Early career lawyers – those with five years or less post-admission experience, or practitioners who are 35 years or younger – make up more than 35 per cent of the Queensland solicitors’ branch.
Young lawyer committees have a long history at Queensland Law Society; first emerging in 1965 as a new sectional group called the Young Members Committee, and currently operating as the Future Leaders Committee.
With the cohort made up of more than 4000 practitioners across the state, QLS President Chloé Kopilović says there is a real need for strong representation as these lawyers navigate the early stages of their career.
“The first QLS committee for early career lawyers was formed in the mid ’60s when the proportion of younger members was growing steadily,” Ms Kopilović said. “There’s also been a steady increase over the last decade in the number of young solicitors joining the legal profession.
“It’s so important that the next generation of lawyers has a voice. Building collegiality with them not only allows us to pass on our knowledge and experience, but it also gives us the opportunity to learn from them, as they bring fresh perspectives and new ideas.”
The early days
QLS groups advocating for young lawyers have had a range of focus areas over the years; their projects many and varied. For example, committee members in the ’60s and ’70s served on QLS sub-committees, managed a legal community service program, and developed ideas for improved legal office management. They also organised Society sporting events, including cricket matches between solicitors and barristers, and arranged the first practitioners’ dinner in 1967 which became an annual event.
The first committee was described as the ‘driving force’ behind a series of regular post-graduate seminars which eventually developed into continuing legal education in 1977. This followed the suggestions of two junior solicitors in 1963, J.S.P. O’Keefe and J.N. McKnoulty, that after-work discussion groups should be held on new areas of law. The first focused on The Contracts of Sale of Land Act; subsequent sessions were often led by experts outside of the profession, such as the Registrar of Titles on the inner workings of the Real Property Act.
Early career lawyers also played a key role in the internal and external public relations program at QLS. In 1970 the committee prepared the Society’s first PR brochures which were circulated widely in the community, covering motor vehicle accidents, wills and conveyancing. In 1975 QLS initiated a TV campaign to promote the profession; the first ad appearing on Channel 9 in city and country areas with the slogan: ‘Your solicitor helps get it right first time’. The network offered the committee’s brochures to viewers who requested them.
‘The first of the modern young lawyer committees’
In the late ’70s a young Queensland lawyer, Orazio (Ray) Rinaudo, had finished five years of articles and was eager to make an impact in the profession. By the early ’80s, about a decade before he became QLS President – eventually Queensland’s Chief Magistrate from 2014 to 2019 – the now-retired judge spent some time at the helm of the QLS Young Lawyers Committee.
His Honour said the QLS President at the time, Rob Hill, had invited him and a small group of young lawyers to revive the committee and bring it in line with its interstate counterparts.
“It was very formalised in NSW and Victoria at that stage, whereas our committee was pretty much in its infancy,” Mr Rinaudo said. “We were able to learn from them about how they were addressing issues facing young lawyers in their states and transport that back here, having regard to our own experiences.”
Mr Rinaudo recalls the committee approaching Mr Hill and saying they wanted to start a newsletter to share up-to-date information with other young lawyers, and bring them into the fold of the Society.
“He said he was thinking of doing the same for the profession generally – The Proctor was born out of that,” Mr Rinaudo said. “We put the early editions together as a committee, and we had faith in that to address young lawyers’ issues – that was a really important advancement in communication with the profession.”
CLE executive members of the day – Helen O’Sullivan, Alan Millhouse, David Thomas, Ray Rinaudo, Dennis Byrne and Stephen Keim.
The committee would also spread information about working conditions, entitlements and pay rates. Continuing legal education programs were also high on the committee’s agenda and developed fairly quickly, an area that was only in its infancy when Mr Rinaudo started out in the profession.
“This was an era when professional indemnity insurance was being developed,” he said. “We needed to make sure practitioners were fully aware of their obligations to maintain their knowledge and standard of practice.
“Even though we moved to set up a fully functioning CLE department within the Society, it wasn’t until much later that they made CPD points compulsory for the reissuing of the practising certificate.
“The most important thing for any young lawyer to know when they first come into the profession is that they’ve got to be true to themselves. They’ve got to be certainly aware of their ethical responsibilities and make sure they apply them – that’s the cornerstone of practice.”
Now and into the future
A government lawyer committed to staying connected to the profession, Sarah Plasto joined the Future Leaders Committee (FLC) in 2022 and stepped into the President’s role in February this year.
The only QLS committee elected by Society members, the FLC recently welcomed six early career lawyers for the 2023-25 term, saying goodbye to some of its original members who have advocated for the cohort since the group’s inception in 2021.
“Our priorities in the last few years have been largely education in a number of forms, with a big focus on networking, connection and belonging,” Ms Plasto said. “We have re-established some events in the QLS calendar with the return of the Welcome to the Profession drinks and the Young Lawyers Ball, among a host of others.
“We have also worked closely with the QLS education and continuing professional development teams on redefining CPD for early career lawyers in a post-pandemic world, with a focus on fresh, relevant content and up-to-date delivery methods suitable for early career lawyers.”
FLC members celebrate 2022 – Simon Playford, Minnie Hannaford, Matthew Hollings, Sarah Plasto, Stafford Mortensen and Georgia Athanasellis.
The FLC has also established The Hub – an information platform which brings together relevant resources for the cohort – and launched The Callover podcast, where guests share their experiences in law and unpack current legal issues.
On the current outlook for young lawyers in Queensland, Ms Plasto said they now had opportunities to immerse themselves in the profession in ways which suited them best.
“Access to mentorship, a sense of connection and a sense of belonging are critical to a young lawyer’s journey and career enjoyment,” she said. “COVID was an enormous challenge globally, but it has brought about some positive changes in the way we connect with each other.
“The early career lawyer cohort is incredibly diverse, and options for communication mean that those juggling work and family can find a method of connection that fits their life; similarly for our regional counterparts.
“If any early career lawyers have ideas, suggestions or changes they would passionately like to see instigated, each of our incredible committee members want to hear from you.”
Learn more about the FLC.
Early career lawyers Stafford Mortensen, Minnie Hannaford, Georgia Athanasellis and Sarah Plasto at this year’s Young Lawyers Ball.