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Managing one of Australia’s largest litigation projects

"I actually really enjoy untangling the complex messes that you’re often faced with."

For some, choosing a professional pathway can be a straight-up decision with a well-defined destination. For others, it can be less about the destination and more about a fulfilling, well-adjusted journey.

Lee Pascoe’s legal career is probably a unique combination of both. 

At the age of seven she announced to her parents that she was going to be a judge, however despite the early call, didn’t jump straight into a law degree from school. Neither has she opted for a one-dimensional, linear career route.  Instead, she has a curriculum vitae that’s woven with depth and diversity.

Lee is a commercial litigation and insolvency specialist and currently works as a consultant for Australian commercial law firm Mills Oakley where she’s a member of the senior legal team, managing one of Australia’s largest litigation projects.

‘It’s the simultaneous prosecution of approximately 1500 proceedings across the three Victorian State Courts – I manage a team of junior lawyers in the day-to-day conduct of the proceedings while also being involved in the overall management of the project,’ she explains.

As a representative of the Asia Pacific region, Lee also attends working-group meetings at the United Nations in Vienna and New York to discuss issues in international insolvency. Currently, the group is drafting three new pieces of international legislation to address some of the complexities of global corporate collapses.

Lee commenced her Deakin law degree in her early 20s – while working full-time – and says one of the highlights was the program’s flexible delivery.

‘It enabled me to continue working full time throughout university.  With the ability to study in the evenings across the entire year, I still managed to complete my LLB and do an honours thesis in three and half years,’ she recalls.

After graduating, Lee started her legal career with a boutique law firm before moving to a national mid-tier firm, with roles in both Melbourne and Sydney. A term as barrister at the Victorian Bar was then followed by her move to the insolvency department in one of the world’s largest international law firms.

‘There, I worked on most of Australia’s largest corporate collapses during the global financial crisis before setting up an independent consultancy business. I now provide my services to law firms to assist in running large litigation projects and/or providing insolvency advice for complex corporate collapses,’ she says.

While building her practical career experience, Lee has continued to add academic rigour with global qualifications from the Sorbonne in Paris and the University of London.

She is now globally-recognised as an expert in international insolvency and domestically as a strong commercial litigator who is skilled at managing large complex proceedings involving multiple stakeholders. 

Although working on large insolvency projects is often highly demanding, Lee says the rewards usually outweigh the challenges.

‘I actually really enjoy untangling the complex messes that you’re often faced with when a large company or group of companies collapses.  There are always legal solutions and strategies that you need to come up with, as well as working out which matters need to go to court and what can be dealt with in a more commercial way. We always have to keep in mind the objectives of all of the stakeholders while keeping within the framework of the law or – if we’re lucky – making new law,’ she says.

Lee considers that the network of friendships she’s forged with other legal and insolvency professionals is both a bonus and a buffer in a sector that can be fraught with high-demand deadlines and rollercoaster risks.

‘Couple that with the fact that litigators are often ‘type-A’ personalities and there can also be mental-health challenges for lawyers,’ she adds.

Mental-health problems in the profession can often bubble below the surface and Lee says many legal practitioners suffer in silence, burn out, or walk away.

‘I can categorically say that I once suffered full burn-out. The second time I got so close that I took a three-month sabbatical.  Fortunately, I worked for a partner who fully supported me but inevitably, I could not see any way out of the constant cycle of stress and unsustainable expectations that often come with working on the large cases in the big firms,’ she says.

To mitigate stress and achieve a healthy work/life balance, Lee’s role as a consultant now delivers her a manageable, sustainable work load that takes her between Australia and the rest-of-the-world.

‘For example, before I agreed to work on my current project I put in place an agreement that sees me working remotely for approximately three to four months of the year.  I actually live in Italy and continue to work via email, Skype and phone.  For me, this working arrangement keeps me in the law,’ she explains.

Along with emerging communication technologies and diverging, non-traditional career paths, the growing acceptance of flexible work arrangements is one of a suite of changes Lee has observed during her career.

‘I think some large law firms find it hard to adapt to the changing demands of younger lawyers and lawyers, like myself, who are senior and desire a different career path,’ she says. ‘However boutique and business-savvy mid-tier firms should be able to take advantage of this – so we may see a shift in the market around quality lawyers moving away from the larger firms to take advantage of the greater flexibility that the smaller firms can offer to the right candidates.’

Lee is a firm believer in taking time to try other study and career paths before launching into the rigour of a law degree straight from secondary school. And she advises that not everyone seeking a legal career needs to hit the conventional benchmarks.

‘Law life is very long so my advice to those seeking it is to find out what works for you and go with it.  My law degree taught me how to find the law, rather than how to be a good lawyer.  And while continuing education is also absolutely necessary to being – and staying – a good lawyer, knowing how to apply what you have learnt is even more integral to career success.’ 

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