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Legal award win caps off career

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Cite as: (2008) 82(7) LIJ, p. 32

The annual LIV Legal Awards acknowledge the diverse and important work of lawyers.

Judy Meagher plays down her role in helping set up the Bachelor of Laws at Geelong’s Deakin University.

She claims her role to have been “just the sidekick” to Professor Phillip Clark who established the degree in 1992. But perhaps the best judges are the young men and women who have graduated from the law school and who are working in law firms and organisations around the world.

Working to set up the degree is just one of Ms Meagher’s achievements in a legal career that has spanned more than four decades.

The work of Ms Meagher, who retired from Deakin University earlier this year, was acknowledged last year when she won the Regional Lawyers category of the LIV President’s Awards.

The President’s Awards are one of the many award categories conferred under
the annual LIV Legal Awards which recognise the contribution of lawyers in a range of categories and also include the awarding of Honorary Life Memberships, Certificates of Service, the Paul Baker Prize, the Rogers Legal Writing Award and 50 Years In Legal Practice.

The President’s Awards categories are Access to Justice Award, Accredited Specialists Award, Community Lawyers’ Award, General Award, Government Lawyers’ Award, Legal Ethics Award, New Lawyers’ Award, Pro Bono Award, Regional Lawyers’ Award and from this year, the Mentor Award.

Winners of the 2008 President’s Awards will receive a crystal trophy and the prestige of exhibiting the award graphic on their letterhead.

There are many lawyers, such as Ms Meagher, who have made great contributions and these awards give their peers, or employers, the opportunity to acknowledge their work.

In setting up the university law degree, Ms Meagher and Prof Clark worked for months establishing networks with large Melbourne law firms so that graduates would have access to articles beyond just Geelong’s law firms.

“We promoted the unique aspects of Deakin’s commercially-based law program and the new way of teaching. Instead of the traditional tutorial system, Deakin introduced a practical skills program from day one. Most firms saw the advantages of this, as graduates commenced articles with greater practical experience and it did help break down barriers,” Ms Meagher said.

It was a clever strategy to help prevent any resistance from Melbourne universities and law firms that might disadvantage the Deakin school, or detract from the achievements of its students, and Ms Meagher loved being a part of it.

She graduated in law in 1966 and soon began working with her mother, Nanna Wilckens, in her Williamstown practice. Her mother was a trailblazer who had begun her own practice in the 1940s using her maiden name.

It was during her time in Williamstown that Ms Meagher married lawyer Michael Meagher and moved to Geelong.

“In those days, if your husband was earning good money then it was considered some sort of shame to have your wife at work.

“My husband certainly didn’t want me to return to the workforce,” she said. “But after I had my first two children I knew I needed to go back to work or go mad.”

Ms Meagher opted for work and began at Deakin University as a research assistant for the MBA law unit. In her 28 years at the university Ms Meagher moved from academia, administration and finally to the position of university solicitor.

She has no regrets about staying in Geelong rather than heading for a large firm in Melbourne.

Her career at Deakin and involvement in the Geelong Law Association gave her the opportunity to bring the two organisations closer and to develop networks that benefited each.

At her instigation, Deakin law academics would give talks or forums on certain issues. Deakin’s leadership and experience in the early days of information technology helped many legal practices grasp the benefits of computers and all that the new frontier had to offer.

Ms Meagher considers her greatest achievement has been managing the delicate balance between a career and four children who are now adults.

She retired in February, but within weeks was diagnosed with a brain tumour and underwent major surgery. She is now on her way to a full recovery.

Nominations for the President’s Awards must be submitted by 5pm, 18 July and the awards will be presented at an awards ceremony at Zinc restaurant on 7 November.

Nomination forms (which must address the criteria) are available at the LIV. They can also be filled in online or downloaded from http://www.liv.asn.au/legalawards.

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