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Leading lights shine at awards night

News

Cite as: July 2012 86 (07) LIJ, p.22

The 2012 Women Lawyers Achievement Awards honoured four women who have inspired and supported others while individually excelling in their careers.

The winners of the 2012 Women Lawyers Achievement Awards were left both inspired and humbled after receiving the prestigious recognition for their leadership and passion.

Nearly 250 people, a record attendance for the event, gathered for the gala dinner hosted by the Victorian Women Lawyers (VWL) and Women Barristers’ Association (WBA) at the Regent Theatre’s Plaza Ballroom on 30 May.

A wide cross-section of the legal profession, including solicitors, barristers and members of the judiciary, soaked up the gothic atmosphere of the venue and celebrated the achievements of the four winners.

Victorian Court of Appeal president Chris Maxwell presented general excellence awards to Maurice Blackburn solicitor Brooke Dellavedova for her private practice work; Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency general counsel Dominique Saunders for her inhouse/government role; and Caroline Kirton SC, of the Victorian Bar, in the advocacy/academic/judiciary category.

The Rising Star award was won by Maurice Blackburn lawyer Kaylene Rawlings-Hunter.

This year’s event was the largest Women Lawyers Achievement Awards, an event held every two years to celebrate the achievement of women in law in Victoria.

Australian Red Cross head of international law and principles and a senior fellow at Melbourne Law School Dr Helen Durham presented the keynote address on the laws of war.

Dr Durham shared her expertise in the area gained from years of involvement with the Red Cross and Red Crescent.

She described how jurisprudence had developed on rape as a war crime in the past 15 years and the contradictions between problems experienced in the first and third worlds. Audience members were reminded that their children would never have to worry about atrocities of war such as children being turned into soldiers or daily life being disturbed by routine bombings.

Dr Durham also provided inspiration by sharing her observations of women in a birthing section of a Beirut hospital who, despite not having access to anaesthetics and at times even electricity, had been emboldened with a sense of hope and tenacity through the birth of their children.

She said despite facing the horrors of war – genocide, war crimes and torture – women remained resilient.

It was a spirit of resilience, generosity, achievement, leadership and passion that was common among the night’s inspirational award winners.

Ms Kirton’s award recognised her leadership in the Victorian Bar that culminated in her being one of only two women to be appointed to Senior Counsel last November.

Throughout her career, she has been actively involved in WBA and Australian Women Lawyers, of which she was president in 2006, and has presided over a number of projects that promoted equality for all women.

She is currently chair of the equality and diversity committee for the Victorian Bar.

Ms Kirton said she felt motivated by the award. “I work as a barrister and have a family and fitting in extra activities is often quite difficult,” she said.

“The award has renewed my commitment to the important work that still needs to be done to assist women barristers in achieving real equality in their chosen career.”

A past member of the LIV Council and first general counsel at the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency, Dominique Saunders has spent more than 20 years working in law and is an expert in human rights, health, mental health, disability and discrimination law and has acted as a mentor to other women in the profession. She is the current presiding member of the Mental Health Review Board.

Ms Saunders said she was delighted to have received the honour. “The award means so much, but not just for me, as it also acknowledges the work I and others have done in discrimination, mental health and disability law, areas where we practise law to make a difference,” she said.

Brooke Dellavedova was recognised for her work at Maurice Blackburn where she has been the solicitor with the principal carriage in a number of significant class actions, including Australia’s first successful cartel class action – the Vitamins class action.

Her other major cases include the Air Cargo cartel action and the Muckaty Station nuclear waste dump legal challenge.

Ms Dellavedova was recognised as a leader and mentor who has acted in pro bono cases relating to issues involving women’s rights. She is also the founder and chair of Maurice Blackburn’s sustainability committee, chair of the major projects business development committee, and was the convenor of the Maurice Blackburn women’s law section in 2000 and again in 2011.

Ms Dellavedova said it was a particular honour to win the award given the high calibre of nominees and past recipients. “It means a great deal to me,” she said.

“I’ve gained such a lot from my own experience with women’s organisations, in particular Victorian Women Lawyers and Maurice Blackburn’s women’s law section.

“They have provided me with opportunities to learn, develop and network in supportive environments, to engage with issues beyond my day-to-day practice, and hopefully also to encourage, support and mentor others.”

Ms Dellavedova commended the VWL and WBA for their work and the opportunities they provide.

Ms Rawlings-Hunter’s passion and achievements have already been recognised this year through her appointment to the United Nations 56th Commission on the Status of Women as a delegate for the Australian government. The Rising Star award winner was admitted to practice in April and is a plaintiff lawyer at Maurice Blackburn.

She has quickly become a role model for other female and Indigenous law students and is actively involved as a member of the VWL, Maurice Blackburn women lawyers section, Maurice Blackburn Indigenous equality and land rights committee and the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Women’s Alliance, as well as serving as president of the Tawirri – the Indigenous Law Students and Lawyers Association of Victoria.

Ms Rawlings-Hunter said she was proud to be nominated alongside two of her Maurice Blackburn colleagues – Emily Hart and Ms Dellavedova. “I was genuinely thrilled to receive the award, especially in a room full of so many remarkable women lawyers,” she said.

“It’s nice to receive recognition for the time and commitment that I’ve invested in various projects in the past few years.”

Other nominees for the general excellence awards included Mitzi Gilligan of Minter Ellison; Lynda Slavinskis of Lynda Slavinskis Lawyers and Consultants; Alice Macdougall of Freehills; Rosemary Southgate of Russell Kennedy; and Alyssa Underwood of Anderson Partners in the private practice category.

Jillian Prior from the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service was a nominee for the inhouse/government award and Christine Melis of the Victorian Bar was nominated in the advocacy/academic/judiciary category.

Emily Hart of Maurice Blackburn and Sarah Manly of Russell Kennedy were also nominated for the Rising Star award.

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