Public Interest Law Careers Guide - Rowena Cantley-Smith Testimonial

Academic lawyer and Barrister: Rowena Cantley-Smith

Organisation: Monash University and Victorian Bar

Short biography: Rowena Cantley-Smith was appointed to the Monash Law Faculty in 2003. Her academic and professional qualifications include: BEc (1989), LLB (1993) and Grad Cert Legal Teaching (2005)(Monash University); LLM in Public International Law (Leiden University); Doctorate of Laws (Leuven University); Admitted to practice: Supreme Court of Victoria and High Court of Australia (1995) and the Victorian Bar (1998).  She teaches across a wide range of subjects including, Australian and international energy law, contract law, climate change law and private and public international law. Rowena's research is multidisciplinary and focuses on the interface between law and the energy sector, primarily in the context of consumer and environmental interests. An important aspect of this is the development of international and national environmental and human rights law.

Law: Where did you start?

My legal career started in the early 1990s, with Articles of Clerkship and first year solicitor position at a mid-tier city law firm.  My introduction to legal practice involved general commercial and insurance litigation, and banking and finance.  After another year of specialist legal practice in international trade law, I took up a two year position as Associate to Justice KM Hayne (SCV Court of Appeal and HCA).  It was an amazing experience and strengthened my desire to become a barrister.

What are some of the biggest challenges you have faced in your career?

My first day of work as an Articled Clerk! I was asked to draft interrogatories and a memo of advice on an insurance litigation file.  By lunch time I had decided that my law career was over.  Luckily, the first year solicitor in the office next to me came in after lunch and told me it happens to everyone. She helped out and we are still friends 20 years later.  The other big challenges were my first cases as a Barrister.  It can be quite confronting to realise that all of the responsibility is on you and you have to answer directly to the client for what happens.  

What prompted the move from private practice to academia?

Personal reasons and several unplanned turn of events.  In short, I married a Belgian and moved to live in Europe.  As it was very difficult to work as a lawyer in Europe at that time, I completed a Master of Laws in Public International Law at Lieden University (the Netherlands).  During that time I met a leading international energy economist, Professor van Der Linde, who was also Director of an international energy organisation in the Hague.  She involved me, through consulting work, in various projects on international law and energy matters.  This led to a meeting with Professor Deketelaere from Leuven University (Belgium).  He was starting a specialist Master of Laws in energy and environment and asked me to be part of the teaching team.  I subsequently commenced a Doctorate of Laws at Leuven Univeristy. 

What do you like most about being an academic lawyer?

The freedom to research and write on legal issues that interest me and where I feel my contributions might be able to make a difference of some kind.  It is also really satisfying to keep in touch with my past students, many of whom are having great international and local career experiences.  It is always great to hear from them as they are so enthusiastic and excited by what they are doing.  I also love teaching advanced law classes (masters) in my areas of legal specialisation - international law, energy law and climate change.  The students are really keen and motivated, making it challenging and interesting.  I learn as much as I teach.

What do you think will be a key area of law reform for Australia in the next 10 years and what will be the main challenges face by those who work in the area?

One of the key areas for change will be energy law, especially in the context of consumer interests and environmental problems such as climate change.   The biggest challenge will be convincing Governments and energy market regulatory bodies to engage in sustainable regulation of the energy sector.  This will require, in part, a shift away from the current dominance of coal in the domestic fuel mix, which is something that is already proving to be very hard to change.

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