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Tuesday, 16 August 2022

ACT Firm of the Year finalists announced

The ACT Law Society is very pleased to introduce the finalists for the 2022 ACT Firm of the Year Award.

The ACT Firm of the Year recognises the efforts of local firms in contributing to access to justice, to innovative legal technology, to a healthy and diverse working environment, and for enhancing the reputation of the local profession.

The nominations received this year covered a broad range of firms, from small to large, and included several homegrown Canberra firms. The judging panel was impressed by the number of firms with female leaders, the focus given broadly to the mentoring and development of new lawyers, and the overall commitment to LGBTIQ+ issues. The panel also took note of family law firms focused on working collaboratively with clients to help them through difficult times, and small criminal firms giving their new lawyers early access to supported advocacy work.

The finalists for the 2022 ACT Firm of the Year are:

Chamberlains Law Firm, for their outstanding charity work and dedication to the Canberra community and to diversity and inclusion. The firm has provided both advocacy and pro bono leasing advice to the Heart Foundation, and recently partnered with UNICEF to provide pro bono succession planning for people who wish to leave a portion of their estate to the charity. Chamberlains is also heavily involved in the Brunton Basketball Foundation, a program helping indigenous and Sudanese students to find their feet in the community and develop as young adults. They boast one of the most inclusive employee constitutions in the ACT, with staff speaking twelve different languages including Croatian, Mandarin, Arabic, Japanese, and Hindi. This helps them make direct connections with a range of Canberra communities. They also have procedures and training in place to assist clients with visual and auditory impairments, as well as mobility restrictions. They actively encourage and support the development and mentoring of their new lawyers, and provide wellbeing support to their staff, and all the senior leadership team is formally trained in mental health first aid.

Farrar Gesini Dunn, for their innovative approach to family law. They were early adopters of Collaborative Law, offering clients an alternative pathway to resolve family law disputes. They employ an in-house child and family specialist to support children and families through the separation process. They have also developed an innovative new settlement option called “Settle by Sunday”, which supports a separating couple to resolve their dispute so they can move on with their lives, and their newly-launched LGBTIQ+ legal service recognises the need for a specialised family law service for that community. They take on a range of work under flexible fee arrangements, ensuring their lawyers are as accessible to the community as possible. Their annual charity golf days have raised over $67,000 over the last four years for Karinya House, a Canberra women’s shelter. One of their core values is to “foster a work environment that supports our lives, sees strengths in our differences and values women”. This focus is shown clearly in their staffing, with woman making up 60% of their Director roles and 84% of staff.

Griffin Legal, for their outstanding local pro bono contributions, and commitment to diversity and staff wellbeing. In the last financial year, their lawyers have logged a combined total of over 1,000 pro bono hours. They have worked on projects including a human rights case to formally recognise the Ngambri’s connection to Canberra, YWCA Canberra’s charitable property management service Rentwell, Palliative Care Australia, and estate planning for terminally ill patients for the Cancer Council ACT. They have a long history of pro-bono and volunteer assistance for a range of community organisations such as Toora Women, Lifeline ACT, and Havelock Housing, along with university and local sport clubs. They also give back to the community through sponsorships and partnerships with local organisations, including free training and education services. They actively promote and uphold gender equality, disability inclusion, and cultural diversity. They are proud to be a female-majority workplace, have members of their team (including a Partner) with disabilities, and they have implemented an Indigenous recruitment strategy. Over 75% of their staff work flexibly in order to maintain work/life balance. They actively promote staff wellbeing and encourage mental health checks and physical activity. Their office includes a relaxation zone and quiet rooms, as well as stretching and exercise equipment.

Ken Cush & Associates, for their consistently outstanding pro bono human rights work. Their firm is dedicated to helping the ACT community’s most vulnerable, including Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander peoples. They provide pro bono legal work for the ACT Cancer Council assisting patients dying of cancer to arrange their legal affairs, and regularly appear at coronial inquests representing families without fee. In the last year, they have been involved in several significant local cases, including several human rights cases relating to people remanded at the AMC, and acting for numerous public housing clients who are the subject of the ACT Housing Growth and Renewal Eviction Program. They are currently involved in a coronial inquest into the tragic death of a woman released from remand which it is hoped will improve responses to mental health crises and minimise preventable suicides. They are also assisting the family in a coronial inquest into a death in custody, and are acting for the Bumbalong residents attempting to request an Inquiry into the cause and origin of the Orroral Valley/Clear Range fire. The firm has also conducted several important cases relating to survivors of sexual abuse by institutions.

The final winner of the Firm of the Year Award, as well as the other ACT Law Awards including the prestigious President's Medal, will be revealed at the Law Society’s Annual Dinner & Awards Night on 4 November 2022.

The Law Society is proud to recognise Leo Cussen Centre for Law and Lawcover as the sponsors of the Law Society's Annual Dinner and 2022 ACT Law Awards.