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Friday, 3 September 2021

Celebrating Canberra’s inspirational lawyers

ACT Law Society President, Elizabeth Carroll hosted the Society’s annual ACT Law Awards in a special online event on Friday 3 September 2021. Normally included as part of the Society’s Annual Dinner, due to the Covid lockdown the event was moved to a streaming format.

The Law Society’s ACT Law Awards recognise the outstanding local lawyers and firms who contribute to the Canberra community. Nominations are received across five awards:

  • The ACT Young Lawyer of the Year Award, recognising and encouraging early career lawyers,
  • The Government Law Award, recognising lawyers working in government,
  • The Pro Bono Service Award, recognising lawyers performing pro bono work in the Canberra community,
  • The ACT Firm of the Year, celebrating the achievements of our local firms, and
  • The President’s Medal, which recognises the significant personal and professional contributions of a local practitioner to the ACT community.

Her Honour Justice Chrissa Loukas-Karlsson presented the ACT Young Lawyer of the Year Award, noting that the judging panel was irretrievably tied and so two awards would be given, to Caroline Beasley and Keiran Pender.

Caroline Beasley from Clayton Utz Canberra provides pro bono services through the Women’s Legal Centre and Canberra Community Law on employment and discrimination issues, including working with vulnerable clients in family violence situations. She coordinates her firm’s community connect program, connecting staff with volunteering opportunities in the Canberra community. She also mentors young female law students at the ANU, as well as junior lawyers in her own office, and is part of a program supporting First Nations children by helping them with their homework.

Kieran Pender has a broad and extensive CV including undertaking the International Bar Association’s landmark “Us Too?” report and subsequent global engagement campaign on bullying and sexual harassment in the legal profession, and also lead the Human Rights Law Centre’s campaign against the prosecution of whistleblowers. He volunteers with the Redfern Legal Centre’s employment clinic, and is a co-founder of Football Rising, a charity that seeks to empower women and girls through football in Asia and Africa. He is also a prolific legal writer and commentator, an honorary lecturer at the ANU College of Law, and a consultant for Bradley Allen Love Lawyers.

The Government Law Award was presented by Law Society Councillor David Swanson to Gregory Burn, Deputy Public Trustee and Guardian of the ACT. Gregory Burn has made a significant impact in government law with limited resources. He has driven legislative change to introduce clarity and minimise confusion in several ACT laws, including the Public Trustee’s responsibilities in deceased estates, the respectful disposal of the remains of unclaimed persons, and dealing with restrained and forfeited assets. He has also overseen the project to institute the ACT’s first public Will register, involving extensive stakeholder consultations and a feasibility study. He also provides community presentations on topics around intestacy and elder abuse, and he is a mentor in the ACT public service women’s mentoring program.

ACT Attorney-General Shane Rattenbury introduced Professor Maree Sainsbury of the University of Canberra as the winner of the Pro Bono Service Award. Maree Sainsbury has been the key driver behind the Small Business Legal Advice Clinic, which provides an essential free service to small businesses in the ACT. She has also been instrumental in getting law students interested in pro bono work, teaching them the importance of giving back to the community in which they operate, and ensuring the next generation of pro bono lawyers.

Presenting the ACT Firm of the Year Award to Mark Barrow of Ken Cush & Associates, Law Society President Elizabeth Carroll drew attention to the firm’s commitment to access to justice and human rights and their unique approach to pro bono work. Ken Cush & Associates take on difficult institutional abuse cases including alleged breaches of human rights at the AMC, false imprisonment cases, and the wrongful conviction case of David Eastman. They regularly act for some of the ACT community’s most vulnerable people, including First Nations people. The firm have represented many Aboriginal clients in respect of issues of unjust imprisonment, racism, and inadequate health care in the AMC. The firm has also used its skills in personal injury and insurance law to take on numerous catastrophic injury cases pro-bono or on a speculative basis to assist clients in the ACT and Australia-wide.

Elizabeth Carroll presented the final award for the night, the President’s Medal, to Margie Rowe, who leads the family violence team at Legal Aid ACT. Margie has built a collaborative relationship between her team, and the Court, the AFP, and the private profession, driving more efficient processes and ensuring her clients’ safety is minimally impacted by delays. She has worked tirelessly to improve the lives of those impacted by family and domestic violence, including working closely with the Court on refining processes to ensure the safety of victims, and being involved in legislative changes around coercive control. She is valued by her colleagues and staff for her leadership and mentoring, by her clients and the Courts for her advocacy, and by all for her humility and commitment to service. Her staff speak extensively of her ability to inspire them, her dedication to improving legal outcomes for domestic violence survivors, and her infectious passion for her work.

In closing the evening, Law Society President Elizabeth Carroll commended the award winners for their outstanding contributions to the legal profession and to the Canberra community. She thanked all those involved in the Awards process, including those who had nominated, the finalists and winners, and the judging panels. She also thanked the Annual Dinner sponsors, Leo Cussen and Legal Home Loans, for their generous support.