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Summer Clerk Diary: Jonathan Wilcox, The Benevolent Society

Jon Wilcox

My summer clerkship at The Benevolent Society has given me an excellent insight into the demanding role of a General Counsel/Company Secretary in a large not-for-profit organisation. The Benevolent Society is Australia’s oldest charity. It is non-religious and celebrates its 200th anniversary this year. It is also one of the larger charities.

About the clerkship

There are 14 summer clerks from five universities in NSW and Victoria. It was a large number to be supervised to make sure each of us has something to do all the time. Luckily our General Counsel is very committed to this task, and our respective professional development opportunities. We each have a preferred ‘specialty’, according to which we are allocated appropriate tasks. My specialty is litigation, as I aim to become a criminal barrister. Others have a media, corporate or NGO focus.

Law Stuff that I’ve Done

As is expected with a large organisation (over 800 staff plus volunteers), there is a range of ongoing litigation matters. A highlight was when I had to research a particular area of employment law and prepare a draft advice applying the law to a particular dispute. Later in the day I participated in a teleconference with an employment partner from a major law firm and the partner confirmed I’d been on the right track!

Another novel area is IP: I’ve had to give myself basic education on this to help out with an IP dispute, and help draft a shared IP clause with one of our partners in a services contract.

I have been introduced to a number of barristers, and I’ve attended court hearings and discussed cases and career stuff with them. I have also received basic training in company secretarial procedures and drafting internal policies.

During my time here, we have heard from a number of senior legal representatives, including Mr Michael Halliday, CEO of LawCover; Mr Steve Mark, Legal Services Commissioner; Mr John Garnsey QC and Bruce Connell, Blackstone Chambers; Mr James Hutchinson and Craig Parker from Westpac (partnering with The Benevolent Society in relation to a Social Benefit Bonds project) and Mr Brian Salter, AMP General Counsel, as well as business representatives from The Benevolent Society senior managers. All of these have been very engaging and insightful experiences.

What I’ve learnt

This is going to sound cynical, but I think a clerkship is about learning how not to annoy people. We’re all smart enough to be good lawyers, but the practical skills I’ve learnt are how to show initiative and progress tasks without having to ask too many questions. Obviously we need guidance, but now I find I can get started on a task, research things I’m not sure of, and come back to my manager with some good ideas.

But the most satisfying thing about a clerkship is the increasing feeling of being a bit more of a pro as a lawyer.

Jonathan Wilcox is a JD student from the University of Sydney.

Read more clerkship stories from our 2012/13 Summer Clerk Diary series:

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