A decade from now, the South Australian economy will have a significantly different make-up as a consequence of the State Government’s focus on nine future industries.
Among them, space and cyber stand out for the largely unchartered territory – and opportunities – they will present to the legal profession.
Together with defence and aged care, these industries will likely be attractive areas of specialisation for lawyers who are now just beginning their careers.
Piper Alderman’s new mentorship program will allow junior lawyers to specialise in areas specific to the South Australian economy, while also building on the firm’s own capacity to support this new generation of companies.
Deputy Chair of the Space Industry Association of Australia, Professor Melissa de Zwart believes today’s legal firms need to have a strong understanding of the technologies themselves and to look beyond the domestic regulatory frameworks.
“Read widely, be on top of the news, be involved in interest groups,” she said.
“You’ll need to understand the frameworks that exist in Europe, the US or wherever your client might be operating as well.”
Some of the areas in cyber law have become commonplace, unlike twenty years ago.
“I think these days everyone has to have some inkling about e-commerce, content regulation and contracting in an online environment,” Prof de Zwart said.
“But also having an understanding that these things make us operate in a more international context.”
Prof de Zwart says the legal framework around cyber security is constantly being re-examined.
“There is a significant amount of work being done by the Commonwealth Government, in particular, looking at things like critical infrastructure and critical frameworks,” she said.
“Cybersecurity is, by its very nature, a networked problem. So [a firm’s] client needs to have cybersecurity for their own purposes and so does everyone else linked into that supply chain.”
Piper Alderman Partner and NEIISA mentor, Donna Benge, said the highly regarded firm hopes the program will foster relationships with South Australian businesses in emerging industries.
“The Premier has done a lot to support industries such as space and cyber here in South Australia, which is good for our economy and we want to build on that,” Benge said.
“As a firm with a strong Adelaide footprint, we are committed to developing enduring relationships with South Australian companies and support their growth ambitions.”
Benge said the NEIISA program offers junior lawyers ongoing mentoring sessions to aid in the development of industry-specific networks.
“The program allows them to meet other peers within an industry, that they have identified as of interest and have a focus for them in their practice,” she said.
“It also offers an opportunity for junior lawyers to have regular contact, not only with their peers but with experienced legal partners within the firm, who can give them guidance regarding how to navigate complex legal issues arising in these emerging areas and provide a sounding board for where they would like to take their career.
“That’s an opportunity I would have really valued when I was starting my career in law.”
Piper Alderman Lawyer, Ben Noack, said his participation in the last instalment of the program helped him gain specialised knowledge in space law.
“Adelaide has some great momentum at the moment in terms of all the space activity that’s happening here and the investment being made in the industry,” said Noack.
“As a law firm, we are continually monitoring developments within the sector, so that we are well prepared to assist businesses to navigate potential legal issues that may arise as the space industry continues to build in South Australia.”
Noack said the program offered him significant career development through networking and mentoring with the firm’s more senior lawyers.
“The NEIISA program offers the opportunity to be in an environment where you’re being mentored by highly regarded, experienced lawyers and partners, who are further along in their career development with established practices,” he said.
“It gives you some focus, because the law is very broad and, even within a commercial law firm, there’s a broad range of areas where you could put your roots down.”
Piper Alderman’s Deputy Managing Partner and Head of Adelaide Office, Tim O’Callaghan, said the NEIISA program allows for the multi-award-winning firm to prove its dynamism in developing areas.
“We’ve positioned ourselves as not just lawyers, but as specialists within specific industries and issues,” said O’Callaghan.
“It’s not enough just to be a general lawyer, to remain relevant and be at the forefront of the profession.
“It’s important to develop a specialisation in particular industries or emerging issues, that will continue to drive the economic growth of the state.
“If we can have a group of people developing similar skills and mindsets across different industries, that allows us to showcase our specialties and depth as a firm.”
Australia has had domestic space law in place since 1998. De Zwart says much of it is based around everyday life.
“I think we forget that internet banking and GPS are all dependent on space technology,” O’Callaghan said.
“Commercial satellite licensing work has been done since the seventies and eighties.
“Now it’s coming to people’s attention, but as the cost of access to space is coming down, there’s more legal work that needs to be done.”
Though NEIISA is exclusive to Piper Alderman employees, O’Callaghan said the firm is regularly recruiting new lawyers to continue its “vibrancy” and support the continued growth of the practice teams across the firm.
“It’s exciting for young lawyers to be able to come to [Piper Alderman] and have their careers supported in this way,” he said.
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