I have two little girls that I want to be a role model for - I want to make sure there are no glass ceilings left by the time it’s their turn to have a career.Suzie Leask
Who influenced your career?
My parents were teachers and instilled in me a love of learning and the concept that anything was possible, even getting into law school, if you worked hard enough.
You studied psychology and law at UON. What made you choose law?
The law is constantly changing and evolving, so you are constantly learning and innovating. No two days are the same and I knew I’d never be bored.
Your first job was at multinational law firm Ashurst in Sydney. What did you learn?
I specialised in the industry focused Hotels, Tourism and Gaming team, which meant I gained expertise across corporate, commercial and property law, including regulatory compliance such as liquor and gaming laws. I had incredible opportunities, including an overseas secondment and worked on major domestic and international transactions. I learned the importance of constantly striving to be the best - not just technically, but also commercially and in terms of customer service.
You were then legal counsel to US owned, public company International Game Technology. What were the key take-outs?
I learned so much during my time at IGT. At one point I was looking after the legal work for all of Asia Pacific, which was a huge responsibility relatively early on in my career. It certainly taught me to back myself, and to speak up even though I was often the youngest and the only female in the board room. I was very fortunate to work with a great group of executives who trusted my judgment and we worked really hard as a team across multiple time zones to get deals done in a highly regulated environment.
You then returned to private law firm practice in Newcastle. Why did you return to your home town?
My husband and I wanted the best of both worlds - challenging work but also a lifestyle where we got to see our kids and not be stuck in peak hour traffic. It’s a very different Newcastle now compared to when I left - business is booming and it’s a real thrill to be a part of it in a professional capacity.
You are now Associate Director at Australian Business Lawyers & Advisors (ABLA), a subsidiary of the NSW Business Chamber. What is your role?
I am the practice leader of the Newcastle office’s Corporate + Commercial team. We look after the legal needs of businesses, covering a wide range of commercial legal matters from incorporation to business contracts, corporations law and corporate governance, commercial transactions, M&A, regulatory compliance, property, IT and intellectual property law. Our clients are usually business owners, directors or key stakeholders and can be members or non-members of the NSWBC.
As a director and company secretary of Lake Macquarie Business, you sent out board agendas and reports from hospital shortly after delivering your daughter. For many of us that sounds ambitious! What drives you?
To be fair, I think most working mums are masters of multi-tasking! I’m ultimately driven to help people. My client’s problems become my problem to solve. If I take on a board role, I want to do it properly and not let the team down. Plus I have two little girls that I want to be a role model for - I want to make sure there are no glass ceilings left by the time it’s their turn to have a career.
Your pro bono work includes giving legal advice via the Hunter Community Legal Centre and board roles with Lake Macquarie Business, among others. What do you gain?
I think all professionals have a duty to give back to their community, whether through mentoring, helping clients, taking on pro bono work or not-for-profit board roles. It’s a privilege to have professional skills that allow you to play a small part in organisations that are doing great work in the community, whether shaping future young business minds, supporting local businesses or access to justice.
What area of the law interests you most and why?
Corporate governance fascinates me - boards are at the heart of business decisions and will shape the future of corporate culture in Australia. Boards set the tone for organisations and have a duty to be across the business while making strategic decisions in often complex regulatory environments for which they face potential personal liability.
Your advice to those considering studying law?
Legal skills can be a great stepping stone to many careers, some which don’t even exist yet.
You are a finalist in the Australian Law Awards as regional lawyer of 2018. Were you surprised to be nominated?
Absolutely - it’s a national award and there are so many great lawyers out there doing great work, it’s a real honour and I’m even more proud to be representing Newcastle and Australian Business Lawyers & Advisors.
What professional goals are on your agenda?
Growing ABLA Newcastle is first; we’re busy and on the look-out for great commercial lawyers who are also great people to work with.