What's your name and job title? What did you study? When did you graduate?
I’m Anna Belgiorno-Nettis. I’m a graduate lawyer in the Competition + Regulation (C+R) team at Gilbert and Tobin (G+T). I studied media and communications with a French and philosophy major, and then gave a Juris Doctor a go. I graduated in 2017.
Where did you grow up? Talk to us about some important stages you’ve had in your life.
I was born in Australia. We moved to Malaysia for seven years when I was two. My first language was Italian. We go back to visit mamma’s family there as often as we can.
My “important life stages” would be moments when I’ve changed the way I live my life, and they are all tied to travel: a year in Paris for my French major, working in New York and Venice art museums, and a London exchange have all been important. However the biggest was a much closer move: from Sydney to Melbourne for my law degree. What a way to learn there’s no need to go far to truly reach a new life stage.
How did you get to your current job position? For how long have you had it?
I completed G+T’s clerkship program in Melbourne and was offered a graduate position afterwards. I was then able to defer my graduate offer for six months and transfer it to Sydney. Part of that was due to personal circumstances, however much of that was due to how flexible G+T is. Bureaucracy is not a thing here. That’s a rarity in law.
How did you choose your specialisation?
My current specialisation is C+R. Honestly? At the start, I didn’t choose! After doing a litigation and corporate clerkship, I thought a group with more advisory work could be fun. It worked out phenomenally.
I then choose to paralegal and start my graduate program in C+R because the work is so varied and intellectually interesting even at a junior level, which keeps the week exciting. Competition is also one of G+T’s strengths – our team is the largest in Australia, with some of the greatest C+R lawyers in the country. It means we get the most fascinating matters to work on.
What was your interview process like? What kind of questions were you asked?
Interviews help employers see if you’ll get on well with their team, so it made sense that my clerkship interview was relaxed, while still making me feel I’d shown why I was attracted to G+T. My interviewing partner had done a sabbatical in New York, where I’d worked for six months at the Museum of Modern Art. We talked about what I learnt and loved about working there, and about NYC art and food, of course!
Suppose a student was considering your career. What would you advise them to study? Are there any soft skills it would beneficial for them to develop? Should they pursue any sort of work experience?
Besides the essential law degree, I would study whatever challenges and rewards you. My majors outside law are media, French and philosophy, with a bit of art history. I’m far from the commerce background that many think commercial lawyers need but it hasn’t made a difference, I promise! If you are curious and dedicated enough to excel in whatever you study, you’ll be able to apply that curiosity and dedication in commercial law as well.
Ah, ‘soft skills’ – what a misnomer for one of the most essential yet difficult skills in any career. I think experiences that develop your ability to communicate and work with a variety of people, and get things done together, will serve you well.
As for work experience, anything that improves those traits above – your curiosity, your dedication, your adaptability – is invaluable. Given I worked in art museums, TV journalism and communication consultancies before G+T, there is no set track to who will love a commercial law career like mine.
What does your employer do?
G+T is a leading corporate law firm providing commercial legal solutions to major corporate and government clients across Australia and internationally, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region.
What are your areas of responsibility?
As a graduate in a varied group such as C+R, my areas of responsibility depend on the matters I am on. Whatever the task, I aim to make life for my team as easy as possible. How can I draft that email more clearly? How will this memo be as useful for them, or the client? Any extra touches you can add – things you can do that’ll really help your team even if they haven’t asked you to do it – are always so appreciated.
Can you describe a typical work day?
As one of the few early morning birds in this night owl industry, I fit my exercise in before work. We’ve started a weekly G+T run club and the firm’s support has been great – they’re covering registration to the City2Surf, JP Morgan Challenge and the half marathon! So after a group jog, a shower and a bowl of breakfast, I start my day by replying to any emails that came through overnight and doing a mental list of what matters need work today. A junior lawyer will be on about two to three matters at once. Keeping tabs on them all is handy. One matter I’m working on involves overseeing other junior involvement on an ACCC inquiry. The work ranges from research into how the legislation is applied, to creating (in conjunction with our economic experts) the narrative that explains the policy issues in our client’s industry. I keep my mornings for more intellectually demanding tasks like those. I also have at least two tea breaks, one group catch up and a grin at the ‘collusive meme for cartel-loving teams’ in our weekly email update.
At lunch our grad group is either in our staff café or out by the water with BYO lunches. It’s one of my favourite things, knowing there’s always someone to have a bite with. There are often training sessions over lunch (with the highlight of free meals – they even cater for gluten-free vegetarians like me!) or meetings for initiatives like our Diversity Council. My sub-group is looking at flexibility in the workspace. It’s awesome talking over important issues with other G+Ters that care.
Then it hits: the afternoon hump. 2pm-4pm is my slow patch. I grab a matcha and reply to any emails or calls I’ve missed. Our client called about our inquiry work, and our knowledge lawyer emailed about a filmed update we’re doing on the Harper Law Reforms. Every G+T team has a knowledge lawyer who I’d recommend working with. They’re a great way to be across each team’s major legal changes.
The slow patch ends and I move onto my other matter’s main task: analysing interviews for a potential cartel we have sought immunity for from the ACCC. I cross-check what our client’s employees said in their interviews with our chronology, to see if it fits. Move over Sherlock, here come the competition lawyers...
Things wrap up around 7:30pm. I take my detective hat off and head home to a bowl of pasta with my brother and my nonna-like bedtime; 10pm (9:30pm if I’m lucky).
What sort of person succeeds in your career?
Many sorts succeed in commercial law. That variety is what keeps me here. If I had to name useful traits, they would be: people who are curious enough to get excited about whatever the matter is; dedicated enough to ensure they find the best solution to the problem at hand; and adaptable enough to successfully work with many different people, both as clients and colleagues.
What are the career prospects with your job? Where could you or others in your position go from here?
Commercial law does make the world your oyster. Besides the well-trodden path to partnership, commercial lawyers can transition into in-house roles in any industry, at the Bar, in academica or in teaching. You could even consider less legal, more strategic positions within a business as these roles often value the way of thinking that commercial law gives you.
Could someone with a different background do your job?
Absolutely! Imagine what a bore it would be if not. Besides a law degree, any background is excellent. In fact the legal industry could do with more difference. So if you don’t fit the commercial law stereotype, you might be just what we need!
What do you love the most about your job? Which kind of task do you enjoy the most?
I love that my job challenges and rewards me in such varied ways. I get excited about going to work in the morning, to do stimulating tasks with switched on and enthusiastic people.
The tasks I enjoy the most involve some intellectual challenge, such as research or analysis, that I then need to communicate clearly to either senior lawyers or clients. Transforming something complex into something simple, and seeing how that simple solution helps another, is the best.
What’s the biggest limitation of your job? Do you bear a lot of responsibility? Do you have to work on weekends? Are the stress levels high?
I want to be original and not say the time, but that really is one of the only limits! It is the price we pay to work on fascinating matters with awesome individuals.
As responsiveness to clients is crucial (regardless of how difficult or time-consuming their ask), it is inevitable that stress levels can be and often are high. Finding perspective and knowing when you need to take a break and smell the roses (or office plants) will take the stress out of many situations.
I do bear a lot of responsibility. I didn’t think that would be the case in a large and leading firm like G+T. I have direct client contact, I have been put in charge of major tasks and sub-teams in significant matters, and I have always been appreciated for taking initiative to try tasks I have not done before.
The rare times I’ve worked on weekends is for research that didn’t have to be done, but I loved the matter so much I wanted to anyway. I’m conscious that will probably change, but for the moment weekend work has been me sitting sit at home with a pot of tea in the sunshine, pouring over papers on some of my favourite industries… Heaven. Goodness, we are geeks!
Which three pieces of advice would you give to a current university student?
My old housemates from France and I write resolutions together every year. My 2018 ones fit rather well here: