On the job in employment law

Emily Aitken studies Arts/ Law degree at Macquarie University and is now an Associate at Seyfarth Shaw.
Jaymes Carr
Jaymes Carr
Team GradAustralia
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What is your role and for how long have you had it?

I’m an Associate at Seyfarth Shaw. I have been working at Seyfarth Shaw for 15 months and came to my current position after a friend (and now colleague) recommended me for the role. 

Where did you study?

I grew up in Normanhurst, near Hornsby, and went to St Leo’s Catholic College in Wahroonga. I studied a combined Arts/ Law degree, majoring in Sociology, at Macquarie University. I graduated in 2012.

Why did you choose to study law?

My decision to study law was very much shaped by the sense of social justice that was instilled in me by my parents and my school, and by my good fortune in being selected for Macquarie University’s Preferred Admissions Scheme.

Can you tell us about your employer?

Seyfarth Shaw is a full-service American law firm, with a boutique international employment law practice with offices in London, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Sydney and Melbourne. Seyfarth Shaw’s Australian arm is comprised of three key practice areas: employment, industrial and work health and safety law.

What does your role involve?

As an Associate in Seyfarth’s Australian team, I work for all nine Australian partners assisting on a range of matters including: assisting clients comply with work health and safety regulatory investigations and defend criminal prosecutions for breaches of Australian work health and safety law, large scale industrial disputes, domestic and cross-border transactions where Australian employment law comes into play and reviewing workplace policies and procedures on topics ranging from bullying and harassment to short and long term incentive schemes.

Can you describe a typical day at work?

A typical day for me might involve meeting with a client (maybe a mining company or a local council) to discuss compliance with a regulatory notice following a work place incident, followed by a performing a discrete research task in relation to a large industrial dispute or piece of employment litigation or responding to a query from an international employer regarding the leave entitlements of employees in its Australian operations. That’s the beauty of working at a firm like Seyfarth Shaw – you get the chance to work on a broad variety of matters.

Could someone with a different academic or professional background do your job?

Yes! That’s what make employment, industrial and work health and safety law so interesting – it brings together people from a diverse range of disciplines and backgrounds, both professional and industry-based. Working in these areas requires an understanding of the commercial, economic, policy and human factors that intersect in the employment relationship. Put simply, the only thing most of us do more than work is sleep and, as such, a person’s job is a huge part of their life and identity and you need to maintain an appreciation of that when advising clients.

What's the coolest thing about your job?

Working on matters and for clients that always make the headlines. It’s no secret that advents such as the gig economy are changing the employment market dramatically and it's a real thrill to be working with some of the World’s biggest employers on how to respond to those changes. It’s also a big responsibility to ensure that your advice encompasses all of the relevant factors which come into play, particular the human element of any client query.

What are the limitations of your job?

Law-firm life can be demanding and can require a significant time commitment, including late nights and weekends (this is the inevitable downside of working in a professional service industry, with the added benefit of court deadlines!) However, I think a lot of employers are waking up to the fact that they need to be flexible and I have always found my employers to be very willing to work around commitments and engagements to find other ways to ensure that client expectations are met (for example, coming in early or working from home). All the same, if you’re the kind of person who likes to leave on time every day, this probably isn’t the job for you!

Which three pieces of advice would you give to a law student?

  • You never know where an opportunity might come from so keep an open mind.
  • There is no substitute for hard work and a positive attitude.
  • You are exactly where you at meant to be.

 Learn more about working in this field, jump to private legal practice or the Employment law overview.