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Corrs Chambers Westgarth

  • 1,000 - 50,000 employees

Billie Parkinson

If you make a mistake - acknowledge it, accept responsibility for your error, learn from it and move on. Don’t let the mistake crush your confidence in moving forwards and future decision making.

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in the western suburbs of Brisbane.  I loved my school years and threw myself into sport, leadership roles and other extra-curricular activities in between studies.  During the first couple of years of my degree I worked as a part-time waitress, saving ferociously to travel overseas whenever possible – my most memorable trip was a month spent as an English teaching volunteer in Zanzibar. In the third year of my studies, I completed a semester abroad at the University of Exeter, studying Islamic Law and several international business subjects.  

When I returned to Australia I was more than ready and eager to work in a legal setting and commenced as a paralegal at a top-tier law firm as a part-time paralegal in their Employment team. I also worked one day a week with a workplace investigations company.  I was with both firms about three years, taking short breaks to travel and complete clerkships during university holidays. Looking back, although I thrived on the pace and the learning experiences, by the time I graduated in July of 2017 I was exhausted by studies and work and couldn’t wait to jump on a plane and travel the world for 7 months.  

How did you get to your current job position?

I applied for clerkships in both Brisbane and Sydney during my penultimate year of university studies.  I was fortunate enough to complete a winter clerkship in Brisbane with a different firm (over the June/July break) and then I temporarily moved to Sydney for three months over the summer to work as a clerk at Corrs. I was offered a graduate role a week after concluding my clerkship and moved down to Sydney permanently at the start of 2018 to start as a graduate.  After completing the graduate program and rotating through Construction, Property / Real Estate and Banking and Finance, I settled as a lawyer in the Property team in July of 2019.    

How did you choose your specialisation?

I knew that I was more suited to transactional, as opposed to litigious work, thanks to my experience working as a paralegal during university.  My clerkships then provided me with the opportunity to try a variety of different practice groups so I was able to narrow down my choices by the time I started as a graduate at Corrs.  When it came to settle in July of last year I struggled to make the final decision as to where I wanted to take the next step in my career.  I was exceptionally fortunate that lawyers and Partners in the two teams that I was considering were very generous in the time they spent in discussing my options and potential path for the future.  I ultimately decided that Property / Real Estate was for me, but I really was spoiled for choice.  

What was your interview process like?

Following a positive selection to the written application, the Corrs clerkship process is essentially four steps – two social evenings and two interviews. Although I was living in Brisbane during the application process, I made the commitment to fly down for each event because I wanted to meet as many people as I could before making such an important decision.  The lawyers I met during the process were welcoming and approachable and I increasingly felt that Corrs could be a good fit for me, and vice versa. I also felt an instant rapport with some of the other candidates, one of whom has since become one of my closest friends, and whose wedding I spoke at last year! 

My interviews were each with a Senior Associate and Partner.  The hour-long interviews were interesting and conversational, and although some of the questions challenged me to provide a meaningful example rather than a ‘practised’ response, I never felt like I was being interrogated or was being tested.  My interviewers genuinely made me feel like they were interested in getting to know me and I walked out of my second interview knowing that Corrs was my number one choice.  

What does your employer do?

Corrs is a full-service commercial law firm that provides professional support to a huge range of clients.  The Property / Real Estate team provide ‘cradle to grave’ service by advising clients on all aspects of developments, including acquisitions and disposals, project and tilting structuring, joint ventures and developer sales.  Our team also specialises in private equity capital transactions involving high-value acquisitions and disposals. I work predominantly within the development space.  

What are your areas of responsibility?

Corrs teams are structured in a way that mean every person on a deal or project plays an integral role.  I typically work alongside a Partner and / or a Senior Associate, but if a matter is particularly complex or time-consuming, more members of the group will be involved.  We work together and I need to be across all aspects of a matter rather than an isolated part.  There are also some smaller matters that I have day to day carriage of and just check in with a senior lawyer when I have a query.  Drafting, matter management, client communication, liaising with other teams within Corrs and assisting paralegals and grads all form part of my role within the team.

Can you describe a typical workday?

It may sound like a cliché to say that every day is different because we are responding to the needs of our clients but this is genuinely the case.  I finish my day by optimistically writing my ‘to-do’ list for the next day, but inevitably there is a need to reprioritise tasks and potentially rearrange schedules or meetings as new information requires immediate action. I can always count on my ‘to-do’ list expanding during the course of a day!

Any given day will usually include attending client conferences, drafting transaction documents and client correspondence, attending to completion matters, with telephone calls and email correspondence with clients in between!  I work predominantly within the development space of the Property / Real Estate team, in which it is highly unusual to be working on only one or two matters.  I’ll typically be juggling at least 5 matters in any one day so I’m constantly being kept on my toes. 

Other typical aspects of my day are having coffee with the team in the firm café, laughing with our pod (occasionally at my Partner’s expense…!) and an evening walk or gym class with one of my colleagues to finish the day. Shared humour, a true sense of collegiality and good coffee are an essential component of destressing while working in a fast-paced environment!

What are the career prospects with your job?

A graduate role followed by a few years as a junior lawyer at a commercial firm provides an excellent professional platform from which to change pathways within the legal profession or move into a more business focused field.  It is not unusual for lawyers to complete secondments or go overseas for a stint. Admittedly, this is less common for property lawyers because it’s a more jurisdictional practice group, but in the last few years we’ve had lawyers move to London, Glasgow, Seattle and New York.  Some lawyers may pursue an in-house role, typically with a large property development organisation, but of course many continue to progress their career path within the firm and ultimately may become Partners.

Could someone with a different background do your job?

A law degree is obviously a critical and necessary starting point for any junior lawyer!  Given that qualification, of course, it is possible to alter your career direction from whichever area you have commenced in but I feel that specifically in the property area – meticulous attention to detail, a strong work ethic and a positive resilient attitude are valuable characteristics.  

What would your career be if you weren’t doing what you’re doing now?

I was drawn to medicine as an alternative to law but in retrospect, it wouldn’t have been the right career for me and I absolutely made the right choice. I love the fact that I am able to follow matters through to their resolution and every aspect of my job is basically solution-focused. 

What do you love the most about your job?

My job is complex and challenging and I love coming to work every day. The work is interesting and intellectually stimulating and I definitely enjoy the challenge of pulling everything together and the heightened energy of the team as a deal nears completion. There is genuine satisfaction when you press send on an email confirming that a project or deal has been completed successfully. Naturally, great client feedback is also a big boost to confidence in your work and professionalism.

Corrs encourages a collaborative and collegiate environment and we have great teams that respects each others opinions (both within teams and between teams). I learn constantly from the experience and mentorship of senior staff and the Partners are extremely encouraging and supportive of junior lawyers. I know without doubt that I am becoming a better lawyer because of them and I am exceptionally fortunate that I can call my colleagues friends. 

What’s the biggest limitation of your job?

I doubt that anyone commences working at a top-tier law firm with an expectation that they’ll be working a regular 8 hour day Monday to Friday.  The reality is that the work can be high stakes, which means elevated pressure and sometimes long hours. When a deal is nearing completion and work is hectic then you just have to be flexible and run with it, but the flip side of the coin is that when things quieten down, Corrs definitely expects and encourages you to take a step back, breathe and recharge your batteries. 

Which three pieces of advice would you give to a current university student?

  1. Travel as much as you possibly can in university – 4 or 5 weeks of leave is an adjustment compared to those precious 3 months you get every Christmas. 
  2. Be open-minded when considering your future employment/career. Speak to as many people as you can when deciding on which firm to apply for.  When the days are demanding, you want to be working within a culture that is supportive and attracts the kind of people that you enjoy interacting with. Try varying types of work when opportunities appear and throw yourself into it enthusiastically despite any preconceived notions you might have – I never thought I would be a property lawyer but now I can’t see myself doing anything else! 
  3. If you make a mistake - acknowledge it, accept responsibility for your error, learn from it and move on. Don’t let the mistake crush your confidence in moving forwards and future decision making.