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Clayton Utz

  • #4 in Law
  • 1,000 - 50,000 employees

Bridgette Vanderwolf

CU people take their work seriously, but not themselves. This creates an excellent learning environment and enables you to be yourself at work. 

What did you study at university?

I studied a bachelor of Law (Honours) and Journalism at the Queensland University of Technology.

What made you interested in commercial law?

The opportunity to try various areas of law as part of a graduate program piqued my interest in working at a commercial firm. I also enjoy problem-solving and was always attracted to strategy and negotiation. The practice of commercial law provided a context in which I could explore these aspirations.

Clayton Utz's commitment to leveraging its resources to provide pro bono and other community services was also a huge drawcard for me. While I find the commercial aspects of working at a corporate firm interesting, I am passionate about pursuing a career at a firm where I can and am encouraged to, use my skills to help others.

Tell us about your experience so far at Clayton Utz (including what your role is)?

I completed my clerkship in 2018, rotating through the Technology and Intellectual Property and Workplace Relations, Employment & Safety teams. While I learnt a lot from the work I was involved with during the clerkship, I also thoroughly enjoyed the other aspects of the firm to the clerks were exposed to.

During the clerkship, I played netball with "Clayton Shootz", volunteered at a homeless legal clinic at 3rd Space, and attended the dress-up Christmas party. Terrible puns aside, all of these activities really highlighted the best of CU's down-to-earth culture and left me eager to come back.

Before commencing the graduate program, I worked as a paralegal in the Forensic Technology Services team. There, I worked on a variety of e-discovery matters including class actions, fraud investigations and regulatory reviews. In addition to making lifelong friends, my time in FTS helped me understand just how many moving parts there are in large scale litigation. Fortunately, our group of FTS paralegals also shared my Friday afternoon passion for finding Australia's best biscuit. After a tense multi-week round-robin competition which pitted savoury against sweet and all-stars against international entrants, I finished my time as a paralegal not only knowing more about e-discovery, but also crowning the humble Tim Tam as the ultimate biscuit.

I then started as a graduate lawyer in March 2021. My first rotation was in the Restructuring & Insolvency team, a division of the commercial litigation group. I worked on a variety of matters throughout this rotation including disputes involving ACL claims, breaches of director's duties, easement issues, liquidations and COVID-19 insurance policies. Our clients ranged from liquidators, insurers, gas exporters, concreting businesses and my personal favourite, for reasons outlined above, biscuit manufacturers. Day to day, I would help with research, writing letters to clients, liaising with experts and third parties, preparing witness statements and court documents and attending court hearings.

In the midst of submitting our preferences for our second six-month rotation, an opportunity arose to complete a secondment with the firm's Darwin office. After a failed gap year attempt in 2020, I eagerly expressed my interest and soon found out I was the lucky secondee. Throughout my rotation in Darwin, I have worked on a variety of litigious and corporate matters within the Public Sector group. I have been involved in a coronial inquest, an indemnity claim arising out of a motor vehicle accident, an environmental protection prosecution and have helped to prepare advice to defend the alleged desecration of an indigenous sacred site. My work in this rotation has involved liaising with clients and counsel, drafting advices, preparing court documents and witness statements and attending and appearing at court hearings.

Another aspect of my experience as a graduate, which I have thoroughly enjoyed, is my involvement in pro bono work. In addition to attending advice clinics, I have been involved in a number of ongoing client files. These files relate to issues ranging from elder abuse claims, property disputes, employment issues and superannuation claims in deceased estates. Graduates are given significant responsibility in the day to day management of these files, and are encouraged to be the first point of contact with clients. Up in Darwin, my pro bono work has shifted again to providing advice and support to members of the Elcho Island community, a remote Indigenous community in Arnhem Land. It is very rewarding to be able to help clients navigate the legal system, in circumstances where, often, they are unaware of their rights and entitlements.

What's one thing you love about your job?

Although it may sound clichéd, I love the people I work with. The firm's culture is second to none. From my fellow graduates to our paralegals, clerks, senior associates and partners, everyone I have dealt with is very supportive and encouraging. CU people take their work seriously, but not themselves. This creates an excellent learning environment and enables you to be yourself at work. 

I also enjoy the variety of work I am exposed to at my job. For someone with diverse interests, it is great to be able to work on a vast array of different matters on a daily basis. I find both the subject matter and strategy behind the tasks I assist with very interesting.

What is the limitation of your job?

Being a graduate lawyer can be challenging at times. Initially, I found the adjustment to full-time work tricky, as it turns out, having to use your brain all day is quite taxing! However, after finding your groove, this becomes a lot easier. The challenges your workflow throws up, especially in a busy litigious team, can also be tiring, but the adrenalin rush of meeting a deadline never gets old!

Three pieces of advice for yourself when you were a student...

  1. Be curious

University is a great time to put yourself out there and learn as much as you can about as many different things as you can! Speaking to people from different backgrounds about their interests and careers, whether this is by travelling, volunteering, or joining study groups, is a great way to find out what interests you. 

  1. Pursue your interests outside of your studies

Keep up your hobbies or try something new - you might not be the best, but it will make for a good story! It is also guaranteed to make you a more interesting conversation candidate at any networking event!

  1. Build your support network

Your university years are an excellent time to get out and meet a whole bunch of new and interesting people. It is important to cement these friendships and relationships early so that you have a strong support network in years to come. While it is fantastic to be able to share the trials and tribulations of your job with fellow commercial lawyers, maintaining relationships with people outside the law really helps to ground you and give you perspective when times get tough… maybe that research question you can't quite crack isn't the be-all and end-all after all!