Friday, 4 November 2022
Meet the winners of the 2022 ACT Law Awards
The ACT Law Society’s annual ACT Law Awards were presented at the Society’s Annual Dinner on Friday 4 November 2022.
The ACT Law Awards recognise the outstanding local lawyers and firms who inspire our local profession through their contributions to the Society, the practice of law, and the Canberra community. Nominations are received across five categories:
- The ACT New Lawyer of the Year Award, recognising and encouraging early career lawyers,
- The Government Law Award, recognising lawyers working in government,
- The Pro Bono Service Award, recognising lawyers performing pro bono work in the Canberra community,
- The ACT Firm of the Year, celebrating the achievements of our local firms, and
- The President’s Medal, which recognises the significant personal and professional contributions of a local practitioner to the ACT community and to the Society.
The judging panels for the 2022 ACT Law Awards comprised the Hon Justice Geoffrey Kennett, Patron of the New Lawyers Committee and Andrew Giddings, co-Chair of the New Lawyers Committee (for the New Lawyers Award); Ian Temby, a Councillor of the Society, and Angus Tye, Chair of the Government Law Committee (for the Government Law Award); Shane Rattenbury MLA, ACT Attorney-General, and Simone Carton, CEO of the Society (for the Pro Bono Service Award); Susan Platis, a Vice President of the Society, and Martin Hockridge, a former President of the Society (for the Firm of the Year); and former Society Presidents Chris Donohue and Sarah Avery (for the President’s Medal). Then President of the Society, Elizabeth Carroll also sat on each panel.
Each year, the Society commissions a local artist to create a new and unique set of awards. In 2022, Canberra timber artist Ed Collett of EAC Design created the trophies, using reclaimed timber from the former ACT Supreme Court courtrooms.
ACT New Lawyer of the Year Award
His Honour Justice Geoffrey Kennett presented the ACT New Lawyer of the Year Award to Liana Tomassini of the United Workers Union, for her social justice and grass roots community work.
Liana practices in employment and industrial relations law, and began her career in the Department of Jobs and Small Business, where she was part of the team delivering significant technical reform in relation to the Fair Work Act. She used her legal industrial knowledge to support her colleagues, personally leading a number of successful campaigns during periods of enterprise bargaining, becoming union leader in her workplace and earning recognition as a workplace rights activist in the ACT. Since late last year, she has been a lawyer and industrial officer with the United Workers Union, with a particular focus on workers in the aged care and child care sectors. She has a longstanding commitment to mentoring law students and graduate lawyers and has coached several cohorts of students to reach their personal and career goals, as well as working as a student advocacy and support advisor to students at risk of academic exclusion. She also uses her legal expertise in the local community, including volunteering to prepare visa applications for refugees.
Government Law Award
The Government Law Award was presented by Angus Tye, Chair of the Society’s Government Law Committee, to Patrick Hornby, General Counsel at the Australian Transport Safety Bureau.
Patrick’s work has included negotiating and drafting the Casualty Investigation Code for Maritime Investigations which is annexed to the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea. He was one of the architects of legal arrangements with Malaysian and Chinese counterparts to establish the Australian-led search for MH370, represented ATSB at tripartite discussions, and advised senior Australian government officials. He routinely represents the ATSB at coronial investigations into transport related fatalities, developed the mandatory transport safety legislation training program used by investigators, and delivers specialist training at RMIT for domestic and international investigators on coronial witness processes and evidentiary matters. He is also the ACT council member for the Aviation Law Association of Australia and New Zealand. Outside his legal role, he is General Manager for the annual Canberra Comedy Festival, and enjoys mentoring young comedians and others in the performing arts industry.
Pro Bono Service Award
With such strong candidates for the Pro Bono Service Award, demonstrating the commitment of the local profession to pro bono legal services to support the Canberra community, the judging panel this year chose to award a Highly Commended prize alongside the Award. Society President Farzana Choudhury presented the awards on behalf of ACT Attorney-General Shane Rattenbury MLA, who was unable to be at the event.
Highly Commended in this category was awarded to Chloe Curran of Hijazi Curran Cameron Lawyers, for her dedication to pro bono work in the family law space. She founded and runs a clinic at the Women’s Legal Centre ACT for domestic and family violence victim-survivors who are not eligible for the Centre’s own in-house service. The clinic helps bridge the ‘missing middle’ gap in legal services – the need for family law advice for women experiencing domestic and family violence who don’t qualify for legal aid yet can’t afford a private lawyer. Over its four years of operation, the clinic has delivered holistic, considered legal advice to more than 200 of Canberra’s most vulnerable women, equating to over $100,000 in pro bono assistance.
The winner of the Pro Bono Service Award was Pierre Johannessen of Johannessen Legal, for his innovative approach to pro bono work and his commitment to supporting socially and economically disadvantaged people in the ACT. As part of a very small team of three practising lawyers, he has provided over $300,000 in pro bono work in the last financial year. He has found innovative ways to reach people who might not otherwise be able to access legal advice, including offering general legal advice and guidance through his #askalawyer series on Instagram live, and running a Barbershop Law program providing free advice on criminal, family, and employment matters for young men. He has used his legal expertise to support the Sisters in Spirit Aboriginal Corporation, and currently advocates for Barnardos ACT, where he organises and runs fundraising campaigns as well as providing pro bono advice for the youth and families the charity supports.
“These winners demonstrate the utmost importance of making sure legal services and information are available in ways that work for those who need the help,” said ACT Attorney-General, Shane Rattenbury. “The generosity and commitment they show to their community is commendable. They inspire all of us to excellence.”
ACT Firm of the Year Award
The ACT Firm of the Year Award went to Griffin Legal, for their outstanding local pro bono contributions, and commitment to diversity and staff wellbeing.
In the last financial year, Griffin Legal’s lawyers have logged a combined total of over 1,000 pro bono hours. They have worked on projects including a human rights case to formally recognise the Ngambri’s connection to Canberra, YWCA Canberra’s charitable property management service Rentwell, ongoing advice for Palliative Care Australia, and estate planning for terminally ill patients for the Cancer Council ACT. They have a long history of pro-bono and volunteer assistance for a range of community organisations such as Toora Women, Lifeline ACT, and Havelock Housing, along with university and local sport clubs. They also give back to the community through sponsorships and partnerships with local organisations, including free training and education services. They actively promote and uphold gender equality, disability inclusion, and cultural diversity. They are proud to be a female-majority workplace, have members of their team (including a Partner) with disabilities, and they have implemented an Indigenous recruitment strategy. Over 75% of their staff work flexibly in order to maintain work/life balance. They actively promote staff wellbeing and encourage mental health checks and physical activity. Their office includes a relaxation zone and quiet rooms, as well as stretching and exercise equipment.
Elizabeth Carroll, Immediate Past President of the Society, presented the final award for the night, the President’s Medal, to Claudia Maclean of the Women's Legal Centre ACT.
In just six years, Claudia has transformed the Centre’s legal practice. She has stewarded the Centre from a small practice able to provide only three hours of public assistance a day, to a service that now supports over 1500 women a year. She has overseen an increase in the Centre’s legal and social work services of over 212%. For a private firm that would be astonishing, but it’s even more impressive for a community legal centre helping vulnerable women in the Canberra community. She led the Centre’s adoption of a practice model that incorporates social work expertise to provide wrap-around support for clients, developed health justice partnerships that connect women with lawyers in non-traditional settings, and added a migration practice to help women on temporary visas. Her contribution has directly enabled more women in Canberra to access expert legal assistance when they need it most.
Under her leadership, she has made the Centre a legal practice known for its technical expertise and professionalism, where new lawyers are mentored into meaningful careers. She has developed a range of pro bono partnership with local law firms of all sizes, and with KPMG for financial advice, further expanding the depth of assistance the Centre can provide to vulnerable women.
She has also driven the development of the Centre’s training program on trauma-informed legal practice, a framework designed to overcome the challenges of providing services to women deeply affected by gender-based violence, systems abuse, and intergenerational trauma. This program helps clients feel heard and respected, and dramatically changes their experience of the legal system. She is now sharing this transformative training program with the legal profession at large.
Claudia has made an exceptional contribution to the accessibility and administration of justice in the ACT, and is a worthy addition to the list of recipients of the ACT President’s Medal.
In closing the evening, Society President Farzana Choudhury commended the award winners for their outstanding contributions to the legal profession and to the Canberra community. She thanked all those involved in the Awards process, including those who had nominated, the finalists and winners, and the judging panels. She also thanked the Annual Dinner sponsors, Lawcover and the Leo Cussen Centre for Law, for their generous support.