Women in Law Series, Part 1: President of Women Lawyers Association of NSW: 2023 Awards, & More!

Ahead of the 2023 Women Lawyers Association of NSW (WLANSW) Achievement Awards, Legalwise Seminars caught up with the WLANSW’s current President, Justine Anderson.

Justine is Senior Associate at Carroll & O’Dea Lawyers.


Thanks for joining us today Justine. I guess our first question would be to ask a little bit about yourself, and how you got involved with the WLANSW?

Having studied music after I’d finished school, I didn’t go directly into Law, so I guess you could say I had a slightly different journey! I graduated from law when I was 30, and was admitted when I was 31.

As for the Association, when I was studying my GDLP at the College of Law, I managed to get a job at Carroll & O’Dea Lawyers, which is where I’m at right now. I had a few ‘wow’ moments regarding the events the firm encouraged us to go to; one day in 2016a female colleague asking if I’d like to come along to a Women Lawyer’s event, as there was a spare ticket going. Of course, I said yes!

Although, I remember being nervous walking in. In the room were judges and senior barristers and senior solicitors, all these big law brains, and I thought, “oh my gosh, what am I doing here?” But thankfully, everyone was so nice, and as these things go, I just keep putting my hand up to attend the WLA events and one day I was introduced to the President of the day, Holly Lam. We got chatting about initiatives that were coming up, including work on the Welcome to the Law project: a seminar series, aimed at junior lawyers to upskill them on soft and hard skills. Things that you’re not necessarily taught at law school, but things you’re expected to know, once you get a practicing certificate. So, I got on board with that and then that was really the start! I kept putting my hand up, became Secretary, Vice President, and last year I became the President.

Particularly at the beginning, when I was relatively inexperienced (and this may sound odd!), but one of the most striking things about the Association was that everyone was so welcoming, I thought I’d unintentionally wandered into a cult! Of course, I realised this wasn’t really the case. It’s just a really lovely group of women supporting women.

Do you think being involved so early on in your career has benefited you professionally?

Being able to observe and listen to senior lawyers, even in a networking capacity, to see how they speak, how they converse, how they mentor, whether that’s in the office, at the water cooler or over a glass of wine. You learn so much from just being in their presence.

Or if you’re having a tough day, which everybody has from time to time, you get to share problems and often get an amazing nugget of wisdom you hadn’t even considered as a possibility or a potential legal strategy. I’ve seen pairings of people and referrals that have led to incredible professional partnerships and expanded networks. All in all, it’s such a valuable and rewarding group to be a part of. Particularly around remuneration or promotion time, they’ll be your cheerleader and really encourage you to take those next steps and put yourself out there.

What does the association mean to you and some of the other members?

Historically, the WLANSW was established because, quite simply, men used to get a lot of their work through networking at men’s or sports clubs, golfing and the like, and women were either not welcome at those establishments, or they experienced a hostile and unwelcoming environment. So the WLANSW was born out of the necessity for women to be able to meet other women lawyers and have those same conversations.

We sit independent of the Law Society of NSW and independent of the Bar Association of NSW, so we have the capacity to agitate and advocate for legislative change in a more robust way than some Associations. I think this is a real tribute to the work that the Women Lawyers Association of NSW has done in the past. It’s Associations like ours that have and continue to assist in making positive changes to women and women lawyers, so as a feminist, it’s an Association that’s very close to my heart; We are also the oldest Women Lawyers Association in Australia, the originals; we celebrated our 70th anniversary last year!

And how did the Awards come about?

Whilst women were being nominated for other industry awards, they were never taking out the gong or leaving with any silverware. In 1995, and there were concerns that women were never going to break through that glass ceiling because it was still so male-dominated industry. And so, the WLANSW decided, ‘let’s have our own awards’. After the inaugural event in 1995, there was a hiatus for a few years, and then by 2002, there seemed to be enough appetite for us to do it again. Since then we have put on an Awards night every second year ever, and it’s become one of our flagship events.

With respect to this year, I have to say that, in the nominations that we received, there was some 735 pages of information put forward! In arranging the papers for the judging panel, I was absolutely awestruck at the talent that exists and the breadth of knowledge across the nominees, the amount of volunteer work that happens, and how much these women do in addition to their day to day job, running their own practices and so on.

It was really inspiring, and although I’d love so much to be able to share some of these women’s stories, I can’t give away any information until the evening, but I just can’t understate how impressive these women are.

What would be your top 3 tips, or advice, for junior and aspiring female lawyers?

  1. Say yes to things! Personally, I had some anxiety around the fact I had come to the law so late, and that I was so far behind people of my age. I was 31, and felt like I was trying to play catch up. Thankfully, I have an amazing boss (Bill Madden), with an established profile in the profession, and he is always encouraging me to take on new opportunities. This encouragement helped me to overcome my own hesitations of not being ready. Once I started saying yes to these new commitments (and they are initially uncomfortable because you have no idea if you’re doing things right), and regularly being outside of my comfort zone, things start to materialise and doors open. One encounter led to intense media coverage; I was in Marie Claire as a result of being involved in one of the biggest cases of my career. So you have got to say yes to opportunities, and you have to be fearless – because you never know where you will end up.
  2. Don’t worry about being awkward. Everyone’s awkward at first! Everyone’s worried about what they’re perceived to be. The WLANSW is a place that provides you with support and a solid network, so if you are in a workplace that may not be that supportive, there are fellow members who can help, encourage and foster you so you get where you want to be. This is a generalisation, and possibly it’s just the way society has shaped us as a sex, but I think the majority of us double and triple-guess what we’re doing. I know so many women who are accomplished in law, but who after presenting or addressing an audient I’ve heard turn around and ask, ‘was that speech okay?’ And I was struck to realise imposter syndrome or perfectionism can be hard to shake.
  3. And this brings me to my final advice – find a good mentor that works with you and that champions you and your goals. Colleagues and peers who will give you positive feedback, who will say ‘that was really great!’ and be that constant source of support that we all need. I am proud to say that as an Association, the WLANSW is full of these figures. I have certainly been the beneficiary of organic mentoring, peer mentoring and formal mentoring via the WLANSW; the advice given to me over the years has been invaluable.

If you would like further information or to secure your seat at the WLA NSW Awards Gala Dinner taking place on Friday 4th July at Doltone House, click here.

For information on WLANSW membership, click here.

Justine Anderson is a civil litigation lawyer focusing on medical litigation and her practice includes gynaecological and obstetric cases, wrongful birth, cases involving pulmonary embolism, sepsis, adverse surgical outcomes and coronial inquires. 

Justine is the President of the  Women Lawyers Association of NSW. Involved since 2016, by 2019, as an executive committee member she Chaired a sub-committee called ‘Welcome to the Law’ aimed at law students and early career lawyers. She ran a suite of seminars on written and oral advocacy, court appearances, emotional resilience, mentoring, networking and business development to name a few. Justine has risen through the ranks of the WLANSW serving as Secretary in 2020, Vice President in 2021 and 2022 and was elected President in December 2022. 

Justine is the outgoing Chair of the Carroll & O’Dea Lawyers Diversity Group which aims to advance diversity and inclusion within Carroll & O’Dea Lawyers.