19 August 2021
A COVID-19 Graduate year in review
When I walked into the Rialto on day 1, my main thought was: am I overdressed? I’d proudly put on a suit that morning and, yes, it was a bit much, but I felt good. When I stepped out of the lift, there was a growing group of fresh-faced graduates (including a few other suited-up allies) swelling out of the reception area. Thirty-six people gathered – the largest cohort of graduates Hall & Wilcox had ever had. Graduates from Newcastle, Sydney, Brisbane, Perth and Melbourne were all together, in one state. Little did I know, this was one of the last times I’d see 36 people in one room again for over a year.
Our induction week was one that I won’t forget. We were fed so much food. There were massive spreads laid out over a five-metre-long table for breakfast, morning tea, lunch and afternoon tea. One morning, we were offered brekkie including smashed avocado! I’d found myself the ideal job, one that feeds me smashed avo! I was so amazed that I took a sneaky photo of the spread and sent it to my mum who replied with ‘stop taking photos’. I may have taken a few more. Sneaky photo:
We were taken out for dinner and a cohort of partners, senior associates and some of the previous year’s graduates joined us. The top level of the restaurant, including the terrace, was reserved just for us. We got to meet other people we would be working with and be welcomed by many across the firm. There were lights dancing across the roof and we all were spoilt with a sit-down dinner (and drinks). I went home, exhausted and over-fed, but thrilled at where I’d landed myself.
My first rotation was in Statutory Insurance Victoria (SIV). I’d put SIV as my 11th preference out of 12. General Insurance was my 12th preference. The word ‘insurance’ was not enticing, so I was sure they would be my last choices. But I wanted to do workplace injury work and I am grateful to whoever it was who realised my error before I had. Oops. I wasn’t off to a flying start.
I was introduced to my mentor, and taken around the office and introduced to other people in my team. Everyone was so lovely and welcoming. For most people, it was the first and last time I’d see them in person for the rest of the year.
Week 1, Day 4
At around midday on the fourth day in my team, it was apparent COVID-19 had landed in Victoria and an email circulated through the firm encouraging employees to prepare to work from home and to take all our equipment with us when we left for the day. Hall & Wilcox was one of the very first businesses to encourage employees to work from home in Victoria in response to COVID-19. The infrastructure was already in place to allow people to work from home if we had to. I packed up my shiny new laptop into my brand new laptop bag tattooed with the Hall & Wilcox logo, pushed in my chair at my desk with the fabulous view and left. It was 13 March 2020. I returned to the office in February 2021.
Working from home
There are real perks when working from home. You can get your chores done, you can sleep in a little bit longer, you can visit the pantry as many times as you like and you can go for a decent walk in your lunch break. You can also work interstate (which I was fortunate enough to be able to do in 2021). But when you’re starting a new job and you feel clueless, it was quite nerve racking! However, my assigned mentor spent so much time providing guidance, checking to see if my workload was reasonable, giving feedback and discussing strategies. Different people in the team would call me to check in and offer help or guidance or just have a chat. I was invited to statutory conferences where we met with the other side’s solicitors and commenced negotiations to attempt to settle a matter. I got to attend virtual mediations. I got to attend originating motion hearings where each side would argue whether or not a worker’s injury was ‘serious’ under the legislation. I prepared Court documents, I prepared advices, I instructed investigators to undertake periods of surveillance. I was very fortunate to be given such a broad range of opportunities.
I got to know my colleagues through our daily virtual quiz that the team would do at the end of each day via Zoom. It was a great opportunity to get to know others in a relaxed and fun setting. On Fridays, I would run a special quiz for the team which was essentially a bonus round, complete with virtual hangman, guess-the-sound and ‘the price is right’ type games. I went too far when I tested the team’s ability to decipher morse code. I loved every moment of my time in SIV. I was sad to move on to my second rotation but was excited to give General Insurance a try (which had been promoted from 12th preference to 1st preference in the space of four months). I was particularly interested in medical malpractice work and large bushfire litigation matters.
I took carriage of my own files, including motor vehicle accident litigation, helped on the bushfire matters, did some personal injury work and some tasks on medical malpractice matters. I loved the variety, and managing my own files. But I missed SIV. I was given the opportunity to apply to ‘settle’ early in SIV rather than to undertake a third rotation and I took it. I re-joined SIV and haven’t looked back. I work on self-insurer matters, as well as matters for WorkSafe and do a secondment one day per week with one of our self-insurance clients.
My fellow grads
We dubbed ourselves ‘Cograd-19’. There were 14 of us Victorian grads who would meet via Zoom twice a week to catch up, offer support, have a laugh and check in. We all bonded over our similar experiences: working completely remotely for entire rotations, doing our practical legal training online and becoming lawyers at the same time but missing out on a Supreme Court admission ceremony. In lieu of the ceremony, Hall & Wilcox gave us a day off to go and celebrate. We arranged a wine tour and spent the day all together driving around the Yarra Valley – one of my grad year highlights. Check us out below:
In summary, being a Cograd-19 at Hall & Wilcox has been a unique experience, complete with various challenges of learning and beginning a career in a virtual world. However the flexibility of the firm, the generosity and kindness of colleagues, the friends I have made along the way and the firm’s priority in supporting its people makes me grateful and proud to be at Hall & Wilcox.