My Roundabout Path to Engineering and Construction Law

I’m often asked how I became an engineering and construction lawyer. 

I’m not one of those lawyers with a nice, linear career path. It’s been more like a bunch of sliding doors going off in different but luckily fun directions.  

From bartender to psych student… 

I started my “professional life” behind the bar of a Fremantle pub. The endless stream of characters made me think about humans and why they do what they do. So, I enrolled in a psychology degree.  

I LOVED it. I thought then, as I do now, that humans are fascinating beasts. My Honours project was on how humans deal with risk: a strange foreshadowing of my future life.  

However, becoming a registered psychologist required a master’s degree, which I couldn’t afford. So, as a stopgap, I went off to work for the WA State Government.  

From psych student to policy writer… 

I started as a grad and rose to writing regional policy in the Department of Premier and Cabinet during the Gallop Government. Like the pub job and the psych degree that had gone before, I loved it. I loved spending time at Parliament. I was completely absorbed in learning about law – and policy-making and their impact on our community.  

On the side, I was also working as a drug and alcohol counsellor. My clients were what they used to call “coerced”, coming to me through the parole system. As a very privileged, sheltered, middle-class white woman, I was unpleasantly shocked to find that my clients did not view the legal system as the bastion of justice I had been led to believe it was – far from it. I wanted to know more.   

So, I followed my keen interest into a law degree. There was no “flexi-working” in the early 2000s, but luckily my wonderful boss let me juggle work with my university studies. I was 26, pre-kids and pre-mortgage and I had enough energy to do anything… I adored law school from day one. Through some combination of passion, mature-aged discipline and luck, I excelled at my studies.  

From policy writer to corporate litigator… 

After graduating, I won a coveted Supreme Court Associateship, working with Justice Neville Owen in the dying days of the Bell trial. It was an epic corporate litigation marathon: the longest-running civil trial in WA history. I believe the damages sum was also record-making.  

The Bell trial was a baptism by fire, but I still thought litigation was the path for me. I joined a boutique litigation practice and cut my teeth resolving shareholder disputes and pursuing fraudulent trustees.  

From corporate litigator to in-house engineering and construction lawyer… 

All that arguing wore me down after a while, so when a global engineering consultancy approached me, I jumped at the chance to “go in-house”. I had ZERO experience with commercial contracts or the construction industry, so it meant embarking on another steep learning curve.  

So, what happened next? You guessed it – I LOVED it. I loved the engineering and construction industry, the legal work that I was doing and the company’s work, and I particularly loved the people I worked with. The business supported me into the working parent phase of life (x 3), and I stayed there for nearly 9 years.  

And here we are! 

Eventually, I was doing more commercial management than legal work. Wanting to “get back on the tools” I decided to return to private practice. Asking myself “what’s the worst that could happen” I made the bold move to start my own firm. And with that, SoundLegal was born back in February 2019. And now, I’m living the dream… helping engineering, construction and consulting businesses create and negotiate clear contracts so they can achieve great project outcomes.  

What I love about engineering and construction law 

So, what is it that I love about engineering and construction contracts and law? I’ve reflected on that quite a bit.  

The biggest thing is that tangible, physical outcomes are connected with my work. After 13+ years in the industry, I can drive around WA and show my kids a whole bunch of buildings, roads, ports, hospitals, bridges, schools, mining facilities, and other projects that I’ve had a (small) hand in. In litigation, it was just about money. In construction, it’s about building structures that help the community.  

It’s also about people. I love talking to people about projects, business relationships, transactions and future plans. There’s nothing better than helping people understand that a contract is not just a weapon for when things go wrong. It’s a tool that can be used to achieve great project outcomes and promote strong relationships.  

Find out more

Get in touch for a free 15 minute discovery call to discuss how we can help.

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About Gemma

I help construction, engineering and consulting businesses create and negotiate clear contracts so they can achieve great project outcomes. I founded SoundLegal to help SMEs in the engineering, construction, consulting and light industrial sectors manage their risk to support business growth, by finding practical, common sense solutions to contractual and other legal challenges. Subscribe to the SoundLegal newsletter “No Jargon” to hear monthly business insights from me.


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