Law alumni set scene for global outlook

By Alicia Patterson

Four very different paths have taken each of these Melbourne Law School alumni to all corners of the globe pursuing careers in technology, human rights, digital marketing, premium furniture design and production. 

We spoke to them about how they found their career opportunities overseas and what they learned. 

Anne Salt (LLB (Hons) 1993) Group Head of Legal & HR, Rochdale Spears Group 

Based in Hong Kong with operations in Vietnam, the company is a quality manufacturer of premium designed furniture. 

Anne Salt's career in the law has moved fluidly through corporate in house roles and in private practice, but she did not start out on the legal career path. 

"From a very young age I knew I wanted to be a lawyer. It took a slightly longer and more complicated path than most as I joined the Air Force when I left school to study a Bachelor of Business in 1983." 

She went on to complete her law degree at MLS and her expertise has spanned a vibrant and varied legal career applied in, finance, development and retail enterprises. 

The move to Hong Kong 10 years ago was the result of her partner's work as a pilot. 

"While I didn't actively choose to move overseas, it has been an incredible opportunity to live and work in Asia." 

She has found settling into a life in Hong Kong easy but mentions it comes with a few challenges – the hot and humid summers; the transience of the population means friends and colleagues are often moving on; and the culture of long working hours. 

Many people start later at around 9am but routinely work late into the night," Ms Salt explains. "The good news is that you have the opportunity to work on very large and often complex transactions, there is an active night life, plenty to do on weekends either in Hong Kong or a weekend getaway within Asia, great restaurants and a strong coffee culture developing in Hong Kong.

Ms Salt's experience is that Australian-qualified lawyers have a reputation for being practical, 'can do' people and willing to work hard to get results. 

Her advice for those who want to work in Hong Kong is to consider developing proficiency in Mandarin – something which has grown in importance since she arrived there. 

"Hong Kong is the gateway to China and while the overwhelming majority of transactions with multinational companies are negotiated in English, law firms and multinationals are increasingly seeking bilingual lawyers," she says. 

Philip Lynch (LLB (Hons) 1999), Executive Director, International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) 

Based in Geneva, Switzerland, the organisation is an independent NGO dedicated to promoting and protecting human rights. 

Philip Lynch's CV paints a picture of a lawyer with a clear commitment to human rights – Manager of the Justice Connect (formerly PILCH) Homeless Persons' Legal Clinic, then Director of the Human Rights Law Centre.

The non-practising lawyer says that back in 1995 when he embarked on a legal education at MLS, his career dreams were very broad. 

"From law, to journalism, to politics, to international relations," Mr Lynch explains. By his third year, his interests had narrowed somewhat to "a career in environmental, native title or human rights law." 

As Director of the Human Rights Law Centre, his work focused on domestic human rights issues, such as Indigenous rights and refugee and asylum-seeker policy, but his growing interest in foreign policy and international human rights led to the development of a strong relationship with ISHR. On that basis, a secondment program between ISHR and the Human Rights Law Centre was developed, and when the position of Executive Director at ISHR came up in 2012, he was encouraged to apply. 

Geneva is a great place to live and work, both professionally and personally. It is the epicentre of the international human rights field, home to the UN Human Rights Council and treaty bodies, together with many of the world's leading human rights NGOs.

"It is also a great place, with a high quality of living, proximity to Europe, Africa, the Middle East and even North America and parts of Asia, and amazing skiing and bushwalking opportunities," he says. 

Knowing the basics of the local language – and having young children who have mastered it quickly – meant Mr Lynch and his family settled in quickly. Speaking French made it easier to move outside expat communities and "having three young kids in the Swiss public school system and active in local sporting clubs has also helped us to meet people locally and immerse ourselves in the community," he says. 

Kate Collinson (BA / LLB 2010), Head of Content, Vinomofo

Based in Melbourne at a leading online wine retailer, one of Australia's fastest growing companies

Several years in New York completing various internships and roles in new media and digital marketing resulted in Kate Collinson developing highly desirable experience. Returning to Australia a few years ago, she quickly unlocked the value of her overseas experience in the local job market.

Ms Collinson had planned to practise, although she confesses to having always wanted to be a journalist.

I was interested in writing and reporting. But I got the marks to get into law, and it's widely accepted that an LLB can open doors. I also did an Arts (media and communications) course. Basically I decided to keep my options open.

Ms Collinson did clerkships, wrote for various publications and volunteered at RMITV. The television experience sharpened her focus; she wanted an internship in television and New York was the place to be. Kate warns that the visa system for working in the US is very complex, but she was eligible for a student visa and secured an internship with a digital media agency.

"You have to build your network from scratch. Rents in New York ate up half of my salary as an intern. On the upside, I got a boost in salary when I returned home – based on my New York experience," she says.

One of the cultural differences Ms Collinson encountered was explaining her law degree.

"In the US it's a post graduate degree. Everyone has done four years at college then studied law. They can't understand how I could be a law graduate at such a young age." Ms Collinson says another challenge was not being shy to communicate your skills to others.

"You have to really sell yourself, really push. You have to follow up every call; in a way which, to an Australian sometimes felt quite obnoxious.

"You do learn that you don't have to be afraid of failure, of moving jobs because something is not working out, that's the best way to find a great career."

Gary McLaren (LLB (Hons) 2001), Chief Technology Officer, Hong Kong Broadband Network

The organisation is the largest provider of high-speed residential broadband fibre services in Hong Kong.

Gary McLaren decided to embark on a law degree after completing a Bachelor of Engineering at the University of Melbourne.

Hindsight shows it was a pivot point in my career – when I moved from the technical world I was in into a commercial one. It broadened my outlook from just an engineering framework.

This new outlook applied particularly in the area of competition law.

"Telecommunications is an industry fraught with competition issues," he remarks.

Mr McLaren's engineering/ICT career included numerous technology enterprises, establishing his own consulting business and advisory work in early planning for the National Broadband Network. Prior to his current post he was Chief Technology Officer with NBN Co.

His previous experience working in Germany and travelling helped prepare him for his next overseas appointment. He adds that current communications make global careers much easier, because connection with home can be easily maintained, but his tip is to be careful.

"It is easy to keep your focus on your existing friends and networks because of the technology, but you need to get out and make connections in your local community and find a way to settle into your usual routine."

Mr McLaren is the first non-local the Hong Kong Broadband Network has employed. The opportunity for an overseas post arose through his professional network.

His key tips for finding a role and making it work are to build your profile and your networks and make yourself available.

"It's one in a hundred contacts that leads to a job. Take a risk. Don't be afraid of taking a leap of faith."

Banner image: Global Map
Credit: Rachel Pirnie 

This article originally appeared in MLS News, Issue 14, October 2015.