After recently completing her Graduate programme, Isobel talks about her experience at the firm since starting as a summer clerk to working on cross-border matters during her international rotation to London, as well as her involvement in Corporate Social Responsibility.
My summer clerkship
My summer clerkship was my first ‘real’ job and was an invaluable opportunity for me to get a glimpse into the inner workings of a global law firm. As someone whose previous legal experience stretched as far as binging legal dramas on Netflix, the clerkship process helped cement my chosen career path into the law. It was something of a relief to confirm that I actually enjoyed the law in practice, and that I hadn’t just spent the last four years studying it at university for nothing!
Once the long and sometimes stressful application process was over, the clerkship itself was lots of fun. Between inter-firm sports competitions, trivia nights, boat cruises and other social events, the firm Christmas party, end-of-year team drinks and lunches, nationwide clerk projects and training sessions, I somehow managed to squeeze in some actual work too. I completed two rotations as a clerk, one in Real Estate and one in Corporate (Mergers & Acquisitions). I returned to the Real Estate team as a part-time paralegal during my final year of university, which was a great way to keep in touch with the firm before starting back full-time as a graduate.
I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to move over to the London office for six months, working in their Asset Finance team. This rotation taught me a great deal about how complex high-value finance transactions get done.
I completed my first graduate rotation in the Insurance team, a fast-paced and exciting team led by the inimitable Tricia Hobson. Tricia’s reputation in the insurance industry means that she gets instructed on a wide variety of large and high-profile insurance matters. I got first-hand exposure to all the stages in the lifecycle of these matters, from receiving urgent but cryptic queries from clients, to untangling complex indemnity claims, to reviewing evidence and preparing for trial, to high-stakes settlement negotiations. I also completed my College of Law examinations during this time, and I was proud to have my admission as a solicitor moved by a senior colleague from the firm.
While I appreciated my time in the Insurance team, it was when I started in my second rotation, in the Intellectual Property team, that I really felt like I was home. As soon as I started in the team, I was tasked with researching case law, considering legal concepts, and preparing strategies and advices for clients, a level of involvement that I would never have expected at such a junior level – all under the watchful eye of the senior members of the team, of course.
Now that I have returned to the team permanently as a lawyer, I have been able to get even more involved with long-running matters and long-term clients. On any given day I can work for three different partners on IP-related matters ranging from corporate due diligence of IP assets in anticipation of a potential acquisition, to trade mark clearance and prosecution, to patent infringement litigation. I can even put my internet shopping addiction and social media skills to use when clients ask us to investigate counterfeit clothing products or trade mark infringement! Somewhat unusually for a law firm, the Sydney IP team is completely female-led, and I am grateful to work under three impressive women partners who are great role models for female success in the legal industry.
My international rotation
For my third graduate rotation, I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to move over to the London office for six months, working in their Asset Finance team. This rotation taught me a great deal about how complex high-value finance transactions get done (hint: there are a lot of documents involved) and, because I was working with a team that specialises in aviation finance, it also taught me a lot more about aeroplanes than I ever thought I would need to know! The London office is at the centre of the firm’s global aviation finance practice, so I worked on a number of high-value, cross-border matters for international clients, which involved liaising with clients and other contacts from jurisdictions including Japan, Qatar, Peru, Colombia and Canada. These transactions helped me learn how to manage the challenges that come with working on matters with parties situated all around the world and involving assets that are constantly flying into different countries’ airspaces!
The international rotation gave me a greater appreciation of what it means to be part of a truly global law firm, and one that is constantly expanding. Although there is an impressive degree of continuity between the different NRF offices around the world, it was also interesting to compare the differences in culture and working styles between the Sydney and the London offices. I noticed were that, although the London team works very hard, they’re not keen on early morning starts; and everyone loves to talk about the weather – I guess I have always taken for granted how beautiful living in Sydney is. Aside from the professional aspect of the rotation, the ability to move overseas for six months while staying with the firm was a great personal experience for me for which I am very grateful.
My first big case
Not long into my rotation in the Insurance team, we received new instructions from a client to advise on a large piece of civil litigation that was going to trial in just a couple of months. While ordinarily, this might seem like a long time, in order to advise our client we had to get up to speed on a complex piece of litigation with a number of colourful characters and a history stretching back about seven years, which was an interesting challenge. Even more interesting was the fact that the trial was taking place while all the partners were over in London for the annual partners’ conference, and I was manning the desk in Sydney. Having to pick up the phone to wake up a partner in the middle of the night so we could advise our client on whether or not to accept a multi-million dollar settlement offer was one of my more daunting tasks! I did get a little thrill when I read about the matter I had been working on behind the scenes reported in the national newspapers.
Corporate Social Responsibility is a big focus at NRF so (perhaps unsurprisingly, given that one of the partners I work for also doubles as the head of CSR) I have been given plenty of opportunities to contribute to the firm in this way. Pro bono legal work is a great way for lawyers to use our skills for the benefit of worthy people and organisations who might not otherwise have access to them. For example, in my team, we assist a number of not-for-profit organisations with their trade mark filings and other IP-related queries, so I am able to develop my legal skills while also giving back to the community. The firm supports a range of other CSR initiatives, ranging from working with the Homeless Persons’ Legal Service, to the Refugee Advice and Casework Service, to tutoring and mentoring schoolchildren, to participating in fundraising events, so there is something to suit everyone’s skills, interests and commitments.