La Trobe Law School – 20 years of achievement

Originally published in La Trobe University Bulletin on November 30, 2012.

Jason Cornwall-JonesA prized post as Associate to a High Court Judge, two partnerships in a top-tier Australian law firm, and a call to the Canadian Bar….

These are just some of the latest achievements by La Trobe graduates as their Law School concluded its year-long 20th Anniversary celebration in late November with a gala cocktail party for 250 students, graduates and staff at the National Gallery of Victoria.

Guest speaker at the function, Jason Cornwall-Jones, and another graduate, Anita Cade, were recently appointed Partners at Ashurst Australia, a commercial law firm operating in the Asia-Pacific region.

Speaking from ‘first-hand knowledge’, Mr Cornwall-Jones said La Trobe’s Law School was highly regarded within the legal profession and more broadly. ‘It has a growing reputation, not just in Australia but internationally.’

He said this excellent reputation had been achieved because the people who taught him were ‘not only experts in their fields but, more importantly, were able to communicate their expertise’.

‘They also had the happy knack of being able to present information in a way that stimulates curiosity.’

The cocktail party was one of five high-profile events – several of them peak public lectures on themes ranging from human trafficking and war crimes to professional misconduct, some of which have since been published in legal journals – that marked La Trobe Law’s celebratory year.

‘Lawyers on the Edge’

Another, the University’s annual Alumni Lecture, inaugurated four years ago at the Melbourne Town Hall by economics graduate and former Ambassador to China, Dr Geoff Raby, was this year dedicated to the Law School.

Held at the State Library of Victoria the lecture was delivered by one of the School’s earliest graduates, Joe Nieuwenhuizen, now General Manager Investigations at the Law Institute of Victoria.

He spoke to an audience of more than 120 people, including representatives of the Supreme and County Courts, the Leo Cussen Institute, Federal Police, the Law Institute and the Victorian Bar on the topic of ‘Professional Misconduct: Lawyers on the Edge’.

Vice-Chancellor John Dewar, also a lawyer, said the Law School ‘has been an incredible success. It truly is a high-class law school and it’s going to play a big part in La Trobe University’s future’.

‘From small beginnings, with an intake of just 70 graduate students, it now has more than 1,000 undergraduates, including a growing contingent of international students from Thailand, Vietnam, Germany and Canada.

‘In January the School was ranked at world standard in the ERA research rankings for its staff publications, which stretch from public interest law and human rights to corporate governance and commercial law.

‘Just three years ago,’ he added, ‘our students won the International Investment Arbitration Moot in Frankfurt beating 27 teams from around the world. This year we came third – beating all Australian comers.’

Innovative curriculum

Professor Dewar said the School was well-known for its innovation in curriculum: the only Law School in Australia with a stand-alone compulsory Dispute Resolution subject in first year.

‘This year, a Statutory Interpretation core subject was introduced in response to demands from the profession. Other highlights include our Judicial Mentoring Program, our Communication and Advocacy Skills subject taught by John Willis, and a number of award-winning clinical programs.’

He emphasised that from its beginnings in the 1960s, the University has been about serving society, providing tertiary education and engaging critically with the world, offering community support and helping combat injustice.

For example, the University has been working with the West Heidelberg Community Legal Service since its inception. Associate Professor Mary Anne Noone was one of the founding clinical legal educators at the service and is now a board member.

‘We’re incredibly proud of our former students,’ Professor Dewar said.  ‘You will find our legal alum serving on bodies from the ACCC, to the ASIC, the DPP, the OPP, the LIV and every other legal acronym in the country.’

These former students include human rights activist and CEO of the Asylum Seeker Research Centre Kon Karapanagiotidis OAM  – currently a promotional ‘face’ of the University on billboards throughout Melbourne – and Western Australia’s Ombudsman Chris Fields, who returned to Melbourne in September to give a special anniversary lecture for the Law School on the ‘Integrity Branch of Government’ (ie, ombudsmen).

Attended by about 70 people, the event was held in the boardroom of the leading medium-sized law firm Hall & Wilcox, where Natalie Bannister, one of the University’s earliest law graduates is now a partner.

Commercial law and social justice

Other successful graduates include Stella Stuthridge, the first La Trobe law student appointed a magistrate, at Bendigo in 2009, and Mike Hammond. After working at senior levels in Victoria Police and with the Transport Accident Commission before studying law, Mr Hammond has been a partner at the international law firm, Norton Rose, for the past 13 years.

Connor O’Brien now runs his own very successful criminal law firm, Doogue and O’Brien, and Kate Cronin has worked  for the past three-and-a half years with Linklaters in London, a UK  ‘Magic Circle’ law firm and one of the largest in the world.

Organiser of the 20th Anniversary events and Director of Progams, Heather King, said tracking graduates during the anniversary year has been particularly rewarding.

‘It confirmed what I have known for some time; that our graduates are doing extraordinarily well in every sector of the legal profession. Many of our graduates also work in the community sector or hold public office.

‘I’ve just received the great news that 2008 graduate, Roshan Chaile, who recently completed the highly prestigious Bachelor of Civil Law degree at Oxford with Distinction, has been appointed an Associate to High Court Justice Gageler, a wonderful achievement. Roshan will take up his position in July 2014.

‘This is another first for the Law School and highlights that our graduates are truly world class,’ she said.

Other graduates with careers in the social justice area of the law are Meagan Keogh, Director of Legal Practice, and Shannon Dellamarta, Practice and Briefing Manager and criminal law specialist, both with Victoria Legal Aid.

Among recent graduate achievements, Alessandro Colonnier has become the first graduate from La Trobe to be admitted to practice in Ontario, Canada.  Two graduates have been elected to State Parliament, Jennifer Kanis (as Member for Melbourne), Ben Carroll (Niddrie);  and Amanda Stevens has just been appointed Mayor of the City of Port Phillip Bay.

New Alumni Chapter

La Trobe Law graduates and the University have recently opened a special Law Alumni Chapter.

Welcoming former students to the new Chapter, Law School Head Professor Paula Baron said the group will foster the alumni community and provide communication and resources to help graduates in their careers.

‘An active alumni chapter is a key component in distinguishing the law program and increasing the value of your law degree,’ she told students.

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