What's your name and job title?
Clementine Pickwick, lawyer at Gilbert + Tobin (G+T).
What did you study and when did you graduate?
I studied a BA/LLB majoring in english and sociology at The Australian National University (ANU). I graduated in June 2015.
Who are your mob?
I’m Mununjali from the Beaudesert area.
Where did you grow up? Tell us about some important stages in your life.
I grew up all over Australia including Sydney, Brisbane, Perth, Wollongong and Canberra. I spent my high school years on Ngunnawal land in Canberra at Telopea Park High and Narrabundah College.
In 2008 I represented Australia with the Australian Olympic Committee on an overseas trip to Busan, South Korea for the 6th World Forum for Sport, Education and Culture, and delivered a speech on the importance of culture and sport in relation to education.
I was an Indigenous cadet with the Department of Immigration and Border Protection for five years, starting from my second year of university. While in my final year of university, I completed a one month internship placement with Gilbert + Tobin in the pro bono team. Following on from that experience I secured another nine months of full-time paralegal work with G+T. I then returned to Canberra and took up a full-time legal officer [role] with the Department of Immigration and Border Protection in the corporate legal team. I stayed in this role for nine months. During that time I was fortunate to receive an offer from G+T to join the firm’s graduate program as a lateral hire. I started working for G+T again as a full-time graduate lawyer in February 2016.
Do you identify with a particular tribe or people?
I identify with both Mununjali (around Beaudesert) and Gorreng Gorreng (around Bundaberg). I identify more with Mununjali because I follow the female line and my paternal grandmother was Mununjali, but my paternal grandfather was Gorreng Gorreng.
How did you get to your current job position? For how long have you had it?
In my final year I started to look into graduate employment options. I had worked for the Department of Immigration and Border Protection for nearly five years and had a good idea of the kind of legal career available in the public service. I had the opportunity to continue working as a legal officer at the Department of Immigration once I finished university. As I had not had much exposure to the corporate environment, I wanted to gain some work experience in a corporate environment. At this point in my life I wasn’t sure what kind of legal career I wanted.
An academic mentor from ANU introduced me to the managing partner of G+T. This led to me going to an interview with G+T’s pro bono and corporate social responsibility team. I did a four week placement in this team and really enjoyed it. I managed to secure another nine months of paralegal work at G+T in one of the commercial practice groups. I ended up with three graduate offers: Immigration, Australian Government Solicitors and G+T. I chose G+T because I really enjoyed the fast paced environment, the work, the calibre of the lawyers working at G+T and the excellent training opportunities for junior lawyers.
Did you face any obstacles as an Indigenous student?
My parents separated when I was 14 and my dad moved to another state. My mum was a single mum working two jobs. As the eldest I had to look after my two younger sisters. When I was in university my mum moved to a rural area outside of Canberra and my 16 year old sister moved in with me. I was responsible for picking her up from school and making dinner. She’s actually still living with me now!
Another barrier was that I had no connections to the legal world, and no one to provide advice on how to transition from law school to a career as a practising lawyer. I didn’t understand all of the graduate options and pathways to graduate legal careers while I was at university. Additionally, in Canberra the graduate career information is skewed to government careers rather than corporate.
Has your Indigenous heritage provided any strengths that have impacted your career?
Yes. It gave me three things. Firstly, growing up I understood the value of family, community, having a strong connection to people and respect for elders, which I think has set me up in my university and career life well. Secondly, I was extra motivated to succeed, to prove to the people who thought that I would never amount to much because I am Aboriginal, that they were wrong. Thirdly, it gave me a different perspective, and helped me to see the law in a social context and to draw these connections better than some of my university peers.
How did you choose your specialisation?
I’m a litigation lawyer. My work experience with G+T has all been in litigation and employment. I worked in corporate law at the Department of Immigration and Border Protection. I like being part of the litigation group at G+T because you are forced to skill up and specialise in different areas of law for every case you work on. You are constantly challenged and every single day is different. Since being in this group I’ve worked on three major matters, all royal commissions, including the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, the Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory, and now the Royal Commission into the Alleged Misconduct of Australia’s Banks and Other Financial Service Entities.
What was your interview process like? What kind of questions were you asked?
I was interviewed by the head of corporate social responsibility at G+T for my initial work experience placement. I remember I was so nervous that I spilt my water all over the table when I came in. The interview was fairly informal because it was only for a one month placement. This was followed by a nine month process of being tested on the job, which led to me receiving a graduate offer. It was challenging trying to [secure] a graduate position at G+T. The eventual graduate offer was based on my work performance rather an interview. I was hired laterally and was able to join the graduate program.
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?
You need to study law and aim for a high level of academic achievement in your law subjects. At the same time you need to work on your soft employability skills – particularly communication skills such as knowing how to communicate effectively with a range of people and tailoring your communication styles to suit different situations. It is also important to take any opportunity to work on your drafting skills, including learning to write in a logical and succinct way and paying attention to detail.
I would advise any law students to get as much work experience in a legal context as possible while you’re at university. Work experience grounds your learning in a practical context, teaches you to manage your time and how to write practically. These things are often missed at university.
What does your employer do?
G+T is a top tier Australian corporate law firm. We represent some of Australia’s largest and well known corporations and government departments.
What are your areas of responsibility?
As a junior lawyer you have the opportunity to experience a range of tasks, especially working on royal commissions as I have done. I have had the opportunity to run client interviews (some of them in youth detention centres), write submissions, brief counsel, correspond with the other side, appear at hearings, write reports and draft chapters of final royal commission reports. I also undertake legal research and document review. Working in litigation you get to understand the case theory better than you would potentially have the opportunity to in other roles.
I have also had the opportunity to be seconded to the North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency (NAAJA) for two months to work in the civil litigation team. I undertook research, helped with interviewing clients, went to civil clinics in remote communities and helped to draft court documents. It was a fantastic opportunity and not something I initially imagined I would be doing while working in a corporate law firm.
Can you describe a typical work day? What was the last thing you worked on?
Just before this interview I was reviewing banking documents relevant to the banking royal commission. These documents are significantly different to the documents I’ve been looking at for the last year which have been about youth detention and child protection. My work days are always different. I could be doing a client interview, in court, reviewing documents or drafting. It is exciting to work in a role where you have the opportunity to undertake such a varied range of tasks.
What sort of person succeeds in your career?
I think you have to be dedicated and hard-working. You need to be a person who can work effectively and efficiently within a team or individually. In our area of the law you can’t work in isolation on the big cases – you have to be a team player. It means you need to be somebody who works collaboratively, someone who works with their colleagues to achieve a shared objective, [and] also someone who is self-aware of your own capacity to take on work, and be considerate of the demands on other colleagues and their capacity.
What are the career prospects with your job? Where could you or others in your position go from here?
In litigation you have the opportunity to go to the bar and become a barrister. You could also keep progressing through the ranks of law firms up to partner. You have the option to do additional study and possibly go to the UN. Lots of people also transition to in-house legal roles within corporate clients. Some also move across into commercial roles with corporate clients.
How important is it for Indigenous youths to stay connected with their communities?
I think it is important to stay grounded and remember your roots. Family to me is really important and always keeps me grounded, as well as the network of other young Aboriginal professionals I’ve grown up with. I grew up off country, so for me it is about staying connected to my family and the community of Aboriginal people I grew up with and studied with.
When I was in working up in Darwin on the royal commission, one of the things I liked about the culture of the community was that the young people would talk about their elders as “the people that grew me up”. I think it is very important to have that understanding and acknowledgement that many of us didn’t get to where we are on our own – other people are important in you growing up and we should acknowledge and remember that throughout our journeys. It is also important to give back to communities. I know that I had many amazing people along the way support me and help me to get to where I am today.
What advice would you give to Indigenous students nearing graduation?