Early Careers Stories | 22 August 2023

Embracing unconventional paths: a law graduate’s journey

As someone with a background in the creative arts field, if you had told me five years ago that I would be working as a lawyer at a commercial law firm, I might not have believed you! But I have recently joined our Banking & Financial Services team and am loving it, after completing a grad year at Hall & Wilcox with amazing people from all kinds of backgrounds and rotating through three of our commercial practice teams: Corporate & Commercial, Property & Projects and Banking & Financial Services.

What is your background?

I spent my childhood in a city called Nanchang in China before migrating to Australia in grade three. After moving to Australia, I lived in a few places between North Melbourne and the western suburbs of Melbourne and eventually completed my education at University High School. Coming out of high school, my favourite subjects were English, media, and legal studies so I decided to split the difference and do an undergrad in arts, majoring in creative writing and media and communications at the University of Melbourne. I saved the law for later and completed the JD at UniMelb in 2021. Throughout uni, I worked at a boutique web design company called Jin & Co, and also volunteered at a community legal startup called Anika Legal, which provides legal services to vulnerable renters in Victoria.

4 - Graduate cohort - from Max Ding

At the end of the JD, I didn’t go through the clerkship process and wasn’t entirely sure I wanted to work at a commercial law firm. However, one of the co-founders of Anika Legal and a lawyer in Hall & Wilcox’s pro bono team, Dan Poole, told me about an opportunity to apply for a grad role at Hall & Wilcox, so I thought I’d give it a go.

At the risk of sounding like I’m ‘not like other lawyers’, coming into the firm as a grad, I felt like I took a pretty unconventional path into commercial law. I was quite self-conscious of the fact that I didn’t have a commerce degree nor any prior experience working at a law firm. However, I quickly found that Hall & Wilcox embraces people with different backgrounds and has cultivated a culture which encourages me to stay true to myself and be open-minded to new experiences. You won’t be expected to know everything, and Hall & Wilcox recognises that your grad year is all about learning. You’ll not only learn on the job in your practice areas but also general lawyerly skills through regular workshops and seminars about things like legal research, drafting and business development.

What was life like as a law graduate at Hall & Wilcox?

Even though I rotated through what most may think are ‘transactional’ or ‘front-end’ teams, I was lucky in that Hall & Wilcox’s practices are so varied even within teams, that I was exposed to all kinds of work beyond just what a transactional lawyer might do, including litigious and advisory work.

In our Corporate & Commercial team, there were the usual deals and acquisitions which were exciting and fast-paced, where I helped with reviewing and drafting contracts and corporate documents and sitting in on negotiations. But the Corporate & Commercial team also has an IP/IT practice and a sports law practice, where I helped on matters like cross-border trade marks disputes and an AFL media rights deal.

In my second rotation, in Property & Projects, I assisted with property and lease transactions, as well as construction projects and disputes. I also did a lot of litigious work with the property team’s planning and environmental law practice, involving town planning and environmental law disputes. Some of this work included drafting court submissions, researching case law, liaising with barristers, and sitting in on VCAT hearings involving developers, town councils and government departments.

Finally, in the Banking & Financial services team, I’m involved in transactions involving major lenders, borrowers, and investment funds, drafting complex and interesting advice to banks and superannuation companies, as well as regulatory and compliance work involving financial service providers and regulators like ASIC. I also had the opportunity to go on a two-week secondment to a fund manager during my grad rotation.

As an additional part of my role, I’m involved in Hall & Wilcox’s China Practice, which is a cross-practice team within the firm, servicing Chinese clients with a range of legal matters including financial services, banking, property and dispute resolution.

I loved the variety of work during my grad year, and this put me in a great position to decide where I wanted to go – going forward – and where I fit in. You may find it surprising given my background that I ultimately chose to stay in our Banking & Financial Services team. However, I found the complex and ever-changing nature of financial services law and policy interesting, and I was drawn to the advisory and drafting work in the team, which scratched a creative writing itch within me. The firm’s China practice also made me feel that I could put my cultural background into some of my work.

Throughout the year, I was also involved in pro bono work, which is an important part of practice for me, having worked at a community legal organisation and seeing first-hand how rewarding that kind of work can be. This included our Melbourne grad cohort spending a day helping at a camp for young people with disabilities.

Speaking of my grad cohort, I have been fortunate enough to get to know many amazing people during my grad year. But this extends beyond my grad cohort and team. There are many opportunities to meet and connect with people from all across the firm as well as externally, not only through your work, but through regular social and sporting events like netball, tennis, lawn bowls, and art exhibitions, to name just a few.

think it is important to keep your mind open to a range of experiences during your grad year. You will meet all kinds of different people and be exposed to all kinds of different work. You never know what you will end up liking until you try it, and you will be surprised at how many seemingly unrelated skills you have picked up throughout your educational and professional careers may come in handy during practice.

2 - Netball - from Max Ding
3 - Dinner with graduate cohort - from Max Ding
1 - Admission - Max Ding - group shot
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