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Careers in law profile: Catharine Thorpe

Careers in law profile: Catharine Thorpe

By LIV Young Lawyers

Occupations Workplace 


Catharine Thorpe is senior associate to the Hon. Justice McLeish – Supreme Court of Victoria, Court of Appeal. Catharine provided the following career profile to LIV Young Lawyers as part of our ongoing careers in law series.

How did you get your first job in the law and what was it?

Fresh out of law school, I worked as a tutor and researcher at the University of Cape Town where I had studied. The position gave me insight into the workings of a law school from the perspective of the staff rather than the students. Until then I hadn’t appreciated just how different those perspectives were. Professors and lecturers are cheering on their students more than the students realise – I think they would often be excellent mentors if asked.

What type of roles have you held in the past?

My first practising role was as an attorney in the New York firm Davis Polk & Wardwell, where I worked on corporate transactions all hours of the day and night. 

After that I moved to Melbourne and worked as a researcher at the Judicial College of Victoria, mostly researching and drafting for its publications. This allowed for a more balanced lifestyle so I could also study to convert to Australian law with the aim of being admitted in Victoria. 

I’ve done a bit of paralegal work for the Fitzroy Legal Service over the past couple of years as well as some pro bono work at Davis Polk. I’ve also had two stints of maternity leave – I have two children aged one and five.

After I finish up at the Court, I’m going back to practice – this time in the public law team at Maddocks.

What did you enjoy most about practising overseas?

I was thrilled with the experience of living in new cities and getting to know them (their restaurants in particular). From a career perspective, I’ve found the diversity valuable. It’s easier to question assumptions about the way things work in one place when you know they don’t exist somewhere else.

How did you transition to the legal profession in Australia?

To get admitted I had to study a few courses in areas that are quite different from those I studied in South Africa, such as constitutional law, equity and property, and I had to do the PLT course. 

I’ve tried to work on my networking skills too. As a foreigner, I don’t have the kind of existing network of connections that comes about when you’ve studied and worked in one place for many years.

How and when did you move into your current position?

My major project at the College was its Charter of Human Rights Bench Book, for which an editorial committee was established. Justice McLeish was on the committee so I worked with him in that capacity. After the project I applied to work as his associate and joined the Court on secondment from the College. 

What is the most rewarding aspect of your career journey?

The assortment of roles and places in which I’ve worked, particularly as it’s helped me to understand the kinds of work I enjoy and want to do more.

What advice would you give to young lawyers looking to obtain their first professional role?

My career so far has been meandering, but I have found something rewarding and fulfilling in each of my various roles (some more than others!). Law students and young lawyers face a lot of pressure to progress through a traditional linear career path. I would advise young lawyers to look at all their options and seek out positions that suit their interests and skills, and that they can balance with the other aspects of their life in a way that works for them. 

In your view, what is the benefit of attending major events like the LIV Careers Fair?

It’s valuable to know as much as you can about the different options available for a career in law.

The LIV Young Lawyers thanks Catharine for her time.

The LIV Legal Careers Fair is on again this year at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre on Thursday, 12 July 2018 (5-8pm). Registration is free but essential for all LIV student members, which you can sign-up for right now for free as well.



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