Queensland Barrister recognised for outstanding work
Awarded Regional Woman Lawyer of the Year 2014
On 24 October 2014, Cairns Barrister, Laura Neil was the only barrister shortlisted as a finalist for an award at the 36th Annual Women Lawyer of the Year Awards presented by the Women Lawyers Association of Queensland (WLAQ) and was awarded the Regional Woman Lawyer of the Year for 2014.
While Laura has been practising as a Barrister since only March 2013, having previously practised as a solicitor, the members of the Bar Association of Queensland should be pleased to call Laura one of their own.
It’s easy to see why Laura is dedicated to the Far North Queensland region having grown up in Cairns and attending James Cook University in Townsville, graduating in 1994.
In 2008 Laura became a Principal at Maurice Blackburn and was the first female to do so in Queensland. Now, almost half of the partners at Maurice Blackburn are women. Laura was the Principal in charge of the Cairns and Townsville offices of Maurice Blackburn which covered a diverse geographical area servicing many clients across North Queensland.
Laura was (and remains) a founding committee member of the Far North Medical and Legal Society Inc, a society that provides a contact point and liaison opportunity between lawyers and the medical profession in North Queensland.
Laura currently holds positions as the Vice President of the Cairns Community Legal Centre and is the Rural and Regional Representative committee member of the Queensland branch of the Australian Lawyers Alliance (“ALA”).
She contributes to the legal profession in many ways. She is a member of the North Queensland Law Association, a member of FLPA, a member of the Far North Queensland Legal Association and is the co-author of the Personal Injuries chapter of the Caxton Legal Centre Handbook. Laura has arranged events for the ALA in Cairns and Townsville and supports up and coming lawyers in regional areas (male and female of course) by volunteering her time to sponsor and mentor students at James Cook University, and through the WLAQ.
Laura runs a successful and busy practice practising primarily in personal injury and family law and boasts a sound reputation in regional Queensland. She has been described “to be a person of trust and integrity”. She is proud to tell me that she has two daughters and if Laura is anything to go by, her daughters will be amazing women too.
Turning now to the “Q&A” section.
What do you think are the challenges of being in a regional centre compared to South East Queensland?
I believe the major issues for regional practitioners are ensuring we don’t become isolated, and not to accept that there is less opportunity if you live and work in a regional location. It’s important to make non-regional professional members aware of what’s important to regional practitioners, to allow the regions to have a voice and to be heard when it counts.
What do you think are some of the challenges with volunteer work in community legal centres in Cairns or generally?
I’ve volunteered for many years in community legal centres and am currently the Vice President of the Cairns Community Legal Centre. The most challenging thing in recent times, which affects a large number of community legal centres, is the difficulty in obtaining funding and maintaining that funding. We are there to provide a service to those in need and need funding to do that. Many of us in the legal profession who see injustices want to speak out and have a voice to address that injustice. As a community legal centre, we can no longer do that because it may jeopardise our funding.
Do you have a view on challenges that women may face in the legal profession?
In my short time at the Bar I have noticed that virtually all the briefs I’ve received are from women with only four exceptions. Being one of only four women at the Bar in Cairns I have found that a little surprising. I’ve only been at the Bar for eighteen months so it’s hard to tell. I’ve certainly been welcomed by my chamber colleagues, by the Bench and by other barristers in Cairns (male and female).
As a solicitor, I was lucky in the sense that I don’t recall actively experiencing discrimination. I personally had positive experiences in my work, for example, when it was necessary to take maternity leave, my employers were understanding and helpful.
That’s not to say that there aren’t any issues for women. It is certainly a challenge to progress in a career in the legal profession whilst juggling family commitments. However, it is possible to have a successful career and balance family with that — it just takes hard work. It’s necessary for women to have a voice, stand up for themselves and acknowledge the particular needs that affect them that may not affect men. Women often work just as hard, and sometimes harder, then their male counterparts without the necessary reward and recognition.
Do you have any stories from your time in practice that keep you going at 2.00am when working madly on a brief ?
I recall one client, a real ‘ocker bloke’, who had some nasty injuries and was unable to work. Every time he would see me he’d have a story or joke that would make me laugh. If he can laugh, then what do I have to complain about? Many clients are just grateful for your help, even if it’s not the outcome they want. Sometimes even pro-bono clients with no money will give me a bunch of flowers or some other trinket. For me it’s the gratitude of the client that I think of in those times.
What impact do you think the workers compensation law reforms have had on workers and the legal profession?
I don’t think the reforms have hit the private Bar yet, but anecdotally I’m told that about 50% of Workcover claims have gone as a result of the introduction of thresholds. It is appalling that people whose lives are ruined through the negligence of others will miss out on receiving compensation for their injuries. Many of these people will never work again, and instead of being compensated by the Insurer for those at fault, it will now fall to the public purse to support these people. The Medical Assessment Tribunal is not equipped to deal with the decisions now required and many appeals just aren’t getting through. Doctors are being asked to make legal decisions which will have a significant impact on people’s lives.
On a lighter note, a recent internet poll placed Boston Legal as the top rated legal show. Out of the top ten shows in that poll, what’s your favourite legal show? Probably Law and Order, but honestly, I don’t watch much TV, although don’t tell anyone, but I like to vege out with the X-Factor. My reply was: That’s okay Laura — a lot of us are closet X-Factor fans.
You can find Laura on the Bar Association of Queensland website or follow Laura on Linked In.