The College of Law Presents: 15 Inspiring Women in Law to Watch
Our profession has long celebrated the achievements of illustrious lawyers, and for much of our history, those lawyers have often looked much the same. In recent years, as access to law and becoming a lawyer has widened, we’ve seen talented lawyers rise from a multitude of diverse backgrounds. Like lawyers before them, they share a commitment to elevate the law and improve its impact on our community.
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After celebrating women in law for the month of March, we put together a list of women in the College of Law community who, through their work and services, have served to inspire and transform the legal profession.
1. Alison Clegg - Ethics and Compliance Manager at Shell - Mobility, Sectors & Decarbonisation, Lubricants and Acquisitions & Divestments
Alison Clegg transitioned to Ethics and Compliance after spending 12 years as a commercial, oil and gas lawyer. She is now global Ethics and Compliance Manager at Shell - Mobility, Sectors & Decarbonisation, Lubricants and Acquisitions & Divestments, a role which oversees over 46,000 retail sites in 80 countries. She plays a key role in embedding Ethics and Compliance into Shell’s business processes and conducts risk assessments and guidance on compliance
“I love coming to work and collaborating with colleagues to help them and help grow our business, so that Shell can thrive in the energy transition.”
Why she inspires us: For demonstrating an effective career transition from commercial lawyer to a complex global role for a major multinational.
2. Ashleigh DoRozario - Litigation Lawyer - Potts Lawyers
Ashleigh is an experienced litigation lawyer with Queensland firm, Potts Lawyers, where she has progressed through years as a paralegal studying law, to civil litigator with experience spanning the full spectrum of disputes.
Ashleigh is also legally blind. Rather than allowing this to limit her life and career, Ashleigh became a founding member of Queensland Law Society’s Diverse Abilities Network, as well as a member of the QLS Equity and Diversity committee. She has been twice honoured by MS Queensland, firstly as its Young Person of the Year for her fundraising, and by His Excellency The Honourable Paul de Jersey AC, Governor of Queensland, as one of MS Queensland’s 60 Most Influential People.
“Ashleigh is an outstanding lawyer who, in her spare time, works tirelessly to improve accessibility of legal services for both the profession and the public it serves,” said Ann-Maree David, Executive Director of the College of Law Queensland. “Ashleigh, who is legally blind, felt that her professional identity and credibility as a lawyer would be compromised if she uncovered her difference or disability. In truth, having shared her physical limitations in the public forum afforded by the Diverse Abilities Network (which she co-founded), she has become an even more formidable advocate for change, diversity, and inclusion on behalf of our profession. She is a courageous leader and a woman I greatly admire.”
Why she inspires us: For championing improved accessibility to the law, and diverse abilities within the law.
3. Caryn Sandler - Partner & Chief Knowledge and Innovation Officer of Gilbert + Tobin
Caryn Sandler is a leading legal innovator, and in many ways, an iconoclast. Under her stewardship, she has ensured Gilbert + Tobin stands apart through its effective use of legaltechnology. Her initiatives have seen both her and the firm recognised with a slew of innovation awards - including Lawyers Weekly Innovator of the Year (Partner of the Year Awards & Women in Law Awards), the AFR Client Choice Awards for Most Innovative Law Firm, and Financial Times’ Most Innovative Law Firm.
She contributes her wealth of innovation expertise as Co-Chair of the CLI Advisory Board, where she works alongside The College of Law’s Centre for Legal Innovation (CLI) Executive Director Terri Mottershead.
“Sometimes, in your professional career, you have the good fortune of meeting someone who truly inspires you – not just because they are exceptional at what they do, but because how they do it matters just as much to them,” said Terri. “Caryn is that person – her intellect, insights, unwavering dedication to legal innovation, generosity, compassion, and passion for what she does is infectious and reminds us all how fortunate we are to have her in the legal industry.”
Why she inspires us: For driving innovation in a major Australian firm and setting a new standard in the delivery of legal services.
4. Fiona Kirkman - Legaltech Founder - Accredited Specialist in Family Law - Collaborative Coach - Mediator - FDRP
Fiona Kirkman is an accomplished dual-careerist: a family lawyer and legaltech founder of LawSwitch and Family Property. Recently, she sold Family Property to global legaltech Smokeball, exponentially expanding its reach and customer base and staying on as Co-CEO. Fiona was named an Innovative Peacemaker of the Year (2021) in the Alternative Dispute Resolution Awards. Fiona is also principal of Kirkman Family Law, a College of Law adjunct lecturer and NSW Chapter Board Member, and Family Law Course Facilitator at the Law Society of NSW.
“It’s been amazing and remarkable to watch what Fiona (and her partner Tim) have done in and for legaltech in Australia,” said CLI Executive Director Terri Mottershead. “Fiona is a pioneer, an advocate for women in tech, an inspiration and huge supporter of everyone she engages with along the way. Resilient, visionary, empathic, generous and brave…she is a role model for women tech developers everywhere!”
Why she inspires us: We admire Fiona for successfully pioneering a career both as a committed family lawyer, and effective legal innovator in her field of family law.
5. Genevieve Collins - Landers & Rogers’ Chief Executive Partner
Genevieve was recently recognised as Law Firm Leader of the Year in the 2021 Australasian Law Awards. Judges bestowed the accolade, praising her as an “exceptional leader” who took the firm “from strength to strength during challenging times, innovating and supporting all the way.” Her innovations included implementing industry-leading for safer, more inclusive workplaces, ambitious sustainability targets and legaltech uptake.
“In three decades of practising law, I've been lucky to live through an explosion of change and disruption within the legal profession,” Genevieve Collins told the Centre for Legal Innovation, for which she is an Advisory Board member. “I see a genuine willingness within the legal sector to share ideas and experiences for the good of the collective.”
“When I think of progressive law firms in Australia, Lander & Rogers comes immediately to mind,” said CLI Executive Director Terri Mottershead. “To achieve that recognition in the legal market today doesn’t happen by accident. It takes exceptional leadership, vision, an ability to build and sustain meaningful relationships, communication with transparency, empathy and agility. Genevieve has all of this and so very much more!”
Why she inspires us: For steering her firm through the tumult and turbulence of COVID-19 and transforming it into a NewLaw market leader with empathy, transparency, and competence.
6. Heidi Gan - Associate - Clifford Chance
Heidi Gan might be one of the busiest people in law. A dual Olympian, AALA’s Diversity Leader of the Year and Junior Lawyer of the Year, the talented Clifford Chance lawyer also sits on a number of Clifford Chance committees aiming to address gender and race equality. Naturally, this College of Law alumna’s days start early - at 4.30 am when she’s in Olympic training.
“What I find most rewarding about what I do, at its simplest, is helping my clients navigate disputes, whether that be on complex cross-border matters, or local pro bono matters. I particularly enjoy working on global matters with colleagues from all around the world who are both brilliant lawyers and genuinely wonderful people. Clifford Chance has also given me exposure to areas of law I had not studied or practiced in before. This is constantly challenging, but also keeps things interesting!”
Why she inspires us: Besides a 4.30am start, Heidi shows what’s possible, as a world class athlete and an accomplished lawyer on the rise.
7. Kate Clark - Legal Director of Clarke & Associates Mediation Services
Kate’s role sees her closely involved in mediation, family dispute resolution, and promoting restorative justice in the criminal law system.
According to Ann-Maree David, Executive Director of the College of Law Queensland, Kate is certainly a lawyer - but also so much more.
“Kate is a change agent, community builder, and all ‘round fabulous human being!” said Ann-Maree. “When not mediating or promoting restorative justice in the criminal law system, she is giving her time freely to assist law students and graduates find pathways to meaningful careers in legal practice or otherwise volunteering with the Suncoast Community Legal Service. She role models true professionalism in all she does. She is held in high regard by all who meet her and work with her, and rightly so!”
Why she inspires us: For her willingness to contribute to the community as a volunteer, and mentor the next generation of lawyers.
8. Maddison Harrington - Employment lawyer - D&I Advocate
Maddison is an accomplished employment lawyer, currently on a full time secondment from Gilchrist Connell as EY's in-house employment counsel for the Oceania region. She was recently recognised as a Rising Star of the Year (SME division, finalist) in the Lawyers Weekly Women in Law awards, having been nominated by Gilchrist Connell partner Sarah Wood.
Outside of her work in law, she tirelessly advocates for better diversity and inclusion, particularly with respect to the LGBTIQ community. In late 2019, her advocacy was recognised when she was awarded an “Out for Australia 30 Under 30 LGBTIQ Role Model award”. Maddison is keenly aware of her trailblazer status, noting that she faces a “double glass ceiling” as a (lesbian) woman. This has only spurred her to further success as a lawyer, and to role model her own experiences, which she otherwise rarely saw in the profession.
Why she inspires us: As Maddison herself put it, “you can’t be what you can’t see.” By living her truth so openly, Maddison reflects the courage of her generation of lawyers to challenge and improve upon what’s coming before them.
9. Madeleine Thomas - Deputy General Counsel, Executive Director Planning, Environment and Resources
Madeleine Thomas is a College of Law alumna and a seasoned government lawyer. Starting out as a legal officer with the Department of Infrastructure, Planning and Natural Resources, she swiftly progressed through the NSW Crown Solicitor’s office to join the NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment, where she’s made her mark climbing the ranks over the past 15 years. She currently serves as Deputy General Counsel, Executive Director Planning, Environment and Resources.
“Not only is Madeleine an outstanding lawyer, leading such a big area of our practice and helping our clients achieve great results - she is also a generous and kind manager who makes time for everyone, within her team or in other teams,” said Jennifer Coburn, Director of Environment Litigation at the NSW Department of Planning and Environment. “Madeleine actively promotes the welfare of women lawyers at the Department by setting up initiatives such as part time work support groups. She is a role model for many of us, providing advice and guidance on not only technical matters but also career development.”
Why she inspires us: For tirelessly championing the welfare of women lawyers alongside her accomplishments as an environmental lawyer.
10. Mary Hockaday - Management Consultant & College of Law LPMC Lecturer & Course Facilitator
Mary Hockaday is who you call in when your firm needs a full-blown shake-up, or a commercial fine-tuning. She has steered countless law firms and organisations towards commercial success, encouraging them to take a step back, reassess their business models, and reimagine their strategy. She has long brought her business acumen to bear on the College of Law’s Legal Practice Management Course as a lecturer and course facilitator, helping prepare law firm principals for the realities and practicalities of running their law firms as a business.
“Mary is a strategic leader with extensive experience and expertise in assisting professional service firms and organisations to fine tune their businesses to maximise effectiveness and returns,” observed Ann-Maree David, Director of the College of Law Queensland. “She is also a gifted and empathetic teacher who conveys foreign principles and delivers pragmatic advice in the most respectful manner. She has been a valuable role model and mentor to men and women in our profession for decades and her wise counsel is sought out by many. I am lucky to consider Mary both a colleague and a friend and she is someone I deeply admire.”
Why she inspires us: For helping lawyers master the commercial complexities of running a law firm as a business, particularly where this may be a relatively fresh skillset.
11. Mel Lyon - Executive Director & Experience Designer at Hive Legal
For the first chapter of her career, Mel Lyon pursued a ‘traditional’ legal career path, climbing from graduate to senior associate and eventually making partner at a major commercial law firm. Fast forward a few years, and she’s a design thinker, Innovator of the Year winner, and Executive Director & Experience Designer at Hive Legal. She consults in Design Thinking, Innovation, Legal Ops, NewLaw business models and Value Pricing. It’s been a major career pivot, but once she’s found fulfilling.
“There is a growing appetite to change the way the legal profession works,” Mel Lyon told GirledWorld. “Traditional constraints are being challenged and, even though it is slow progress, the profession is starting to see how important it is to bring a more human approach to law. I love being part of that change.”
Mel is also a CLI Advisory Board member, former CLI Distinguished Fellow and a presenter for the College’s Legal Practice Management Course in Victoria.
“Purpose, collaboration and empathy are at the heart of legal design thinking and what drives Mel and her exceptional work in the area,” said CLI Executive Director Terri Mottershead. “An outstanding professional, ground breaker, and all-round amazing human - we are building a legal industry that will be better, kinder, and focused on the user experience in significant part because of Mel, her work, and the human centred leadership she demonstrates in all she does, every day!”
Why she inspires us: For fearlessly following her heart, first as a lawyer, and more recently, as a pioneering legal innovator.
12. Mel Scott - Senior Legal Counsel @ Megaport
Mel, also known as ‘your career big sis’ is host of Counsel, a podcast for in-house lawyers which recently made #28 in Apple Podcast - Careers charts. She was also named in Lawyers Weekly’s 30 under 30. An active voice in the corporate counsel space, Mel serves as Senior Legal Counsel (Global) for a fast-paced global tech company, ASX-listed Megaport, where she sees her role as one of value creation and risk reduction. Mel is a CLI Emerging Leaders Advisory Board member and College of Law alumna.
Her podcast, Counsel, born during the COVID lockdowns, is on a simple mission: to connect isolated in-house lawyers in disparate industries around the world. Within 18 months, she had over 25,000 downloads across 24 countries, and featured interviews with lawyers from Canva, Who Gives a Crap, and The Guardian.
“Change is always difficult,” observed CLI Executive Director Terri Mottershead. “Vision, leading by example, and being willing to experiment are the key factors in that change. When I think about how and who might apply these to reshape the in-house counsel role in the next few years, Mel Scott is the first person who comes to mind.”
Why she inspires us: Mel inspires us through her courage as a communicator. As Mel put it, “Your story is powerful. Your voice is powerful. Don’t be afraid to use it.”
13. Mollie O’Connor - Solicitor Environmental Defenders Office
Indigenous woman Mollie O’Connor is keenly aware of the importance of land, and its preservation. As a lawyer, this has seen her thrive as a solicitor in the Environmental Defenders Office, prior to which she served as a graduate lawyer in the Australian Department of Agriculture, Water, and the Environment.
As a proud Quandamooka woman from Minjerribah, Mollie strives to use her expertise and experience as a lawyer to help protect her people’s land, preserving it for future generations.
While committed to preserving her people’s legacy, Mollie is also driven to forging the future of law - and has done so as a Queensland member of The Legal Forecast, organising Hackcess to Justice, an event run in partnership with the Department of Justice and Attorney-General.
“I admire Mollie for her unwavering commitment and dedication to protecting the traditional lands of her people for future generations,” said Ann-Maree David, Executive Director of the College of Law Queensland. “She has a passion for innovation in law and is currently working as a solicitor with the Environmental Defenders Office in Queensland. Mollie is a purpose driven individual and a humble achiever and I consider her to be a woman lawyer to watch!”
Why she inspires us: For persevering to protect the lands of her people and driving innovation initiatives in the profession.
14. Saba Amir Goudarzi - Legal Counsel, LendLease
Saba is a construction lawyer on the rise. Recently a construction and infrastructure finalist in Lawyers Weekly’s prestigious 30 under 30 awards, this College of Law alumna has worked on major infrastructure projects, including the Sydney light rail and Sydney Metro Northwest project. In addition to her role as legal counsel for Lend Lease, Saba serves the Society of Construction Law Australia as Acting Chair of the Events Subcommittee.
Why she inspires us: Through her swift rise through the complex and often male-dominated construction law sector.
15. Sheetal Deo - Founder and Principal, Shakti Legal Solutions
To say Canadian-born lawyer Sheetal Deo is busy is an understatement. She’s the founder and principal solicitor of Shakti Legal Solutions, as well as founder and lead facilitator of The Diversity Collective, CLI Emerging Leaders Advisory Board member, state director in Queensland for Out for Australia, and an adjunct lecturer at the College of Law.
“I’m forever at a loss to understand why, when we talk about access to justice, we either say corporations need a pro bono program, or we need more funding for CLCs. There’s almost a missing middle. Shakti Legal Solutions fills a gap in that space because we work on a pay-what-you-can scale for clients.” - Sheetal Deo, Lawyers Weekly
“Diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging – Sheetal’s work has turned these words into positive action,” said CLI Executive Director Terri Mottershead. “We know more, can do more, are better as people, and can be grateful for Sheetal’s leadership, unwavering vision and commitment to her work.”
Why she inspires us: We admire her for her commitment to diversity and inclusion in the law, and for reinventing the business model for legal services.
Keep an eye out for our celebrations of top new lawyers to come!