"I just loved the opportunity to help people and that’s when I decided I wanted to be a lawyer."
Six years after graduating with a Deakin law degree, Jessica Main took out an award that recognised her as one of Australia’s leading young workplace relations’ lawyers.
The ‘Best 30 Lawyers Under 30’ – an awards program organised by professional publication Lawyers Weekly – is one of Jessica’s many career accomplishments since completing a double degree in commerce and law.
Now about to commence a master’s degree in law, Jessica is a highly-regarded workplace lawyer with McKean Park in Melbourne where she provides advice and representation in both the public and private sector.
‘I work across all areas of workplace relations law, including employment, discrimination, industrial relations and health and safety,’ she explains. ‘And as my experience and knowledge has grown in my career, so has my responsibility. In private legal practice my responsibilities include providing legal advice and representation to existing clients, and also developing networks and relationships with existing and potential clients to win future work.’
Networking is an important tool in any successful career and Jessica has built a strong chain of professional links by making the most of her professional opportunities.
In 2014, she was peer-elected as president of the Law Institute of Victoria’s (LIV) Young Lawyers Section (YLS) and during that term, determined the strategic direction of the YLS and its yearly priorities. This included responding to the findings of the National Attrition and Re-engagement Study, which was commissioned by the Law Council of Australia.
Concerned by some of the findings, Jessica then worked on a number of projects including the development and expansion of the LIV’s mentor program, implementation of minimum working standards for young lawyers and she also spoke out against sexual harassment in the legal profession.
‘In the role of president, I represented the interests of over 8,000 law students and young lawyers and also volunteered my time to lead and inspire the next generation of lawyers by writing numerous articles for the Young Lawyers Journal and Law in Brief, speaking at legal events, and liaising with judges, legal associations, lawyers and law students,’ she explains.
After completing Year 12, Jessica was still weighing up her career options and decided that a double-degree in commerce and law would give her plenty of choices. It wasn’t until a clerkship, and subsequent part-time paralegal role with the legal firm Richmond and Bennison, that she began to sharpen her vocation focus.
‘I just loved the opportunity to help people and that’s when I decided I wanted to be a lawyer,’ she recalls. ‘I found the (sometimes) precarious situations where I had to work out a solution and help people move forward, really rewarding. I worked on matters in family law, commercial litigation, personal injury, bankruptcy, insolvency … it was a wonderful experience and it meant that I could work out what I wanted to do.’
Jessica then took up a full-time traineeship with the firm, where she specialised in litigation, before being admitted to practise as a lawyer. Her interest in workplace relations continued to thrive and in 2013 she moved to her current position with McKean Park.
She says that the hands-on focus of Deakin’s law degree provided her with the ideal launching pad for a legal career.
‘The practical components really helped prepare me for the workforce – it was invaluable. And the lecturers were very approachable, friendly and always willing to help. The study of law requires a certain rigour and discipline and it delivered the skills which are directly relevant to the workplace. I’m excited about starting postgraduate studies and I believe that further education often opens the door to more career opportunities.’
Jessica says one of the great rewards in being a workplace relations’ lawyer is the ‘people’ factor and she takes great pride in helping her clients prevent workplace issues and, when they do arise, assisting them to achieve prompt and practical resolutions.
‘But of course there are also lots of day-to-day challenges, including (sometimes) long working hours and urgent, competing deadlines. We also need to consider the challenges of the future including the rapid changes the legal services market and how to remain competitive,’ she observes.
Agreeing with the views of author Professor Richard Susskind about the future of the legal profession, Jessica says she believes that the impacts of technology, client expectations, and the entrance of new competitors into the marketplace will rapidly change the way in which legal services are delivered.
‘It’s now more important than ever for legal graduates seeking to embark on a career in the law to be open minded, client focused, innovative and entrepreneurial, as these skills will be critical to the successful future practice of law,’ she remarks.
In addition to her role as 2014 YLS president, Jessica was the 2014 and 2015 representative of the Australian Young Lawyers Forum and Australia Young Lawyers Committee of the Law Council of Australia.
Currently, she’s an active member of the Law Institute of Victoria, Victorian Women Lawyers Association, Australian Women Lawyers Association and the Australian Labour Law Association and says the key to cultivating a successful legal career is being proactive.
‘Seeking out opportunities really helps speed up the development of the skills, capabilities and confidence that are essential to legal practice. It’s also important to spend time with mentors – both within and outside your firm or company. The most valuable mentoring relationships tend to develop naturally over a long period of time. My advice for anyone just starting out is to get involved in a professional organisation like the Law Institute of Victoria – join a committee and put your hand up to contribute.’