Caitlyn Goldney (2013) Embarks On A Legal Career

Could you provide some insight into your background and experience within the legal field? Additionally, what factors influenced your decision to pursue a career as a solicitor?

My decision to pursue a career within the legal industry can actually be drawn back to my time at Santa Maria College. In high school, I thoroughly enjoyed my Politics & Law unit as it caused me to not only think critically but actively engage with the politics and legal changes occurring at the time.  After taking a gap year, I enrolled in a Bachelor of Arts at the University of Melbourne where I completed a double major in Politics & International Studies and Criminology.  Having considered Australia’s legal institutions from a more academic lens in my criminology degree, I was eager to enrol in law school to understand the law itself.  

I completed my Juris Doctor at Monash University in Melbourne, during which time I sought to gain practical legal experience in various ways. For several years, I volunteered as a paralegal at the Flemington & Kensington Community Legal Centre and secured a position as a law clerk working in-house at the Victorian Department of Education’s (DET) legal division. This was a unique opportunity that allowed me to gain firsthand experience working for a government department and legislative team. 

In 2022, I commenced a graduate program at Herbert Smith Freehills (HSF) and was admitted to practice that same year. During my graduate program, I completed three rotations in different practice areas and was fortunate to secure an international secondment to HSF’s London office. I have only recently returned to Perth and have now settled in the firm’s Employment, Industrial Relations and Safety team.

How would you describe your journey through high school?

My journey through high school was both challenging and rewarding in various ways. Prior to starting at Santa Maria, I struggled significantly with reading and writing and had to attend specialist classes so that I didn’t fall too far behind my peers. While this was something that I was quite self-conscious about, it motivated me to work even harder to get up to speed with my cohort. Ironically, I ended up graduating having studied (almost exclusively) humanities-based units which required extensive critical analysis and writing skills. Socially, it also took me a couple of years to really find my place and I definitely had periods of time where I felt rather isolated. Thankfully, I was able to make a beautiful group of friends which completely changed my experience and who I am still very close with today. 

One constant highlight of my time at Santa Maria was the Visual Arts department. From my first to final year, Visual Arts was my favourite class and a necessary creative outlet. Throughout those years we worked with an array of amazing Australian artists (including Stormie Mills and Anya Brock), and in 2013 travelled to Paris and London for the visual arts tour. This experience was the highlight of my time at Santa Maria, and I still find myself reflecting on the various galleries, exhibitions, fashion houses and studios we were given the opportunity to visit on that trip.

Caitlyn (Left) and her Santa Maria College friends

What motivated your choice to attend Oslo University? Was the opportunity to travel to Norway always a part of your aspirations?

In 2017 I completed a semester abroad at the University of Oslo. While Oslo was not initially my first choice of foreign university, I was motivated to enrol after learning about Norway’s approach to the justice system and rehabilitative practices in my criminology degree. Studying both criminology and law units, my exchange thoroughly enriched my undergraduate degree, giving me an insight into the approaches taken in one of the most progressive countries in the world.

 Living in Norway was also a deeply enlightening and unique experience – allowing me to travel to multiple countries and make numerous new friends from universities across the globe.  Travelling within Norway itself, I was also able to learn more about the native Sámi population and experience the breathtaking fjords, hikes and Northern Lights first hand.

Your volunteer work within the legal field is quite notable. Why do you consider volunteer experience important for law students?

My volunteer experience has not only played a valuable role in my knowledge/skill development, but also allowed me to engage with and give back to the local community. Prior to starting my law degree, I spent a month volunteering at the National Centre for Indigenous Studies (NCIS) in Canberra focusing on a repatriation project. This experience allowed me to work directly with leading Indigenous academics/activists and thoroughly enriched my understanding of First Nations’ cultures. I also spent several years volunteering at the Flemington & Kensington Community Legal Centre in Melbourne. In this role I worked with other pro-bono lawyers to provide free legal advice and assistance to members of the community who were unable to afford representation. Our work often focused on reporting instances of police brutality and also gave me an opportunity to draft individuals’ wills and powers of attorney. Finally, as part of my degree, I volunteered at JobWatch, an employment law community legal centre, where I worked on the public call line to provide legal information about individuals’ workplace rights and entitlements.  

In my opinion, volunteer experience should form an integral part of all law students’ experience and practical learning. The ability to volunteer at community legal centres gave me exposure to real legal issues and a chance to apply my knowledge in a practical scenario. It was vital in refining my people skills and experience in client liaison – something that you cannot gain in a classroom. For students who might not have experience working in a law firm, volunteering is also a prime way to supplement your resume and is definitely something firms will consider when recruiting.

On an ethical level, I also think it is important having gained an education in the law to give back to society where possible. Even today, I try to make an effort to get involved in as many pro-bono projects as I can, knowing firsthand the profound impact this can have on those who are otherwise unable to afford advice.

Recently, you completed a six-month stint in London. Could you share your experience during this time and how it contributed to your professional development?

As part of my graduate program, I was fortunate to be selected to complete a secondment to HSF’s London office. This opportunity has unquestionably been the highlight of my career and allowed me to not only build my professional network but gain experience practising in a foreign jurisdiction. Working in the London Employment Team, I gained insight into an entirely new sector of clients and commercial issues that I would not ordinarily face in Perth. I learnt about the nuances of English employment law and was fortunate to work with members of our Japan and Spain offices.

On a social level, this opportunity also allowed me to make new contacts within London and reconnect with several friends and family living in the UK. Given London’s proximity to central Europe, I was able to make the most of my weekends and annual leave to travel extensively. I was also able to experience my first white Christmas and reunite with some of my closest friends from Santa Maria who were visiting at the time.

What advice do you have for individuals contemplating a career in law?

My advice would be to consider the reasons why you want to pursue a career in law. It is often said that a law degree will open many doors and can lead to pathways in several different jobs/industries. While this is true, it is a challenging degree and in many ways a full-time job when studying. The reality is that working as a commercial lawyer can also be high pressure, and anxiety-inducing, and the hours can be long (it is also not as glamorous and lucrative as it may appear in ‘Suits’). Having said that, it is a very rewarding career that is consistently challenging and can give you opportunities to work internationally or with major industry leaders.

 The benefit of a law degree is that you can also choose to specialise in a variety of different areas. Thinking about my friends from law school, we have all pursued different paths from in-house legal teams, government or public sector work, smaller boutique firms to larger international firms. I also have a number of friends who have left law completely and now use their degrees in areas of academia, HR, Finance and Marketing.

When you have some free time, what are your favourite activities and hobbies?

Since returning to Perth, I’ve been trying to get back into regular pilates classes which I have found are amazing for both my mental and physical wellbeing. I am also eager to take up painting and drawing again, however in the meantime I enjoy nothing more than watching a trashy television show on the couch with my roommates. I am also a big advocate for spending money on travel and experiences, and (save for COVID years) have made sure to visit at least one new country each year since finishing high school.

Can you please give us a quick run down of your day to day activities?

One of the best (and sometimes worst) parts of my job is that no day is ever the same. A big reason why I enjoy employment law is that it is very fast-paced, challenging, and consistently different. On an ordinary day, I can work on anywhere between one and eight different matters. Examples of the types of work I do include preparing draft employment contracts or other employment policies, negotiating with unions on the terms of an enterprise agreement, undertaking workplace investigations (ie, into allegations of bullying or sexual harassment), preparing submissions or research for disputes in the Fair Work Commission, drafting ad hoc advice on discrete areas of law or attending strategy meetings with clients.  

Employment law is also very topical and political, which means I have to constantly stay up to date with any legal changes and regularly help to prepare business updates, presentations and board briefs for clients.

What is on your bucket list for 2024?

I am currently saving up for a trip to Japan at the end of the year as it is somewhere I have always wanted to go and would love to experience a ski season. I am also eager to settle into my team at work and continue to refine my skill set over the next coming months.

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