonstrated a fierce passion for empowerment, human rights and access to justice.”
“He tirelessly contributes to community education, participates in United Nations consultations regarding the human rights of older persons and elder abuse, remains at the forefront of law reform, and still gives back to his peers as President of the Pasifika Lawyers Association of Queensland.”
Other nominees for this year’s Emerging Leader Award were: Harrison McDonald – Aitken Legal, Matthew Paterson – MinterEllison, Kirstie Smith – Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Legal Service and Andelka (Ange) Susa – CDI Lawyers.