On the job with a graduate lawyer at Herbert Smith Freehills

GradAustralia met with Brock Gunthorpe to learn about life as a graduate lawyer at Herbert Smith Freehills
Erin Delaney
Team GradAustralia
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Brock studied a Bachelor of Laws (LLB) and International Relations, Diplomacy at Bond University and graduated in 2015

What is working at Herbert Smith Freehills like?

Each day has brought a new challenge or opportunity which I have enjoyed tackling with the support of the nurturing and technically-excellent team of lawyers and Partners at Herbert Smith Freehills.

Tell us about your experience of the grad program

I began my graduate program in Herbert Smith Freehills’ Employment, Pensions and Incentives (EPI) team in March 2016. It’s a practice that involves many different areas of the law around our global network, so was an excellent landing place for a graduate.

The group really emphasised skills development and had me working alongside Partners and Senior Associates on prominent, well publicised matters. Early highlights included preparing for and attending remote hearings in Queensland, and assisting the team to provide round-the-clock advice from the Brisbane office on employee relations strategy for large M&A transactions in London. It’s definitely an unusual but rewarding experience to wake up, pull on your sports shoes and run alongside the client’s coal export wharves which were the subject of that day’s hearing.

Why were you interested in working there?

I can think of very few firms who invest so heavily in early career development, while also supplying the market-leading work which accelerates your legal ambition.

People at Herbert Smith Freehills are able to produce their best legal work because they do so amongst a diverse and supportive workplace. Herbert Smith Freehills is constantly looking inwards at what kind of workplace culture we should aspire towards, and staff of all levels are routinely consulted on the firm’s progress. Right from the get-go, the sense of ‘fit’ with Herbert Smith Freehills was a key motivator to choose this firm for a graduate position.

What do you do day to day?

A typical day might see me reviewing employment contracts or enterprise agreements to help a client assess the human ‘cost’ of an asset sale transaction upon integration. On another, I might be reviewing repair notes on a piece of machinery to determine causation of a workplace incident. Often the role calls for preparing the first-cut of a draft due diligence or advice on liability to the client. More complex drafting tasks presented to me were consent orders, and settlement deeds.

What sets Herbert Smith Freehills apart from their competitors?

Herbert Smith Freehills goes to great lengths to create an environment where graduates are encouraged to think independently and fostered to develop commerciality and care for the client. Attending lectures from senior lawyers and partners, alongside the client and their employees emphasises the value of the ongoing legal learning provided by the firm. In almost every single week of the year, there is the chance to attend sessions in the office, or those streamed around Australia by video conference.

Do you get support?

From my very first day in EPI, I had a Partner, Senior Associate and Graduate buddy providing coaching and mentoring. These informal sessions created an immediate feedback loop on the work I was producing and allowed me to highlight matters I wanted to work on or clients I wanted to work with. An interest in public law made known in one of these sessions led to a number of interesting instructions on judicial review, tribunal powers and legislative drafting – not the typical work that comes to mind in a graduate role!

What’s the social life like?

Interspersed throughout the working day are committee meetings, social sports and just plain old opportunities to catch up with ‘work friends’. Since coming to Herbert Smith Freehills, I’ve enjoyed the bright presence of the in-house Well Bean Café barista (and restorative effects of subsidised coffees), as well as the ruthless competition of the ping-pong table.

The firm’s after hours sport program is growing with the inclusion of touch rugby league as well as the HSF Honey Badgers touch football team. The team comprises alumni, partners and junior members of the Bar, so is a great way to build connections.

What have you enjoyed most?

My favourite aspect of the role was the variety. From Commonwealth Acts to constitutional matters; Queensland law reform to workplace health and safety investigations, the subject matter varied each day, with each field challenging you to develop different complementary skills. Your graduate experience is about testing different areas of interest, to find your passion. Once you’ve found that, it’s easy to thrive.

What advice would you give to current students interested in working at Herbert Smith Freehills?

Be prepared to make connections across timezones!

The firm collaborates closely across its offices. I was able to observe this at work in my day to day tasks in EPI. I worked with partners in Melbourne and Sydney to prepare paid training materials for clients’ human resource teams, and legal updates to the Boards of private companies presented, in turn, by different fee earners around the country.

It doesn’t just extend to legal issues. In my short time, I’ve represented the Brisbane office on an eight time-zone video conference, discussing strategies to develop our multicultural inclusion across the firm, and enhance the treatment of diversity in our recruitment practices.