"Be Yourself": The Hon Michelle Gordon's Rise to the High Court

By Tarang Chawla

Melbourne Law School congratulates the Hon Michelle Gordon of the Federal Court on her appointment to the High Court. Justice Gordon, also a Senior Fellow at MLS, replaced the Hon Justice Kenneth Hayne, who reached the compulsory retirement age of 70 on June 5 this year.

Michelle Gordon 

Justice Gordon is keen to embrace the challenges of working as a High Court Judge, following her recent appointment.

"My appointment as a Justice of the High Court of Australia is exciting but I am very well aware that large challenges lie ahead.  The work of the Court is relentless and, inevitably, comprises the truly hard cases. That combination presents both the challenges and the rewards of the tasks that lie ahead," Justice Gordon explains.

Gordon is just the fifth woman appointed in the Court's 112-year history, joining The Hon Susan Mary Kiefel AC and The Hon Virginia Bell, to make a total of three women on the High Court bench.

Offering advice for young women looking to make their mark in law, Justice Gordon recalls the old Oscar Wilde adage.

"Be yourself," Justice Gordon says, "You are who you are and you have much to give in whatever you are doing."

Justice Gordon's involvement with MLS dates back more than 15 years, during which time she has made a tremendous contribution to the school's teaching programs.

"Justice Gordon has had a natural, long involvement with Melbourne Law School. In fact, she delivered the inaugural lecture to one of the first JD groups at the University," says Melbourne Law School Laureate Professor Cheryl Saunders AO.

Since 2012 Justice Gordon, together with her husband Justice Hayne, has taught the subject Statutes in the 21st Century as part of the Melbourne Law Masters Program.

"Their joint teaching is a particular strength of the Melbourne Law Masters program. The subject has been taught over a semester, rather than as an intensive subject.

 From the outset, it has been extraordinarily popular and is very well received by students each year. With two such significant judges teaching the subject, there are a lot of legal professionals who want to take it, to hear what Justice Gordon and Justice Hayne have to say about statutory interpretation," Professor Saunders explains.

Justice Gordon has been teaching in the Masters Program since 1999.

"I agreed to present a course on tax litigation with The Hon Ken Jenkinson QC and Tony Pagone QC (as he then was). As a junior practitioner, it was daunting teaching with such senior practitioners," Justice Gordon reminisces.

Justice Gordon's dedicated work ethic and commitment to advancing legal education at the highest level meant that her involvement with Melbourne Law School has only increased with time.

"After just a few years, I commenced to teach the course, and still do, with Simon Steward QC and Ms Lisa Hespe," Justice Gordon explains.

Justice Gordon says that her experience teaching at MLS has been a shared, two-way learning experience.

"It has been fascinating creating and teaching a new course. I learn far more than I teach … Teaching has its own challenges. Trying to pass on to others the knowledge, skills and techniques necessary to an understanding of a particular area of the law is itself an education. And there is always the pleasure when you see that a student understands the point you are trying to make."

Justice Gordon maintains that spending time with others continues to be the best way to get the most out of studying and practising law. One gets the sense that, stripping away the veneer of the bench and behind the robes, Michelle Gordon, the person, is simply someone who at each turn looks to make the most of life's opportunities.

"Hard work and application remain as important as they have always been. I have enjoyed my time as a practising lawyer, barrister, teacher and judge. In the end it is dealing and interacting with others: clients, junior barristers at the bar, participants in the Indigenous lawyers program, my associates and my students, from whom I have learned and benefitted that has been the most rewarding. You always learn more from those you interact with."

Justice Gordon will officially be sworn in at a ceremony in Canberra at the High Court on June 9.

Image: Michelle Gordon
Credit: supplied

This article originally appeared in MLS News, Issue 13, June 2015.