"It was an incredible learning experience which eventually led me to the role I’m in today."
The diversity of Shannon Powell’s career pathway is an outstanding testament to the flexibility of a law degree – and her confidence to pursue opportunities beyond traditional practice.
Since graduating with a combined law/commerce degree in the late 90s, Shannon’s career has crossed five continents, comprised roles in both government and private sectors, and covered areas such as mining, renewable energy, financial services, education, infrastructure – and now international trade and investment.
She says one of features of studying law at Deakin was its focus on the practical application of law.
‘At the time, it gave graduates a distinct advantage over those from other law schools. The ability to participate in a moot court, campus life, flexible study, internships at some of Melbourne’s top law firms, and an international exchange program were all highlights.’
After graduating, Shannon completed articles at Corrs Chambers Westgarth and was admitted to the Victorian Bar in 2002. But while she enjoyed the practice of law, she was also keen to pursue international career options.
‘Following an internship at the United Nations in New York, I returned to Australia to take up the role of General Manager of The Global Foundation – an Australian not-for-profit membership organisation that focused on global, long-term and sustainable policy development and Australia’s international connectedness,’ she says.
This proved to be a crucial global training ground for Shannon, enabling her the opportunity to work with some of Australia – and the world’s – best minds including the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, international governments, and senior leaders from corporate Australia.
After a decade in the role, she made the decision to step down and develop a boutique management consulting practice in Brazil.
‘I’d lived in Brazil previously, had travelled there often and spoke Portuguese,’ she explains.
‘It was an incredible learning experience which eventually led me to the role I’m in today as I worked with Austrade through the Brazil office.’
Now based at the Australian Embassy in Santiago, Chile, Shannon is the Senior Trade and Investment Commissioner for Andean Latin America for the Australian Trade and Investment Commission (Austrade).
‘I have responsibility for our posts in Peru, Colombia and Argentina, and markets of Ecuador, Uruguay and Paraguay. I have a team of six in Santiago and a regional team of 18 in total – including two trade commissioners. My role is to coordinate our Andean Latin America team, as well as work on our branding, marketing and communications,’ she says.
Austrade facilitates trade and investment between Australian and overseas markets and also promotes Australian education.
With that goal firmly in her focus, Shannon says her Deakin law degree has provided not only the scaffold for a diverse career but a solid understanding of how to approach and solve problems.
‘I had the opportunity to participate in all aspects of campus life, including roles as President of the Law Students’ Society and President of the Rowing Club. These early experiences taught me the basics of management and collaboration and were fundamental to me being able to pursue a career in management.’
Living and working globally, Shannon has the unique opportunity to meet a broad range of people – from the richest to the poorest – and says her current role is incredibly fulfilling.
‘Right now, I love being part of a global team of Australians and locally-engaged staff who together work to showcase and promote Australian expertise across a range of sectors.’
Reflecting on her profession, Shannon observes the the growth of globalisation and its inevitable impact on Australian business and the practice of law.
‘The legal profession will continue to progress in this way through mergers, consolidation and partnerships. It may also be impacted by the changing nature of Australian businesses which are increasingly expanding globally and equally, are increasingly becoming foreign-owned. This will create a new face of Australian business, which will force our law firms to adapt to new settings.’
Backed by her own professional diversity, Shannon is a keen advocate of an undertaking the study of law and the career opportunities it can offer.
‘The quality of an Australian legal education is known around the world and the benefits of being legally trained are highly regarded and respected. Not only does it lead to the practice of law but it opens up many career pathways.’