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Blog post | Say yes to every opportunity

‘Saying yes to every opportunity’ is probably our biggest piece of advice to law students and young lawyers, especially when it comes to your legal career. Founder of TLC Jessie Porteus explains:

Having broad experience in the law has meant I know what I like and I know what I don’t like. I have met so many amazing people, learned new things, and accumulated a range of different skills by just saying yes. It also helps me figure out what I want to do in the future.

While variety is the spice of life, I’m certainly not suggesting that everyone should chop and change jobs like it is nothing. It is really important that you recognise the investment that every employer invests in you, especially in training and mentoring you. Also for some, you may know exactly what you want to be and where you want to work. However if you are not sure what you want to do, then consider climbing through that window if it opens for you - or at least take a peek and see if you like it - especially while you are at law school.

When I look back on all the things I have done in my legal career so far, with the benefit of hindsight it looks like I planned to experience almost all of the different legal jobs you can have - in government, in the courtroom, in private practice, in a community legal centre, in-house, and as a law firm principal and founder of a start-up business. I didn’t actually map out my career plan in this way - I just said yes to every opportunity as it arose (after careful consideration of course). I am so happy that I did! Curiosity and willingness to learn new things has led to valuable and rich experiences for me, and a really varied and exciting career so far. Of course if you have a plan though - that is even better! But saying yes to opportunities as they arise may just lead you somewhere beautiful.

Early work experience

Growing up in a family of teachers, I had actually always wanted to be a teacher. But when I was in late high school, I took the opportunity of being part of the school mock trial team (which involved arguing fake cases in court and competing against other schools) and from then on it was all about law. I thought that I was going to be a criminal prosecutor or barrister. Being a dancer, I always loved performance so I thought the advocate life was for me! My dad has a friend who worked as a criminal prosecutor - and so in my second year of law school I turned up, bright eyed and bushy tailed, to the prosecutor offices in my hometown, for some work experience. What an amazing insight into criminal law and procedure! I read court briefs, reviewed files of evidence, met with solicitors and barristers, and observed small local court matters right up to supreme court trials. It was an incredible opportunity and an honour to work with such talented lawyers, and it further sparked my interest in advocacy. Saying yes to this work experience opened my eyes to the wonders of courtroom life. At the same time, there were some pretty horrible situations and crimes that I had become aware of through this experience, and I wasn’t sure I had the stomach for it personally. This was really helpful to find out early on in my degree.

Summer clerkship

I was really lucky to get a summer clerkship at a big top tier firm in my penultimate year of law school, and that was one of the best opportunities to obtain private practice insight and experience. I had been part of a law firm insight program in my third year, and from there I wanted to be a commercial lawyer and so I was very excited to start my summer clerkship. In particular, after I did a rotation in intellectual property (IP) litigation, I wanted to be a commercial IP lawyer. I loved the IP team and I fell in love with trade marks, brands and marketing law (which has been very useful in my later in-house role). My love of IP was further cemented in my final year of law school after I studied IP (as having the practical experience was the best way to understand the theory behind it) - and once again I had a different idea about what I wanted to be when I grew up.

Judge’s associateship

However, I still had that inkling towards advocacy, and a chance conversation with a law student I knew who mentioned about being a ‘tippie’ or Judge’s associate, meant that I found myself applying for associateship positions in my final year of law school. I was a little late to apply but I am so glad I did. Next thing - I had a position as an associate for a Federal Court judge lined up for my first year out of law school. I deferred my private practice graduate position for this 12 month associateship and wow - what a year! It was an honour to work so closely with a judge, and I was also able to meet other judges and associates, work on some of the most important cases of the time (including IP, misleading and deceptive conduct and migration law), learn the ins and outs of court procedure, and observe talented advocates in the courtroom.

The grad job

Starting as a graduate solicitor at the law firm the year after, I was able to rotate within three practice groups: mergers and acquisitions (M&A), intellectual property litigation (where I ultimately settled after the graduate program ended), and then a secondment to a community legal centre focusing on refugee law. The knowledge about court procedure from my associateship really came in handy during my litigation rotation, and I was given some rare opportunities to appear at directions hearings in the District Court (which was extremely nerve wracking but at least I was a little familiar with the courtroom after my year as an associate). 

Community legal centre

The secondment to the community legal centre was one of the best 6 months of my legal career - I was really making a difference to the lives of individuals who had fled their home countries seeking asylum here in Australia. The admin law and migration law cases I saw during my associateship really helped me not only get the secondment opportunity in the first place, but it also helped with the work I was doing - yet another example of my previous work experience coming in handy later on. Further, I had to learn about giving legal advice in a plain English way in short bursts - because much of the advice had to be translated by an interpreter so I couldn’t use legalese or long wordy sentences to convey my advice. This plain English style has helped me deliver legal advice in my current role in-house.

In house

After a couple of years at the firm, while I absolutely loved IP litigation and the team, a junior role came up in-house and I just had to say yes to the opportunity! At the time, junior in-house roles were fairly hard to come by. The job ad referred to wanting a 2 year plus lawyer with experience in a top tier commercial firm (tick), with some experience or interest in IP (tick), M&A experience (tick), privacy law (tick - I wrote my thesis on it), dispute resolution (tick) and a few other things. Saying yes to all the opportunities that I had in the past meant that I could be in the running! Fast forward almost 4 years later and I’ve had the absolute privilege to be an in-house counsel working with some of the most talented and dedicated lawyers I have ever met, and have learned so much - not only about almost every type of legal issue under the sun (as in-house lawyers are usually generalists) but also about how a business is run - which is really coming in handy now I’ve started my own business.

I feel very lucky to have had these opportunities. I must thank the legal profession and call out the generosity of its members in giving me a chance and teaching me all these things. Saying yes to all the opportunities has allowed me to learn, grow, explore, meet new people, and be excited about what I do. 

What will you say yes to? What are the opportunities you can jump a