Susan Sumars – Associate Lawyer & Pro Bono Coordinator
Posted October 23, 2017, by Jenny Sakr
A career in law was Susan's calling since she was in grade 6. Now an Associate & Pro Bono Coordinator at one of Australia's top firms, Gadens, Susan is responsible for managing the firm's pro bono practice, as well as being an associate lawyer for the banking, finance, insolvency litigation and dispute resolution team.
How long have you been in law?
Over eight years, however I have been studying law for over 15 years when also taking into account my education including tertiary and postgraduate qualifications.
What did you study and what are the steps you took to be where you are today?
After obtaining my Victorian Certificate of Education (VCE), I studied a combined bachelor of laws and bachelor of behavioural science at university (5 years). It was the perfect course for me, as I had an immense interest in those two disciplines and strong desire to help others. I also completed postgraduate study (1 year) in order to obtain the necessary diploma in legal practice, to then become admitted as a lawyer in Victoria. I was quickly employed as a solicitor at a small city-based firm and then as a graduate solicitor at a mid-tier law firm. After several more years, I decided I wanted to further specialise in the banking, finance and insolvency litigation areas, so I accepted a role at Gadens - a top 10 Australian law firm, where I have been progressing my career over the last several years.
What did you want to be when you were younger?
A lawyer – honestly! As far back as I can remember (grade 6 to be precise), I thought becoming a lawyer would be an extraordinary calling.
What was your first job?
I was a part-time "check-out chick" at a large grocery store during my high school years, balancing studying VCE. I was able to develop my customer/client service skills quite rapidly and become a well-rounded individual as a result.
When did you first know you wanted to take this career path?
Whilst I wanted to join the profession from a young age, it was only after my tertiary education and during my practical training course that I firmly decided I wanted to practice as a lawyer. The excitement of litigation in particular, the constant learning and endless possibilities cemented my decision to take this career path.
Explain a typical day at work
This is difficult because a 'typical day' in civil litigation can be quite unpredictable. You can be served with an unexpected summons and be required to prepare and appear in court to plead your client's case before a Judge, with little to no notice. Some days, you are able to efficiently attend to your usual case load during business hours. Other days may involve longer hours because you are balancing aspects of your role such as business development, mentoring junior professionals and engaging in continuing legal education. I have greatly enjoyed all of these aspects of my career.
What’s the most interesting thing that’s happened to you in your career?
My recent appointment as the firm's Pro Bono Coordinator. It has been an enjoyable experience so far and a great opportunity to expand my skill set. I look forward to continuing to work more directly in this area in future.
Name the best and worst parts of your job
The best parts are being able to practice several of my passions on a daily basis, including helping people by giving them access to justice. There is also a great amount of variety in my role, assisting me to thrive.
The worst parts are coming across unchallenging work, as I do not like being bored. Thankfully, there is not usually much repetition in my field so I am mostly kept on my feet!
What’s the most important career tip someone has given you?
Be true to yourself and if you do what you love, it won't seem like a job.
What do you wish someone had told you before starting in this industry?
Law firms are ultimately businesses. Adaptability is key in this very competitive market. Whether it be leading with technology, participating in innovative projects or consistently expanding your skills in order to stand out, flexibility is required to excel in this industry.
Where do people have to start to get into law and what is the standard salary?
A law degree is an absolute minimum if you want to be a lawyer. Alternatively, a law degree can be useful even if you are seeking a support role in a law firm or in the legal industry generally. Admission as a lawyer (or eligibility for admission) after having completed a practical legal training course is becoming increasingly important as firms are more likely to employ graduate lawyers who are ready to enter the industry. The standard salary differs accordingly to the size and location of the law firm as well as your experience, so you should definitely do your market research – there is plenty of information publicly available in that regard.
Name a career highlight
Being promoted to an Associate Lawyer at Gadens, within several years of commencing at the firm as a junior solicitor and more recently being appointed as the firm's Pro-Bono Coordinator.
What’s next for you?
Continuing to develop in my new role in the pro bono sphere.
Tell us a little about yourself outside of the office...
I love volunteering, including in the non-legal sector. I have worked the Royal Children's Hospital Good Friday Appeal telethons for years as well as at not for profit organisation such as a current role at Interchange, an organisation involved in providing family respite and social opportunities for children and young people with a disability.
I enjoy learning new things and recently helped fulfil my thrill-seeking side by learning to ride a motorcycle and obtaining my rider's licence. I have had two motorbikes so far.
Check out some of Susan's articles by connecting with her on LinkedIn.
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Jenny found her way with words while interning during uni, since, she's produced articles on it all – from hair and beauty to homewares, travel, career advice and study tips. On a weekend you're most likely to find her lining up for a table at the latest cafe or restaurant.