I won’t lie; being at the Bar can be terrifying, but it is the 'good type' of terrifying, sort of like bungee jumping.
Recently, more than a dozen alumni from The Australian National University (ANU) College of Law were honoured in the 2021 Lawyers Weekly Awards. Among the outstanding alumni recognised was Josie Dempster (LLB (Hons) ’14, GDLP ’17), who was named the Barrister of the Year at the 30 Under 30 Awards.
For Josie, a barrister at the Canberra-based Key Chambers, the accolade is the latest on a growing list of achievements that includes the 2018 ACT Bar Association’s Women’s Scholarship Award and the 2018 NSW Bar Association’s Katrina Dawson Award for female barristers.
Taking some time out from her busy schedule, which includes occasionally writing about issues in the legal profession, we recently caught up with Josie for her reflections on her career to date, her time at the ANU College of Law, and her advice for future law graduates.
Can you tell us a bit about your current role and including what you find most rewarding?
I am a barrister at the ACT Bar. I practice across a range of areas, including common law, criminal law, appellate and administrative review. There are so many great things about life at the Bar. Not only is the work challenging and intellectually stimulating, but you have complete autonomy and control over your work, and you get to learn new things all the time. I won’t lie; being at the Bar can be terrifying, but it is the 'good type' of terrifying, sort of like bungee jumping.
What challenges did you face in launching your career and how did you overcome them?
I went to university to study law straight after finishing high school. I did not know any lawyers growing up or have anyone to model myself off. Neither of my parents went to university, so I had to make it up and just hope for the best. Fortunately, I realised early on that I loved studying law and became excited by the prospect of joining the profession after graduation. I always had ambitions of going to the Bar, so after three years of practising as a solicitor, I decided to sit the exam. I came to the Bar in 2018 and have absolutely loved the experience since.
My ability to make it this far in my career can be attributed in a small part to luck (I door-knocked my way into my first paralegal job, which got me my second and third jobs) and in a large part to my sheer determination to make something of myself. I decided early on that I would not let fear stop me from doing things I wanted to do, including taking professional opportunities that came my way. I have also been extremely fortunate to have been supported by some wonderful barristers and solicitors over the years, many of whom continue to guide, mentor and/or support me.
What does it mean for you to be named Barrister of the Year at the 2021 Lawyers Weekly 30 Under 30 Awards?
It reassures me that my decision to go to the Bar at a young age was not in vain. For someone with imposter syndrome, it is always helpful to have objective evidence that you are achieving things!
How did your ANU Law studies shape your personal and professional outlook and what were some of your most meaningful or transformative experiences studying law at ANU?
I worked part-time during my university days, so I would always opt for the evening tutorials. I used to love being taught by members of the legal profession, many of whom were full-time solicitors or barristers who tutored in their spare time. I was a quiet student, and not overly confident in my abilities, so I was appreciative of the patient, gentle and kind approach taken by the tutors. I learned that you did not need to have an ego, or be the loudest person in the room, to excel in the profession. I also learned that hard work and determination would take you further in your career than sheer academic excellence without drive.
What are some of the most valuable skills for graduates entering the workforce?
I think openness and willingness to learn is crucial. As wonderful as it would be to graduate from university and already know everything you need to know in order to be a brilliant employee, chances are you will need guidance, training and experience before you can really excel in your chosen profession. Being open to taking advice and learning from people around you is a great way to grow.
Also, say yes to every opportunity! You never know where it will lead you.
Read more about our alumni nominees and winners at the 2021 Lawyers Weekly Awards here.