Ash Walker is an Indigenous graduate who is now four years into his career as a lawyer at Gilbert + Tobin, one of the country’s top law firms.
What did you study and where?
I studied a combined Commerce/Law degree at the University of New South Wales and graduated in 2012.
What is your background? Do you identify with a particular tribe or people?
I am descended from the Yuin people, who traditionally occupied land near Wallaga Lake on the south coast of New South Wales. I am a member of the La Perouse Aboriginal community in south-eastern Sydney.
How important was your Indigenous identity when you were growing up?
It was really central to my childhood and adolescence. My immediate family was always very involved in the Indigenous community, so I grew up with a strong sense of who I was and the land I had come from.
When did you first decide on a career in law? What drew you to it?
When I finished high school, I wanted to keep my options open. I was always particularly good at writing and excelled in the humanities, so studying law seemed like a good fit. I was also drawn to the idea that, as a lawyer, I might be in a strong position to advocate for my community. It certainly helped that, when I started to discuss my plans, my parents and grandparents were extremely supportive and encouraging.
Why did you choose UNSW?
The short answer is that it was close and had a great support network for Indigenous students to study at UNSW. More generally, UNSW has a fantastic range of scholarships and mentoring programs for Indigenous students. I received the Ena and Jack Russell Scholarship - which specifically supports full-time Indigenous students - in my first year, and a QANTAS scholarship for Indigenous Students the year after that. I also received the John Koowarta Scholarship awarded by the Law Council of Australia in the last year of of my studies. Receiving these scholarships meant that I could focus on my academic work without the distraction of having to work too much.
The law program itself offers a great balance of theory and practice, and I graduated with the confidence that I could not only apply the law, but understand the theoretical context of its application.
Did you complete an internship before pursuing a graduate career? If so, where?
During my first year, I completed an internship at King & Wood Mallesons, a ‘Big Six’ law firm in the Sydney CBD. I subsequently worked at Westpac before completing a summer program at Gilbert + Tobin at the end of my fourth year. The internships were invaluable, because they allowed me to graduate with a good idea of where I wanted to work, and a huge amount of experience.
Can you tell me about your experience as a graduate at G+T? What's been the most exciting or satisfying thing so far? What's been the biggest challenge?
Gilbert + Tobin is a fantastic place to work but I’ll be honest: the training and development is intense. The biggest challenge for me, I think, was a sense of ‘imposter syndrome’ when I first started. I’m surrounded every day by some of the country’s brightest legal thinkers, and it was hard not to feel daunted and a little out of place as a fresh graduate. On a more personal level, I’m also a recovering stutterer, which is a challenge I have to overcome every day.
The good news is that now, four years into my career, I feel a strong sense of belonging at Gilbert + Tobin, and I’m working confidently on some of the top deals in town. It’s particularly exciting to work on pro bono projects that allow me to give back to the Indigenous community. For example, I’m part of a team that provides pro bono support to the Tribal Warrior Association, an initiative that provides disadvantaged Aboriginal and non-Indigenous people with specialised training for jobs in the maritime industry.
Do you have any advice for Indigenous students who might wish to pursue a career in law? How important are scholarships?
If you’re considering a career in law, it’s vital that you keep an open mind and try out as many things as possible. My field of expertise - mergers and acquisitions - is something with which I was almost entirely unfamiliar with as a law student.
As for scholarships - well, they’re vital. With financial support from your university, you’ll be in a much better position to focus on your studies, as well as the social and cultural activities that make university so rewarding. I encourage people to apply for everything and never, ever think they’re not good enough for a support program or scholarship.