Craig Collins
When law graduates come to Leo Cussen to do their PLT, they obtain more than a piece of paper confirming their qualification. Former Partner of Gadens Craig Collins and now Senior Lawyer and Mentor at ACT Leo Cussen, describes the value of having a mentor. Drawing on personal insights, Craig explains why earning a qualification with Leo Cussen goes beyond the theory, building strong foundations to navigate the challenges that can arise as a junior lawyer. Watch Craig’s interview or read his insights below.

What is your role at Leo Cussen?

My role at Leo Cussen is ACT Senior Lawyer & Mentor, based at the Australian National University in Canberra.

The mentoring bit is important. That’s how lawyers learn in practice – by mentoring. You won’t be reading textbooks, but you will be tapping into the unwritten knowledge, experience and wisdom of more senior colleagues. Great mentoring is a fast-track to achieving competence, confidence and even mastery as a lawyer.

I was fortunate to experience some of the very best mentoring available in the legal profession. That’s why I am motivated to help law students make the very significant transition from law student through to becoming qualified as an Australian Lawyer.

What is your background?

I’ve travelled the journey myself, starting out as a law student unsure where to go, what to do and how to do it. I’ve taken the steps all the way through to becoming a commercial litigation Partner at Gadens Lawyers Melbourne – as partner responsible for some large and complex litigation.

I then devoted myself to legal education – teaching law at all levels from first-year LLB & JD, compulsory and elective courses, convening Honours, GDLP and Masters level courses, including strategic negotiation skills.

I’ve also had stints recruiting law graduates for the Australian Government Solicitor (AGS) and advising on lawyer development, as well as a role as Board Secretary of a Community Legal Centre.

Tell us about your experience…

I could never have imagined just how interesting, enriching and even exciting working as a lawyer would turn out to be.

As a lawyer, I found myself on a tuna fishing boat in the southern ocean near Port Lincoln, South Australia. I also found myself breaking into a factory at midnight, as part of a group of lawyers, accountants and locksmiths – as we figured that our client had contractual rights to seize the property inside. And then the police showed up after we triggered the alarms and we had some explaining to do…

Basically, just helping people with their legal problems from all walks of life – and making a positive difference – that’s what it is all about, and that’s what creates such a rich tapestry of experience.

Why is having a mentor important?

You can’t expect to become a Luke Skywalker without a Yoda.

I cannot imagine any lawyer succeeding in the legal profession without finding good mentors along the way.

You see this at the court ceremonies to welcome new judges to the Bench and Queen’s Counsel to their new status. The stories told and thanks given show just what a driving force close mentoring relationships are in propelling lawyers to the very top of the profession.

This high level of mutual support, learning and care is one of the best-kept secrets inside the legal profession.

Why is mentoring so important to the Leo Cussen GDLP?

Mentoring in Practical Legal Training has never been more important.

Think of PLT as a bridge. On one side of the bridge, we find law students coming out of law schools – which focus upon the basic academic requirements and, beyond this, generally don’t see their role as preparing students for the legal profession. On the other side of the bridge is your first job – where the amount and quality of mentoring can be patchy. Not all supervisors are great and gifted mentors, even if they could find the time. It is a bit ‘luck of the draw’ as to where you might land and the learning culture you might find around you.

So here is your chance. You’re investing 24 weeks of your life in the final stretch before your admission as an Australian Lawyer – and you really need to make this time count. Here is the chance to build a solid foundation in terms of your confidence and competence – wherever you might land in your first lawyer job.

Leo Cussen recognises this. Our entire GDLP program is structured around working one-on-one with our trainees doing the legal work guided by experienced mentors.

What are the best words of advice you can give students finishing up their law degrees and considering options for their next chapter?

Do what you can to position yourself with exceptionally good mentors and role models within a culture which values learning and development. If you find them, don’t take these opportunities for granted.

You also need to bring the right attitude – a genuine curiosity about how things work, a willingness to learn and to tap into the experience of others. When time and resources are short, you need to show that you are a good prospect for being mentored – and for being gifted time and attention, experience and wisdom from others.

You don’t need to know all the answers when you start out on a career in law – or even what your destination might turn out to be. But you do need to take a step in the right direction. Speaking for myself, it is always my privilege to guide trainees on their own journey of personal development and self-discovery – keeping alive all of the possibilities that a career in law gives.