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On the job in media law
James Hunter–Smith studies Arts/Law at Monash University and is now a lawyer in Macpherson Kelley’s media team.
What's your job title? How long have you worked in your current position?
I’m a lawyer in Macpherson Kelley’s media team. I was admitted mid-May this year which is exciting. I started at the firm as a grad in early 2016 so have been working in law for 15-odd months now.
What does your department do and how do you support its goals?
We act primarily for large media organisations including the Nine Network, the Seven Network, and the publishers of the Herald Sun and The Australian.
We assist our clients in two main ways. First, we offer pre-publication advice, which involves reviewing stories scheduled for publication or broadcast, and advising on any legal risks of publication. Second, we do litigation work, which mainly involves defending against defamation claims.
However our work isn’t confined just to those areas – we also help our clients contest suppression orders in court, advise on breach of confidence matters, respond to everyday complaints, and help journalists deal with source issues.
What do you like most about your job?
It’s an incredibly rewarding job, particularly when we see hard-hitting articles go to print and know we’ve helped them get across the line. I find the content of media law genuinely interesting too.
Have you worked on any projects that you’re particularly proud of?
I recently worked on a huge defamation trial which was scheduled to run for 15 days, but ended up going for 28 days (and has been adjourned until August – so it’s not over!). We were acting for the publisher of The Australian and a journalist. The trial preparation was enormous and involved many late nights with the team. However, to see everything come to life in the Supreme Court was an incredibly rewarding experience.
Where did you study?
I grew up on the Mornington Peninsula and went to Haileybury College from years seven to 12. I then studied Arts/Law at Monash University, with a major in journalism.
What drew you to this particular area of the law?
The media industry has always fascinated me. For a long time I wanted to pursue journalism, and I was able to get great sports reporting experience while studying. After realising that I wanted to pursue law, I challenged myself to get into a position related to the media. I am really lucky to have been able to do exactly that.
What personal qualities are required for success in your position?
I think the normal attributes are certainly important – thing like attention to detail, a strong work ethic, and ensuring you always produce high-quality work. However, I think one of the most crucial traits is simply the ability to communicate.
No-one wants their lawyers to be robots, so I’m particularly careful to cultivate a professional yet personable relationship with our clients. In my view this goes a long way towards establishing trust.
It’s also important to keep your team up to speed with where your files are at, and share anything that’s causing you difficulties.
What are the limitations or downsides of your job?
Not too many, really! I guess the main downside is the constant nature of the media – it never sleeps. My supervisors are always working the phones, checking stories late at night and over the weekend, so it’s definitely not your average 9-5 job. Fortunately, everyone in the team loves what they do, so it’s not too much of a downside at all really.
Which three pieces of advice would you give to a university law student?
Work hard, travel as much as you can and drink more craft beer.
(Also, if you think you’re interested in a particular area of law, no matter how ‘niche’ people may tell you it is, just go for it).