Jul 2024 | Katherine Baldanoff | College of Law, Victoria


Katherine Baldanoff | College of Law, Victoria

Focusing on Yesterday.

My early legal career began in an area of practice dominated by men.  My entire department was made up of men, we briefed male barristers, all the partners (with the exception of 1) were men.  While daunting, particularly given my age, I took that opportunity to learn as much as I could and to challenge myself, to take every opportunity to learn and to think of myself as their equal and just as capable.  During those early years, I had the great pleasure and fortune to meet an inspiring female solicitor who joined the firm for her articled clerkship.  This woman was intelligent, driven and demonstrated to me that there was no limit to the success and achievements of women in the law. Working with her over the course of 18 months was a significantly influential period in my early career.  Shortly afterwards, I moved overseas and worked for a multinational firm in Singapore.  In an office of 7 practitioners, I was again the only woman (and the only Australian).  That environment was certainly challenging and felt culturally completely different to the one that I had left.  My work involved collaborating with Singaporean firms and, even though this was over 20 years ago, the Singaporean firms were far more balanced in terms of gender and many that I worked with were led by female partners or senior female lawyers.  That afforded me the opportunity to work with some wonderful practitioners and mentors.  I feel that my early career experiences showed me how varied a workplace can be and how important it is to find the right environment to foster growth, confidence and opportunity. I was incredibly fortunate to have a number of figures in my work life that encouraged me and who taught me valuable life and work lessons.

Focusing on Today.

Today I focus on trying to provide the same supportive, encouraging and opportunistic environment for the students at the College that I was fortunate enough to enjoy in my early career.  I continue to take every opportunity to learn and I work in an incredibly supportive office with very talented lawyers. The sense of collaboration, team spirit, support and a huge variety of learning opportunities means that every day offers a new experience or chance to grow.  That environment naturally leads to confidence, and I find myself taking on challenges that I would normally shy away from.  If I could give my younger self some advice, it would be to never feel embarrassed to ask questions.  When you meet an inspiring figure, learn from them and surround yourself with supportive, encouraging people who are willing to share their knowledge and experiences with you in order to help you learn and grow.

Focusing on Tomorrow.

Regardless of the industry in which you work, the world is changing and no more so than the role that leading women play in it.  The change for women in the law is dramatic and inspiring.  There are now more female law students, more female law graduates and a larger number of women taking leadership positions within firms.  There is also a greater acknowledgement within the legal profession of the need to foster women, to enable them, to offer the same support and opportunities to succeed as men have enjoyed in the past. Despite the success of these initiatives, more change is needed, and I would encourage all women to support other women within the law.  Talk to each other, help and mentor each other and encourage each other.  I recently read a book by Hilary Heilbron about her mother, Rose Heilbron who became England’s first female Judge.  The book was inspiring, poignant and epitomises the challenges that woman have faced in the law.  It also shows that there is no limit to the success that woman can have and I would recommend that all women working in the law read it, regardless of your area of practice and where you may ultimately end up in your career.