Friday, 30 August 2019

Community service in the spotlight at 2019 Awards Night

The ACT Law Society’s Annual Dinner and Awards Night, held on Friday 30 August 2019, is an opportunity to thank all those who have contributed to the work of the Law Society over the course of the year. The Dinner is sponsored by Arthur J Gallagher.

As well as presiding over the annual awards, Law Society President Chris Donohue delivered the annual President’s Charity donation to the Domestic Violence Crisis Service (DVCS). DVCS CEO, Mirjana Wilson, accepted the donation of $9,420. The Law Society supports a local Canberra charity each year, raising funds through Law Week in May. Mr Donohue recognised the Society’s Young Lawyer Committee for their contribution – more than $2,000 in donations were raised during the Law Week quiz night they organise.

ACT Young Lawyer of the Year

The Young Lawyer of the Year Award recognises the professional achievements and community involvement of outstanding young lawyers in the region. Eight nominations were received this year, from young lawyers across the spectrum of government, private, and community employers.

The nominees were Rahul Bedi of Maliganis Edwards Johnson, Farzana Choudhury of Canberra Community Law, Sinead de Sousa of IP Australia, Laura John of the Australian Government Solicitor, Najiyah Khan of the Department of Education, Arthur Marusevich of the Commonwealth Superannuation Corporation, Monica Serci of Watts McCray, and Gemma Sutherland of Elringtons.

The Patron of the ACT Young Lawyers Committee, the Hon Justice Chrissa Loukas-Karlsson of the ACT Supreme Court, commended the nominees for the astonishing amount of work they do for the Canberra community, adding that all of them are outstanding young people with brilliant careers ahead of them. Her Honour presented the 2019 Young Lawyer of the Year Award to Farzana Choudhury of Canberra Community Law.

Over the course of a relatively short career, Farzana Choudhury has been using the law to improve the lives of members of our community facing significant disadvantage, through law reform, community engagement, and innovation. She is a Senior Solicitor in Street Law, a program of Canberra Community Law that provides outreach legal services for people who are experiencing, or are at risk of, homelessness.

She established Street Law's health justice partnership with the Junction Youth Health Service, and works alongside health practitioners and youth work staff to address the unmet legal needs of young people experiencing, or at risk of, homelessness.

She also established the Women in Prison Legal Empowerment Sessions (WIPLES), a series of legal education seminars and advice clinics with the goal of supporting and empowering women in prison.

She volunteers with several community organisations, including the Night Time Legal Advice Service, Beryl Women Inc, the Women's Centre for Health Matters, Homeless Connect Canberra, and the International Tenants' Day.

Government Law Award

The Government Law Award was established to provide local recognition, including at a senior level, of the outstanding achievements of practitioners working in or for government. The 2019 Government Law Award was presented to Michael Deasey.

Michael Deasey is Special Counsel at the ACT Government Solicitor’s Office (ACTGS), managing the property and commercial section of the office. Since joining the ACTGS in 2005, he has worked on a range of complex legal matters, often associated with a high level of public interest or political sensitivity.

He was the lawyer in charge of advising the Territory on the property aspects of the Mr Fluffy legacy, developing of an equitable response to affected homeowners that was both community-focussed and compassionate.

He has advised on many major construction projects for the Territory, including the University of Canberra Public Hospital, the Majura Parkway, and on most of the projects developed under the ACT Health Infrastructure Plan.

Michael has served 26 years on the Law Society’s Professional Conduct Committee (formerly the Complaints Committee), and also volunteers with the Society’s Legal Advice Bureau, giving free short legal consultations to members of the public. He also volunteers at the Canberra City Uniting Church Early Morning Centre, helping to serve breakfast to Canberra’s homeless once a week before work for the past five years.

Michael’s knowledge and practical and legal experience are an invaluable resource for his colleagues and the ACTGS office as a whole. His willingness to assist despite his own heavy workload, are recognised and appreciated by staff and clients at all levels.

He is an outstanding solicitor and role model, an invaluable and integral part of ACTGS, and a worthy recipient of the 2019 Government Law Award.

Pro Bono Service Award

The Pro Bono Service Award recognises a legal practitioner or a law firm that has provided outstanding pro bono legal services to the Canberra community.

The Award Panel recognised Canberra firms Proximity and King & Wood Mallesons Canberra with a ‘Highly Commended’ certificate, for their outstanding pro bono work.

The ACT Attorney-General, Gordon Ramsay MLA, presented the 2019 Pro Bono Service Award to Vanessa Parkins of Sparke Helmore.

Vanessa Parkins is a Senior Associate at Sparke Helmore Lawyers, working in the area of CTP insurance. She also volunteers as the Canberra office’s pro bono coordinator, championing pro bono culture to her colleagues and sourcing pro bono opportunities in the local community.

In the year that Vanessa has been coordinating Sparke Helmore’s local pro bono activities, she has achieved 705 hours of total pro bono legal work at the firm. This is on top of her considerable personal pro bono work, where she has completed 132.5 hours in addition to her regular duties.

She regularly volunteers her time to the Women’s Legal Service Divorce Clinic, assisting disadvantaged women, some in domestic violence situations, who often do not speak English as a first language. In the last year, as a result of Vanessa’s championing of the clinic, she has coordinated more than 220 hours of pro bono legal assistance through this clinic, with 78 of those hours contributed herself.

She has played an integral role in Sparke Helmore’s Aboriginal Wills Clinics, through which the firm aims to make a positive impact on Indigenous communities through the provision of culturally appropriate wills clinics in regional and remote communities throughout Australia.

She coordinates Sparke Helmore’s involvement with the Law Society’s Legal Advice Bureau, as well as volunteering there herself. She has also organised three pro bono secondments to the Law Society’s Pro Bono Clearing House, which amounts to more than 280 hours of pro bono legal assistance to date.

Vanessa’s passion for pro bono work and the commitment and energy she brings to this aspect of her professional life is to be commended.

The President’s Medal

Michael Kukulies-Smith was presented with the 2019 President’s Medal. The President’s Medal recognises significant personal and professional contributions to the betterment of law and justice in the community by an ACT solicitor and member of the ACT Law Society.

Michael Kukulies-Smith is one of Canberra’s most experienced criminal lawyers, and has been deeply involved in local law development and reform.

Over the course of an extensive legal career, he has represented clients in all the ACT courts and tribunals, in NSW local and district courts, in the Queensland Supreme Court, and in all the federal courts. He has taken on several matters relating to wrongful imprisonment on a pro bono basis, pursuing one such matter all the way to the High Court of Australia.

Since 2010, Michael has been chair of the Law Society’s Criminal Law Committee, and he is often called upon to represent the Law Society in the media, in government inquiries, and in Legislative Assembly committee meetings, where he has consistently shown great dedication to advocating for better laws in the ACT.

Each year, Michael participates in the Burgmann College Volunteer Mentor Program, freely giving his time to mentor students considering a career in criminal law. He also gives regular guest lectures at ANU in areas of criminal law.

Michael carries his advocacy work to the national stage as the Law Society’s delegate to the National Criminal Law Committee convened by the Law Council of Australia. In 2015, he coordinated the Canberra protest as part of the Law Council of Australia’s national day of action calling for increased legal assistance funding.

For his outstanding work for the Law Society as a volunteer expert in criminal law, his always cheerful willingness to answer obscure questions at odd times, and his professionalism in dealing with the media and the government, he is a worthy recipient of the 2019 President’s Medal.

The ACT Law Society commends these award winners for their outstanding contributions to the legal profession and the Canberra community.


For further information contact:
Mr Chris Donohue, President, ACT Law Society, T 02 6274 0300

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