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A show of respect

Cover Story

Cite as: July 2014 88 (07) LIJ, p.18

The 2014 Law Institute of Victoria Awards shone a spotlight on the excellent work done by members of the legal profession.

By Carolyn Ford

View the full article with supporting images. (PDF)

Respect for country and community was at the heart of the Law Institute of Victoria Awards on 16 May, from first speaker to last.

As the record 280 guests took their seats at Zinc in Federation Square, Wurundjeri elder Colin Hunter delivered the traditional welcome to country:

“In Aboriginal culture, a great deal of respect is given to the land, the plants and animals alike. You might have noticed I placed some beautiful gum leaves down there on the ground. If you get an opportunity during the afternoon, grab a nice one and put it in your pocket. The significance is that . . . it will give you access to see the Wurundjeri country. While on Wurundjeri country you’re welcome to everything from the tops of the trees, to the roots of the earth. So, a warm and gentle welcome.”

LIV president Geoff Bowyer went on to say the awards – held this year during Law Week for the first time – gave members of the legal community an opportunity to show their respect for admired colleagues by nominating them.

“Today, we honour excellence in the legal profession. The Law Institute of Victoria Awards shine a well-deserved spotlight on excellent work done by members of the Victorian legal profession. They give us all an opportunity to acknowledge that work and show our appreciation. They give us a chance to say thank you and celebrate the effort.”

With that, master of ceremonies, the 774 ABC radio host and former lawyer, Jon Faine, gum-leaf in hand, announced the award winners.

First up to the podium was associate professor at the University of Melbourne Law School Professor John Tobin, winner of the Paul Baker Award which recognises the significant achievement or outstanding contribution of an individual in the field of administrative or human rights law and carries a prize of $1000.

Professor Tobin has designed and taught subjects in the areas of international law, human rights, children’s rights and public interest lawyering. The recipient of several awards and overseas human rights teaching posts, he has advised multiple human rights and equal opportunity organisations and was instrumental in establishing Australia’s first specialist human rights legal service, the Human Rights Law Centre, in 2006.

Professor Tobin said he felt like “a bit of an imposter” as he spent most of his time in academia’s “ivory tower rather than at the coal face” but he took the opportunity to acknowledge the pro bono work of many lawyers, in particular the commercial sector, for human rights organisations.

“I reflect upon the basic principles of human rights which demand that lawyers must not only protect the rights of their clients, but also promote the broader cause of justice, rights and freedoms. Unfortunately we’re at a time right now where we’ve had the government challenge a number of rights – refugee policy, people with disabilities, access to legal aid. These challenges threaten that vision of justice under the declaration of human rights adopted in 1948 and the covenants adopted since then as well. This is a real challenge for our profession in trying to serve the community. I encourage all members of the profession to use your skills, advocate for the rights of groups affected by changes to policy . . . we must not only use our skills to confront justice but also to create justice as well.”

Professor Tobin’s comments were mirrored by Hayley Mansfield, director of the Justice Program at the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC) which won the community lawyer or organisation of the year award. With its 44 staff, including five full-time lawyers, and 900 volunteers (115 legal volunteers), the ASRC provides a range of free services, including vital legal assistance from filling in forms all the way to United Nations appeals. More than 500 people were helped last year by the ASRC.

Ms Mansfield thanked the LIV, the ASRC team and also the volunteers, and urged more lawyers to get involved in defending asylum seekers rights.

“The Centre could not operate without the help of our volunteers . . . from legal students right through to pro bono counsel, who just give endless and tireless hours. It’s at times like this, when the rule of law really is under attack and increasingly we are seeing lives put at risk, we call on you to get involved in this sector . . . to protect the lives of asylum seekers in Australia.”

The Australian Legal Costing Group’s Cate Dealehr won the Access to Justice Award. An accredited specialist in costs law, Ms Dealehr has offered her services pro bono in the complex area of legal costing – an area denied legal aid – to distraught and vulnerable clients for more than 20 years. In May, she was elected to the Legal Services Board as a solicitor representative, which represents the latest in a string of volunteer positions.

“It feels like the Logies,” Ms Dealehr declared as she accepted her award. She thanked those lawyers who had helped and mentored her and with whom she shared “an understanding of the vocation of being a lawyer and the duties that bind us all. They’ve taught me the importance of putting out a helping hand when you find others in need. Charles Dickens is quoted as saying ‘charity begins at home, but justice begins next door’.” She spoke of the importance of family, and her parents who had inspired her to strive to be the best she could and to give to others. “And finally I also have two of my children here . . . everything I do, I do in the hope that they will be proud.”

Barrister Jennifer Batrouney QC was also recognised for her volunteer effort when she won Mentor of the Year. Ms Batrouney has mentored about 20 people, including many women, from law students to senior lawyers.

“I would like to encourage every single person in this room, no matter how junior or senior you are, to consider whether there is anybody that you could mentor, or whether there is anybody you could ask to mentor you. It is a very rewarding experience,” Ms Batrouney said.

Lawyer Kelvin Tam won the Rogers Legal Writing Award for his feature “How Victoria can add value in Asia”, which appeared in the special December 2013 Asian edition of the LIJ. The award carries a prize of $1000.

“It was great to be able to share my thoughts on a topic which I am passionate about,” said Mr Tam, a partner at Hunt and Hunt Lawyers, adding thanks to colleagues who reviewed his article and his wife who helped structure it.

Two other lawyers were highly commended for their LIJ articles. They were sports lawyer Paul Horvath for his article on drugs in sport, “A Sporting Chance”, in the July 2013 LIJ, and Karen Toohey, former acting Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commissioner, for her article “Addressing Sexual Harassment in the Workplace” in the September 2013 LIJ. Each won $500.

Certificates of Service were announced next, with seven lawyers recognised for their contribution to the LIV, affiliated associations or the community. They were Josh Bornstein (Maurice Blackburn), Nicole Feeney (Lander & Rogers), Carina Ford (Carina Ford Immigration Lawyers), Stephen Gregory (Kenna Teasdale Lawyers), Zubair Mian (Mian Phillips & Co), Eileen Scott (Garland Hawthorne Brahe) and barrister Richard Wilson.

Tim McFarlane of McFarlane Legal won the Accredited Specialist Achievement Award. Mr McFarlane became an accredited specialist in alternative dispute resolution in 1993. He has served on the LIV’s Accredited Specialisation Mediation Advisory Committee for 14 years, including 12 as chair, as well as other mediation committees and panels here and overseas.

“I would like to thank the profession, it has been wonderfully supportive of the mediation process. I was lucky enough to recognise it and start developing the process and practice in that area,” Mr McFarlane said.

Keith Richards of Martin Irwin and Richards Lawyers won the Regional Lawyer of the Year Award. Primarily practising in civil litigation, the Sunraysia lawyer has held various volunteer board positions, championed local charities, been a sessional member of VCAT and a president of the North West Law Association. He received an Order of Australia medal in 2009 for services to local children and young people.

Mr Richards, a veteran of 42 “challenging, stimulating” years in the law in Mildura, hoped the category prompted young lawyers to work in rural areas. “I hope many young lawyers follow my example because I am just about to ride off into the sunset.”

Antonella Terranova of Castra Legal Costing was named Suburban Lawyer of the Year. As president of the Northern Suburbs Lawyers Association, she has doubled the association’s membership.

Ms Terranova said she wanted to see the work of suburban lawyers recognised and valued. “We do work hard, we do make a difference,” she said, adding special thanks to her mother, sister and husband “as without the support of family it’s very difficult to move forward in any practice, or for association meetings, where you get called away quite a bit”.

Freehills lawyer Bianca Janovic was named Rising Star of the Year. Working on complex commercial litigation, Ms Janovic also volunteers with the Homeless Persons legal clinic and is an advocate for LGBTI rights and opportunities for Aboriginal Australians.

“As I left home searching for my wallet to come here I caught a glimpse of Michael Kirby’s autobiography, which is probably my most prized possession as a good young lawyer, and I remembered that in that he wrote to me, ‘always make a difference’. I guess those words have always really rung true for me. It’s why I became a lawyer, a belief in meaningful change that we can make as part of this special community and its why I love being a part of it.”

Carolyn ford

Special contribution honoured

Steve Stevens was chosen as the recipient of the LIV President’s Honorary Award, which recognises a lawyer who has contributed with unstinting energy and professional excellence to the legal issues of the day.

Now retired, Mr Stevens was a taxation partner in the Melbourne office of what was then Freehills, where he specialised in state taxes and the taxation of financial services. Originally an economist, he spent 12 years working for state and federal governments. But during this time he continued to feel the pull of the law, originally sparked by a visit to a jury trial on a school excursion when he was 12. He studied law and did his articles at Blake Dawson, before joining Freehills in 1989 and making partner in 1993.

“He learned that he loved helping clients solve their problems. And that is what Steve has done ever since,” Mr Bowyer said.

He has represented a number of industry bodies in negotiations with state and territory revenue offices and with the ATO in respect of tax issues and has prepared submissions to state and territory treasurers and commissioners on behalf of those bodies. He has presented papers on state taxes, GST, acquisitions of businesses, mergers of trusts, corporate and trust acquisitions and restructures.

Mr Stevens was a member of the LIV Council from 2003 to 2011, serving as its president in 2010. In May, he became a member of the Legal Services Board (LSB) as a non-advocate (solicitor) representative and he is on the Victorian Government’s State Taxes Consultative Council.

“During his long career, Steve has worked tirelessly to promote the interests of the profession in Victoria, including representing the LIV on the Law Council of Australia,” Mr Bowyer said.

“Professionally speaking, Steve is a standout practitioner. But he is also a doer. I have been amazed at his generosity in volunteering so much of his time and energy to pursuing the interests of Victorian lawyers in so many fields ranging from revenue law to ethics to LSB duties to issues facing all lawyers at LCA levels. He makes himself available at every level, he is always putting his hand up. Recently, he has played a significant role in ensuring the LIV’s corporate governance structures reflect members’ interests and best practice in that area.

“Steve’s work is always done in a self- effacing manner, and at all times he acknowledges the work of others. With great intelligence and quiet perseverance, Steve gets the job done and he was an obvious choice for the award.”

LIV CEO Michael Brett Young said Mr Stevens embodied the qualities of a good lawyer. “As well as significant professional achievements, he has devoted a great deal of time and energy to helping out at every level. With no fanfare, he always puts his hand up and we are fortunate to have him as a member of the Victorian legal profession.”

Accepting the award, Mr Stevens said he wanted to acknowledge those Victorian lawyers who contribute to the community and the profession. Through the LIV he had discovered the great contributions made by everyone, including many who had been nominated for awards.

“There’s an enormous amount of contributions made throughout the community. We’re really lucky to have members of the legal profession doing that. I’m sure it will continue into the future.”

Large law firms recognised

Large law firm partners stepped up to the podium when Deal of the Year – new this year – and Law Firm of the Year were announced at the awards ceremony.

King & Wood Mallesons won Deal of the Year for the refinancing of the Victorian Desalination Plant.

The firm acted for a group of nine local and international banks in the deal which involved a multi-faceted refinancing structure comprising a mix of bank debt as well as a bond bridge facility. It also involved the settlement of $1.3 billion in outstanding claims between parties, adding complexity and time pressure to a politically sensitive process.

Accepting the award, KWM partner Ian Paterson thanked the financiers involved, the AquaSure consortium and the State of Victoria, “all of whom made it possible, and not only an opportunity for us to work on a complex and challenging transaction but to have a project of such utility protecting us all from drought”.

Law Firm of the Year Herbert Smith Freehills impressed the judging panel with its Melbourne pro bono contribution to community groups and charities and promotion of diversity within its ranks. It had also been successful in retaining top talent and being consistently sought after as a trusted law firm on some of the largest and most challenging transactions in the region.

“This is a great honour for the firm to win this award,” said HSF partner Rodd Levy. “We’re very proud of our achievements, particularly of trying to give excellent client service, looking after our staff and giving back to the community. We’ve been part of the Melbourne business and legal community since 1853, we were established here by Samuel Lorne in the gold rush days. We’re now part of a global organisation but we’re still very much focused on looking after our place in Melbourne and our local clients.”

The 2014 Law Institute of Victoria Awards were supported by Pitcher Partners.

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