Early Careers Stories | 29 August 2023

Steps taken: from Paralegal to Graduate Lawyer

By Sean Kempel

I would be lying if I said that I did not have my doubts stepping into a paralegal role. I wondered: am I the right fit for the role? Will I be able to meet expectations? Will I be able to handle the work? All these questions were unfounded, but – then again – were compounded by the fact that I started with Hall & Wilcox in January 2022 when Australia was going through another COVID outbreak.

It didn’t take long for these questions to go away and for me to find my place and footing within the firm.

Paralegal beginnings

I started at the firm as a Paralegal for the Statutory Insurance Queensland (SIQ) team. My first port of call was to become familiar with the day-to-day processes and types of matters the Hall & Wilcox SIQ team deals with. I first assisted my team with research and summarising tasks. Then, over time, I played a more active role. As someone who had no prior experience in statutory insurance, SIQ assisted me greatly in becoming a team player who contributed to meaningful work. It always felt like I was working with someone rather than for someone.

One of the most exciting opportunities SIQ provided me with was to sit in on Compulsory Conferences (a fancy term for negotiations). Negotiating is an art, and witnessing a negotiation was like watching a painting take shape. It was an enthralling experience.

As I continued with SIQ, I was encouraged to apply for the graduate program. As a university student soon to graduate, this was something I greatly appreciated, as it provided me with clarity and direction as my studies came to a close.

At this stage, I was thoroughly enjoying the work I was doing with SIQ, however, I had a cause for concern about my role and availability to work. You see, as a dual-citizen, I had to spend 90 days in Denmark to retain my citizenship. This was a big concern for me as I was unsure how to keep working with SIQ while being 16,000 km away from the office. An eight-hour time zone difference doesn’t help when you remember that’s an entire business day.

Because of Hall & Wilcox’s flexibility with working and SIQ’s empathy towards my circumstances, I was able to remain an active member of SIQ and continued to work while overseas. It was during this time that I applied for the Graduate Lawyer role in Brisbane.

The process

Applications can be a daunting thing. There are many uncertainties. What will be required of me? What questions will be asked? Do I have all the necessary documents to even submit an application?

Thankfully, the process of applying was straight forward. Through an online application, all I had to do was answer a few questions and submit a few documents. Simple.

After some time, I was invited to attend an interview. Calling it an ‘interview’ is a bit of a stretch, as it wasn’t that intimidating. I imagine interviews to be the fielding of questions and answers. This ‘interview’ felt more like a getting-to-know-you if anything. It felt as though Hall & Wilcox was more interested in my character than my answers. This was a breath of fresh air as it felt like a natural conversation.

After the application process was all said and done, I was honoured to receive a call (on my Danish mobile number, of course) informing and congratulating me that I had been accepted to become a Law Graduate with Hall & Wilcox.

Sean Kempel in Denmark 2022-07-15_154154

What’s next?

Over the past few months, I have become familiar with what it means to be a Law Graduate with Hall & Wilcox.

Stepping into the graduate role was a fantastic experience. So far, I’ve had the experience to meet other graduates across the country, establish a network of connections and contacts and become engrossed in fulfilling pro bono work. I’ve also had my professional skills and tools sharpened to help me succeed as a lawyer.

Coincidentally, it just so happened that my first rotation as a Law Graduate was also with SIQ, where I had worked as a Paralegal previously. You might be wondering how my role has differed.

Essentially, my role with SIQ was more substantive. A day-to-day for me consists of visiting and talking with clients, drafting advices, researching and analysing personal injury law and participating in on negotiations or mediations. What I enjoy most about my current rotation is that each file I work on paints a different story.

I have since finished my rotation with SIQ and am now rotating through the Corporate & Commercial team. Jumping from the insurance side of Hall & Wilcox to the corporate side has been incredibly fruitful as I have had the opportunity to see and experience how different areas of the law function. Previously, I was working with claims. Now, I work with companies.

Being able to work in a variety of practice areas and industries has made me eager and excited for what else lies ahead during my graduate year.

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