James studied Bachelor of Arts & Bachelor of Laws (with Honours) at Monash University graduating in 2019 and is now a Graduate at MinterEllison's Melbourne office.
Although there are some downsides to commencing my legal career in the era of COVID-19, I am grateful for the extended sleep-ins. I am by no means a morning person, so my mornings involve a quick shower and a healthy, nutritious, breakfast to get me started for the day. I'll pair this with a scroll through the latest news on TheAge and a check of my calendar appoints for the day.
I am currently rotating in the Projects, Infrastructure and Construction (PIC) team, which sits in the Infrastructure, Construction and Property line of business. My team is very flexible, with some of us starting much earlier or later than 9.00am as suits our personal circumstances. I tend to start my day by looking over any work due that morning, which I had completed the previous day – a fresh set of eyes and well-rested mind allows me to pick up those residual spelling errors. The previous day I had been reviewing and drafting amendments to a contract for the provision of construction-related services by a government agency. The task requires me to balance the risk to our client by ensuring that the contract can be performed by our client without placing onerous obligations on them.
Time for my first meeting of the day – a call with a Senior Associate who has asked me to draft a letter on behalf of our client disputing a claim for delay damages under a typical construction contract. There's quite a lot of supporting documentation to be reviewed in support of our client's assertions and a few inconsistencies that we will need to check with the client. The letter needs to set out our client's basis for rejecting the claim for delay damages as well as insulating (where possible) our client from any further claims. Once the Senior Associate has had an opportunity to review the letter, he always makes the time to give me a call to provide extensive feedback.
The PIC team does an interesting mixture of traditional 'front end' and 'back end' work, with these lines often blurred. As someone for whom the litigation process is daunting, my rotation in the PIC team provides me with a useful insight into both disputes and transactional work. Construction is a fantastic practice area in which to start my legal career. The skills I am learning with PIC will translate across numerous other practice areas.
I like to check-in with my fellow grads to see how they are managing. When time permits, we have a virtual coffee or morning tea whilst we do some email admin. Each morning represents a good time to plan out the day and make sure you have the time and resources to complete the more difficult tasks. I also like to take this time to reach out to more senior lawyers with new matters to express my interest in a particular matter and to offer my assistance. At the moment, I'm really keen to get a greater understanding of construction work associated with public infrastructure. Keeping abreast of the projects for which the firm has tendered is a good way to keep an eye out for interesting incoming work.
COVID-19 has presented an excellent opportunity for the PIC team to strengthen its cooperation between offices around Australia. I am currently working on a nationwide project to share knowledge that is key to the current legal and commercial environment. I check in with my fellow juniors in Sydney, Brisbane and Perth about ongoing infrastructure and construction developments in their respective jurisdictions that have arisen out of COVID-19. I might listen to a webinar and take notes for clients in relation to these developments, or prepare a publication (either for internal or external purposes) that summarises the most important aspects of these developments. The opportunity to work with fellow juniors in other offices has also provided me with an important network of knowledge and support that can be harnessed throughout my legal career.
Another junior in PIC, who is two years ahead of me, gives me a call to check-in. The firm assigned him as my 'buddy' for my PIC rotation – we get along really well! His support, both professional and personal, has made the transition to full-time work not just easy but also extremely rewarding. He has been an invaluable resource of knowledge and has more than once helped me with a piece of work when I was struggling. We also discuss a draft presentation to clients that we have created for a partner to present in relation to an exciting new legal development in the technology and engineering space. He asks me to iron out a few details in the draft presentation before our meeting with the partner at 3.15PM.
Time to get outside! I go for a quick run and then eat the meal that I prepped the previous evening. I make sure that I'm abreast of the latest developments on TIkTok and Instagram – key points of interest in my team catch-up at 2.00 PM. Now's also a good time to get through any more email admin and follow up on outstanding matters.
The PIC team is divided into smaller social groups of 5 or 6 employees called 'huddles'. We have a daily call during which work-related discussions are forbidden. It's a good chance during COVID-19 to make up for the lack of socialising in the office. We always try to keep it interesting, like playing trivia, comparing childhood memories or sharing our latest attempts at making a TikTok. Even the partner I work with has been making TikToks with his family. Despite having only been physically in the office for two weeks before working from home was instituted in response to COVID-19, these huddles have allowed me to form close bonds with my colleagues. I truly feel supported by my team.
Today's theme was: On Wednesdays, we wear pink!
The PIC team is representing a foreign utility operator in an ongoing international arbitration. The arbitration involves questions of law stemming from the law of Australia, the UK, France and the USA. A Senior Associate asks me to identify relevant case law on principles in relation to contractual arbitration in each of these jurisdictions. I then summarise the decision in each case, identifying upon which facts (if any) our client can differentiate its claim. I find researching judicial authority in jurisdictions other than Australia and the UK quite difficult, so I make sure to check in with our library and research teams to seek their advice. These additional resources are always willing to assist with my queries and form another invaluable point of reference.
I have a virtual meeting with the partner and junior in relation to the presentation of a legal development in technology and engineering that was discussed earlier this morning. The partner is very impressed with our work. Surprise! He has asked me and the junior lawyer to present the topic as a trial run to the PIC team internally. I'm a bit nervous about presenting to the approximate 40 legal staff members in my team but excited to meet the challenge.
An Associate in my team emails me requesting my assistance on drafting amendments to a minor works contract for a major Australian retailer. The client has their own template contract but has asked us to review and amend that contract in relation to a new project involving solar power installation. I review the Associate's draft clauses and make amendments where I think necessary. I then draft a letter to the client summarising all the amendments made by the Associate and me, and the effect of those amendments on the rights and obligations of the client. I send the contract and letter back to the Associate for her review.
I receive an alert from a major construction industry stakeholder which relates to the ongoing nationwide project to share knowledge about the construction industry. A partner emails me requesting a summary of the alert and the corresponding legislative changes. This is urgent and needs to go out to the team nationwide this evening! I might be feeling a bit tired from a big day, but it's heads down to punch out the summary as quickly as possible. Luckily, today's changes are not too extensive and the partner appreciates my speedy turn around.
It's time to submit my time sheets and to make sure that all my emails are filed for the day. I'm a big believer in removing all my emails from my inbox except those that require my attention first thing tomorrow morning. I see that the Associate sent to the client, the amended minor works contract and letter in relation to the solar power installation project, which I worked on at 3.30 PM. The Associate has made quite a few changes to my letter, so I make a note to check in with her tomorrow to make sure I learn from the experience. After checking with my colleagues whether they have any follow up questions or urgent work for me – I log off for the day.
If I haven't already done so at lunch, I'll go for a run or otherwise a long walk with a friend. I unwind by cooking dinner and prepping for tomorrow's lunch. I'll take a look at my calendar and try to gauge how busy I'll be tomorrow, and then watch the latest episode of my latest reality TV escape before going to sleep.