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Ellen Leishman

As one of the world's leading financial centres, a secondment to Johannesburg was an exciting prospect to develop my network and skillset on the African continent.

With its strong global brand and broad global reach, Baker McKenzie presented to me as an exciting and intriguing law firm! In November 2018, I had the opportunity to clerk with the Firm's Dispute Resolution (DR) team. I was impressed with the Firm's investment in junior talent, the 'real' work junior lawyers undertake, the Firm's extraordinary client base and, most importantly, the friendly and supportive people. The Firm encouraged and fostered my interest in commercial litigation, as I continued as a Paralegal in the DR team throughout 2019. 

Following my Graduate offer, I was awarded an International Clerkship! The International Clerkship presented an opportunity to understand the Firm's global business. My previous work in the not-for-profit space in Zimbabwe encouraged me to select Johannesburg, South Africa, as my destination of choice. As one of the world's leading financial centres, a secondment to Johannesburg was an exciting prospect to develop my network and skillset on the African continent.

Starting my African journey

I began my African journey by volunteering in Zimbabwe for 3 weeks, delivering health and educational programs to rural children living in Tribal Trust Lands. It was amazing to experience the African wildlife on safari, the landscape and the differing cultural heritage - which are truly indescribable and beautiful! 

After some personal travel, I made my way to Johannesburg. With such an interesting and diverse culture, I was excited to have the opportunity to immerse myself in the working and social culture of a thriving city like Johannesburg.

From compliance advice to protecting African wildlife

The Johannesburg office was very welcoming and invested a lot of time in my personal and professional development. I was placed in the DR team and immediately experienced the supportive and friendly culture that Baker McKenzie is renowned for. 

Working in a foreign jurisdiction at such an early stage in my career was both exciting and challenging. One day, it was understanding the tendering process for state-sponsored major projects, and the next day it was physically attending court to enrol matters. I was involved in researching and drafting compliance advice for key multinational clients across 17 jurisdictions in sub-Saharan Africa, and conducting comparative national and international research in administrative law for high profile national clients. I also experienced the Firm's strong client base, undertaking research for state commissions, attending meetings with advocates and conducting anti-corruption and bribery work. 

I felt like a member of the team pretty quickly and was motivated by my level of responsibility. Under the tutelage of generous pro bono mentors, I was able to attend meetings, prepare briefs of evidence and conduct research into potential claims for two animal rights organisations. Additionally, I assisted the team in seeking an injunction on behalf of a pro bono client to prevent the deportation of protected wildlife species for commercial exploitation.

It's not just about work

A significant highlight for me was connecting with Trainees and Associates in Johannesburg. Baker McKenzie's Johannesburg office has an excellent cafeteria, which supplies lunch for the Firm. It was great to be able to sit down and share a meal or a coffee with different people every day. I was also fortunate enough to experience the office's month-end drinks coupled with a very entertaining night of office karaoke! 

Additionally, it was great to visit sites like the Nelson Mandela Foundation centre to view Mandela's post-presidential office and experience his extraordinary path from law student to a civil rights leader. I also had the opportunity to visit some traditional craft markets and the culturally rich suburb of Soweto on my weekends!


Reflecting back on my experience, I was surprised at how quickly I was able to get up to speed on matters, research complex issues and produce useable work products for my supervisors. These are important skills for junior lawyers and I feel that my Clerkship and Paralegal work with Baker McKenzie Melbourne definitely laid the groundwork in my development. 

I am also grateful that I have had the opportunity to start building my global networks from such an early stage of my career. Upon returning to the Melbourne office, I am still in regular contact with the team in Johannesburg. 

I look forward to seeing where my Baker McKenzie journey takes me - and hope to one day return to the Johannesburg office to work with people I consider to be not only colleagues but friends.