Shows like Rumpole of the Bailey and Paper Chase on Malaysian television inspired Gold Coast Principal Jade Chee growing up.
The Global Legal Solutions Principal received her 25-year Queensland Law Society membership pin at the QLS Celebrate, Recognise, Socialise event this week.
Jade Chee receives her certificate.
“These stirred my imagination to become like those lawyers on these TV shows,” Jade said.
Jade studied law at the University of Nottingham in the United Kingdom, graduating in 1988. Upon completion of her degree, she undertook the graduate bar legal practice course to seek admission as a UK barrister, successfully completing the training in 1990.
“Being a Malaysian with my parents and siblings still living in Malaysia when I first embarked on my legal studies in the UK, the expectation was that I would return to Malaysia to practise law,” she said.
“Being a Commonwealth country, Malaysia’s legal system was partly based on the English Legal System, so it was quite usual in those days for Malaysians to go to the UK to study law and then return to Malaysia to practise.”
However Jade started her legal career by doing a 12-month pupillage at the Chambers of John Roberts QC of Lincoln’s Inn. She also spent time with the Crown Prosecution Service in London during her second period of pupillage, and there met her future husband Jerry, a Polish-Australian lawyer now Queensland barrister.
A year after their son was born in London, a bomb went off less than six kilometres from their home, so that was the impetus to move to Australia.
“It was daunting when the thought initially arose but it was also an exciting prospect. Once the decision was made, it then came down to planning what was required – such as making the applications for me to have a visa and to prepare and lodge applications to be admitted in Queensland and in NSW.
“Having to become familiar with the various laws in Australia and how the courts work was initially challenging but I had help from the various lawyers and also from my husband.
“I would spend my spare time reading various publications from cover to cover to get up to speed, but nothing compares to getting one’s feet wet by having the first-hand experience practising as a barrister and as a solicitor in a law firm.
“In deciding to become a solicitor, the aim was always to start my own law firm. I had to get employment initially in law firms for at least two years and then do the Practice Management Course.
“I liked the independence that barristers in private practice had. I also had had a taste for flexible work practices in the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) in the UK which to me made a lot of sense for working mothers.
“Tried as I did to have Queensland law firms allow similar work practices, this was not possible whilst working for someone else at that time in the late ’90s to early 2000s. I had two school-age children at that time and being able to work around their needs was an important consideration. My husband assisted me a lot in this respect and he encouraged me to set up my own firm.
“I am also grateful to Ron Plass, the Principal of Plass Lawyers, who wholeheartedly embraced me working to my own hours and this allowed me to work from home as well as in the office and take time off to do the Practice Management Course.”
And son Stefan has now followed in his parents’ footsteps.
“Now that Stefan is working under my supervision as an employed solicitor in my practice, I have given him ongoing advice now and then when we discuss various aspects of cases he is working on.
“And if there are three words that are the most important for going to do battle for a client in court, these are ‘preparation, preparation, preparation’.”
And the move to Australia has become a long and fruitful one for Jade, with the 25-year pin award being a highlight.
“It means that the Society recognises a practitioner’s long standing endurance in legal practice and membership in the QLS as an achievement,” she said.
“It has been a challenging 25 years. If I take into account my UK experience and my NSW experience, I have had a career spanning 32 years to date. I don’t know where all the time has gone. I look back and it has gone so fast. Perhaps it is like the saying goes, time flies when you are having fun.”
Sally Southwood, who also received a 25-year pin, also enjoys encouraging early career lawyers. She hopes to give them the mentoring and support that she received early in her career.
Sally Southwood with her 25-year pin.
“I was not sure what I wanted to do but I wanted to help people. My grandfather worked in the legal industry and I looked up to him a lot. In hindsight that was a big part of the choice I made,” Sally said.
“I had an amazing mentor as a new (and young) solicitor, his name was Charles Cooper. I felt that I was always supported and I had a great amount of respect for him. I had a lot of other people that provided support to me earlier on in my career.
“I had my first child about one and a half years after I was admitted, and being a young new mother and a young new solicitor was interesting to say the least, having a mentor that was understanding (but blunt at times) was appreciated.
“Working in the legal industry can be tough, it often involves long hours and can be stressful both professionally and personally. I hope that I can give to others what I was fortunate to receive in the form of support and guidance.”
Sally studied law at Southern Cross University in Lismore, graduating in 1997. She completed the Legal Practice Course at QUT in 1998 and was admitted as a solicitor in Queensland in November of that year.
Sally started her career at Primrose Couper Cronin Rudkin (with Charles Cooper) in 1998. In 2007, when Charles established his own firm, Charles Cooper Lawyers, Sally continued to work with him as a Senior Associate in the firm until 2013.
From 2013-2016, she was Senior Family Lawyer at Wiltshire Lawyers, before joining Stone Group Lawyers in 2017. She became Partner of Family Law at Stone Group Lawyers in September 2021.
Sally has been a QLS Accredited Specialist in Family Law since 2005. She also holds a Certificate in Family Dispute Resolution from Bond University.
Ironically, family law was not Sally’s first choice.
“I actually did not want to do family law, it was the only area of law I did not want to do. My electives were in the corporate areas,” she said. “Just before my admission I was in a taxi going home on a Saturday night and the driver told me that he had a law degree and could never get a job.
“It rattled me to say the least. A bit over a week after I was admitted, Charles called me and offered me a job. Charles told me that I would not be doing much family law … this became a bit of a joke when I achieved my accreditation.
“When I actually practiced in family law, I had a new appreciation that it was about so much more than relationship breakdowns. At university it seemed that it was a ‘soft’ area of law. Actually working in family law you soon realise there is nothing ‘soft’ about it.
“Whilst it is about helping people, as family lawyers we deal with such a broad range of laws at various stages of our careers but we also need to have pretty thick skin and broad shoulders. The breadth of issues that we deal with in family law is why I still love what I do.”
And as for reaching the 25-year milestone, other than making Sally “feel old”, she is grateful for all the support.
“I am proud of what I have been able to achieve and grateful that for most of my career I have had support from my colleagues and have largely been able to work with great people, many of them who I regard as friends.
“On a personal level I probably could not have achieved 25 years without the understanding and support (whether they knew or intended it or not) of my two children.”
Judge Jodie Wooldridge KC gave the toast to the profession. She was appointed as Queen’s Counsel in 2020.
Her Honour was appointed a Judge of the District Court of Queensland on 20 June 2022; a Judge of the Children’s Court of Queensland on 8 July, and as a Judge of the Planning and Environment Court on 2 September that same year.