The Bulletin / The Law Society of SA / October 2016

Natalie Wade named Australian Young Lawyer of the Year

L-R,David Caruso, Natalie Wade, Paul Gordon

The Law Society congratulates Natalie Wade on being named by the Law Council of Australia as the Australian Young Lawyer of the Year. Natalie was nominated by the Law Society of SA following her award as South Australian Young Lawyer of the Year at the Law Society of SA’s annual dinner in August. Natalie has been a tireless and effective advocate for equal opportunity, especially for people with a disability and vulnerable children.  

Read the Law Council of Australia Media release.
Read Natalie’s acceptance speech.

The October edition of the Bulletin featured a Q&A on Natalie Wade. Read the article in full below:

Living the law: Natalie's passionate pursuit of human rights
Posted: 11 October 2016

Natalie Wade, the winner of the 2016 Young Lawyer of the Year Award, is an in-house solicitor for the Department of Communities and Social Inclusion, but that job title hardly begins to describe the achievements of this amazing 27-year-old. While she clearly enjoys her job, it is her impressive list of extracurricular activities that really makes her tick. Melanie Tilmouth and Evelyn Johns sat down with Natalie for coffee and a chat.

Why did you choose to work in law?
My undergraduate degree was in commerce and law. I was open to either career option. Throughout uni I was heavily involved in student politics and social justice. My experience at uni of dealing with disability access, turned into my passion and I realised I could help.  I was fortunate enough to get a job as a volunteer where I am now a solicitor.

If you had not pursued law what else would you have done?
I could not imagine doing anything else. I have never wanted to be florist or anything like that. I cannot see myself working outside of law. I have a mix of paid and unpaid work. After my work days, I spend my evenings and weekends doing human rights legal work and other work I’m passionate about.

You have a lot of extracurricular activities. How did you start getting involved? A lot of younger lawyers struggle to get involved because they feel that they have nothing to offer.
Young lawyers absolutely have something to offer! I got involved at uni and found it to be a great opportunity to expand my experiences outside of my studies. As a young lawyer you can pick the areas of law or community you want to contribute to. My first extracurricular gig was when I finished high school. I became a board member on a disability advisory group.

When I started uni a few months later, I continued to participate in extracurricular activities that allowed me to explore my interest in disability rights. These included being the Ability Officer on the SRC and writing opinion columns in On Dit, about how each theme applied to students with disabilities. Gradually, my social inclusion focus became more human rights focussed, which has now become my central expertise, but I never started out thinking I wanted to do human rights work.

For young lawyers who haven’t been involved in extracurricular activities and don’t know where to start, what advice do you have?
You need to consider what really gets you going; what particular social issue or area of law is important to you and you would like to contribute to. As a young lawyer if you don't have the confidence to get involved, fake it! You’ll be surprised how quickly you pick up new skills in an area you’re passionate about. At the end of the day, it’s what makes you want to go home after a full day’s practice and keep working.

Young lawyers feel like they have no power as jobs are so scarce. Law school is not overly diverse, which feeds into the insecurity in young lawyers that they have to be passionate about every area of law today.

They need to take every opportunity; you will rarely find me saying no. But at the same time, you need to direct your focus; use your legal skills to impact an area of the profession. Everyone has something that annoys them or makes them happy.

When you do get time to switch off, what do you enjoy doing?
I am the proud owner of the world’s most perfect poodles. They take up a fair chunk of my time. I have very supportive friends and family and I go swimming once a week, which really helps me to unwind when I spend all day in front of the computer. I also like watching trashy, mind-numbing TV.

What has been your greatest moment or greatest achievement?
It is not mine as such, but I was involved in the establishment of the Disability Justice Plan, which includes training for judges to take evidence from disabled or vulnerable witnesses.

What are your short and long term goals?
I am at an intersection with my career and personal life where I want to focus more on my personal life, such as saving for a house.   My long term goals are to move to the bar and turn all my extracurricular work into a job.

What advice would you give to those facing barriers coming into the legal profession?
Make sure you want to be a lawyer for the right reasons. Don’t do it just so you can say you are; there are long hours, low pay and high pressure. But if you really want to do it, whatever the barriers are, make it your business to smash them down for other people.

Do you think that the legal profession in Adelaide is open to inclusion and what improvements to see in the next five years?
I think the profession is open. The best thing about being a lawyer with a disability is that I work with people who respect intellect above all. But I’m the only lawyer in a wheelchair, so I think the profession is open in a philosophical sense, but not practically. We have established a group at the Law Society to smash down those barriers. I hope that in five years the profession is more diverse and that lawyers’ diversity reflects the diversity of the community.

What do you think is the biggest challenge facing young lawyers today?
Obviously getting a job is an issue. There are far too many graduates. Graduates should think of options outside commercial law, or even outside the law.

Once you are a young lawyer one of the biggest challenges is work/life balance. There is huge pressure on young lawyers to perform, with no emphasis on life outside of work. It is breeding a mentally ill profession. Senior lawyers need to stop expecting so much from their juniors and stop making this standard normal.

If you had to invite four people, dead or alive, to dinner, who would you invite?
The Hon Michael Kirby AC CMG, Dame Roma Mitchell, Helen Keller and Annabel Crabb.

Fast five:
Coffee or tea? Coffee
Wine or spirits? Spirits
TV or book? TV
Chocolate or cheese? Cheese
The Bachelor or MasterChef ? MasterChef


This article was first published in the October 2016 (Vol. 38 Iss 9) edition of The Bulletin.