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Lawyer in the Workplace Relation, Employment & Safety (WRES)
Alana Hudson studied Masters of Law (Juris Doctor) at Monash University
What's your name and job title? What did you study?
My name is Alana Hudson and I'm a second year lawyer in the Workplace Relation, Employment & Safety (WRES) team at Clayton Utz. I studied a Masters of Law (Juris Doctor) at Monash and I graduated in 2016.
Where did you grow up? Tell us about some important stages of your life.
I grew up in the northern suburbs of Melbourne and went to a public school. When I left school I wasn’t particularly sure what I wanted to do, so I studied a Bachelor of Arts at the University of Melbourne, majoring in criminology and literature. I took a year off during that time to go backpacking around Europe on my own and it was the best decision I've ever made. I think it's really important not to rush into a particular course or career. We spend a lot of our lives at school, then at university and then working. Travelling is a great way to meet new people, experience different things, work out what you're good and bad at, and to work out what you want in life. Taking the time out to travel really helped me to realise that the subjects I enjoyed most in my arts degree were the law subjects, and that I wanted to pursue a career in the law. I came back from my holiday with a new sense of focus, and eventually enrolled in and completed a Master of Laws (Juris Doctor) at Monash.
How did you get to your current job position? For how long have you had it?
I came to Clayton Utz in 2015 as a seasonal clerk in the Major Projects and Construction team. I then returned as a graduate lawyer in 2016 and rotated through the Environment and Planning, Commercial Litigation/Insurance, and WRES/Pro Bono practice groups. I settled in the WRES team in 2017.
Applying for your job
How did you choose your specialisation? Were you weighing up any other alternatives before choosing this specialisation?
I didn't really choose it, I sort of just fell into it. While studying, I made friends with a lot of engineers and most of the way through my law degree (and even my graduate rotations) I was convinced that I was going to be a construction lawyer. As part of the graduate program you are assigned a mentor, and after spending some time getting to know me, my mentor suggested that I might enjoy the work in WRES. I decided to give it a try, really enjoyed it and decided to stay here.
What was your interview process like? What kind of questions were you asked?
I remember walking out of the interview process thinking ‘Was that it?’, because I'd been waiting for one of those awful ‘If you were a piece of fruit, which one would you be?’, style questions (apparently the answer is grape, because you're part of a team). That didn't happen. It felt more like a friendly chat than an interview which was good because it made me more relaxed. I was asked questions about my work experience and a couple of situational questions (e.g. tell us about a time you dealt with a difficult person at work), as well as my interests and hobbies outside of work.
Suppose a student was considering your career. Should they pursue any sort of work experience?
I think it's really helpful to get any kind of work experience that you can. I previously worked in an investigations role with a regulator and in the Supreme and Federal Courts. My time in those roles gave me experience in professional writing (which is very different from writing a university essay), interviewing skills and the confidence to interact with clients. I worked full-time during my degree (I studied part-time and attended classes at night), which probably made the transition easier for me. Life is busy and you will always have to juggle a number of priorities, so I think it's really important to have work experience. Having said that, I work with people who didn't have any legal or office-based experience prior to coming to CU, so I wouldn't worry too much about having to fit into a particular mould.
What does your employer do?
The WRES team works with private sector, university and government clients on a wide range of issues including enterprise bargaining, restructuring, internal disciplinary processes and managing difficult situations with employees. I also assist with coordinating the Melbourne pro bono practice. We run a number of clinics such as the Homeless Person's Legal Clinic, an employment clinic with the Inner Melbourne Community Legal Centre, and the Domestic Building Self Rep Service. We also receive referrals from not-for-profit organisations and community legal centres for matters involving individuals who are unable to obtain legal aid and are unable to afford legal representation.
What are your areas of responsibility?
My work can be incredibly varied from working on an unfair dismissal matter for a large private client; to drafting separation agreements, letters and scripts for a client to use during a restructuring and subsequent redundancy process; to representing a pro bono client at a general protections conciliation; to providing advice regarding the application of a particular modern award. I enjoy the fact that the work is really varied and that we are mostly asked for strategic advice rather than our legal interpretation about a particular piece of legislation.
Can you describe a typical work day?
I don't have a typical working day, which is one of my favourite things about this team. In the past few weeks I have been working on an unfair dismissal matter that was heard over five days in the Fair Work Commission. I was involved in drafting witness statements and assisted a senior associate in instructing counsel during the hearing. It's been fantastic experience to be involved in something from start to finish and to be able to have close contact with witnesses, the client and counsel. I often have one or two larger matters that I am working on, and then there will be smaller advisory pieces or shorter litigious matters that pop up in between. It keeps things interesting and gives me a chance to work across a broad range of areas.
What sort of person succeeds in your career?
I think to be able to succeed in any career you need to be adaptable and have confidence in yourself. There will always be different challenges, different working styles, clients who want different things, or legal concepts that you just don't get intuitively. Sometimes you're flat out and working to tight deadlines and other times you're not. I think an ability to just roll with it, even when you feel like you can't see the bigger picture or you don't understand what you're doing will go a long way.
During my first rotation in Environment and Planning, my first thought for every research task I was given was, ‘I don't understand what you're asking me’, closely followed by ‘How on earth am I going to work that out?’. It took me a while to realise that they were genuinely tricky questions, and I was being asked because no one else knew the answer either. It wasn't a test to somehow catch me out. It was such a valuable rotation because it taught me to stay calm in those situations and to back myself. Sometimes there isn't a clear answer, and so you have to come back with a suggestion about what you think should be done in the circumstances.
What are the career prospects with your job? Where could you or others in your position go from here?
I think spending some time in a firm, even if it's not what you want to do long-term, will give you more options down the track. You get to work with and learn from some truly brilliant people. As a junior, just sitting in on meetings where you have a partner or a senior lawyer or counsel talking about strategy for a trial, an investigation or a round of bargaining, is so valuable and allows you to learn from their years of experience. Having worked in a firm you have options such as working in government/policy, in-house with a company, for a not-for-profit or union, and many things in between. You might also surprise yourself. I didn't expect to enjoy working in a large firm as much as I have.
Could someone with a different background do your job?
Of course. Having a diverse workplace is incredibly important. Across Clayton Utz we have a blend of people who came here straight from university, people who came to the law later in life, people from different cultural backgrounds and people with all sorts of work experience. Their different experiences give them a unique perspective.
Pros and cons
What do you love the most about your job? Which tasks do you enjoy the most?
One of my favourite things about working at CU is that I feel like you are appreciated as a junior lawyer as there are a lot of opportunities to be properly involved in matters and to have client contact. This will always depend on the team you're in and the particular client, but I have attended client meetings on my own, instructed in the Fair Work Commission and the Federal Court, appeared in a conciliation, appeared in VCAT and the Magistrates' Court for pro bono files, and I regularly work directly with my supervising partner. I also like that employment law is so people-based. It means that we sometimes get some interesting personalities on the other side of a matter or gritty factual scenarios, but it keeps it interesting and relatable.
What’s the biggest limitation of your job? Do you have to work on weekends? Are the stress levels high?
I don't think there are any real limitations in the role I'm in at the moment. I get a blend of litigation and transactional work which is great for my experience, and I work with a range of private sector, government and pro bono clients. I also get a lot of autonomy in my work which is something I really value. Sometimes when there is a looming deadline or a trial, I have to work longer hours or on the weekend and it can be a little stressful, but that is generally for short periods of time and it's not my every day.
A word to the wise...
Which three pieces of advice would you give to a current university student?
- Be open-minded. You may think you've found the area of law that you love, or that you have a set career path in mind, but there are so many things you don't get to try at university and I know many people who did a graduate rotation in an area they didn't expect to like and ended up loving it.
- Be a safe pair of hands. The best advice my mentor ever gave me was that coming into a firm or into a new team as a junior, the best thing you can do is prove that you can be a safe pair of hands. By that he meant that you're not expected to be the most brilliant lawyer in the room or to come up with some amazing legal or strategic point to save the day – those things come with time and experience. However if you can be trusted to do the things that you are given well, with that attention to detail you'll quickly become someone who is given opportunities, asked to come along to meetings, or to get involved in different types of work. People often rush over what they think are menial tasks, but if you mess up the simple things, you're not going to be trusted with more involved tasks. Sometimes doing something really simple, really well, can save someone else a lot of time and they will be very grateful.
- Don't be afraid to ask questions. When you've been working in a particular team, on a certain type of matter or with the same client for a while, people forget that there are things in their head that you won't know. You won't look stupid asking questions and it's far better to make sure you understand something, than to go back to your desk and stress out for the next hour, or to spend your time doing something that wasn't what the person wanted in the first place.