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1965

Judith Earls

inducted 2012 Business

About Judith Earls

When Judith Earls was a student at Ann's in the sixties it was uncommon for Warrnambool girls to go on to tertiary study. At that time there were about 14 students in Year 12. The school leaving age at that time was 14 and nearly half of the students at that age left school to work at Fletcher Jones and other places. At Leaving level (the equivalent of Year 11) more students would leave to commence teacher training and nursing. Judith took a different route after winning a Commonwealth Scholarship. Judith gained entry to the law school at Melbourne University. Melbourne was the only law school in Victoria, taking only 300 students, around1 in 6 of whom were women.

After University Judith commenced at small firm in the city, Phillips Fox & Masel, where she remained for the whole of her career. Finding no prejudice against women at that firm, in 1977 she became the first woman partner and remained the only women partner for 17 years. The firm, due to mergers and other amalgamations grew from ten lawyers in 1977 to one of Australia's 6 largest firms and is now part of a world-wide group called DLA Piper.

Judith had broad experience as a commercial lawyer with expertise in: corporate governance, due diligence, mergers and acquisitions, business and corporate law, commercial contract drafting, utilities and regulated industries During her career Judith: advised the Ministry of Construction in Hanoi, Vietnam to raise money to preserve the French architectural heritage area in Hanoi; was joint lead partner in the $4billion dollar sale of Loy Yang power station and was a mentor to young lawyers.

Judith is also on the Board of Management of Mind Australia - an organisation that provides services to people seeking support for their mental health.

Judith writes: "I was born in Warrnambool and started school at St Josephs where believe it or not there were 105 children in the one classroom (a post war baby boom had happened in Warrnambool ). At that time there was only one lady teacher Miss Smith who taught Grade 3.

The nun teaching "grade babies" at the time seemed very elderly to me; in fact she was 23 as I found out when I met her at my mother's funeral when she was about 86.

I then went onto St Ann's, which I left after completing the equivalent of Year 12 in 1965. At that time there were about 14 people in year 12. I recollect that the leaving age at that time was 14. Therefore nearly half of the students I was with at that age left school to work at Fletcher Jones and other places. Year 11 was another leaving point as with year 11, you could commence teacher training and nursing.

I was intending to be a primary teacher; but at the end of my Year 11 the entry qualifications were raised to year 12 so I ‘had' to do year 12. However somewhere in year 12 I got the idea of doing law if I won a Commonwealth Scholarship. I have no clear recollection of where this idea came from.

I fully expected I would fail even if I gained entry to the law school at Melbourne University . Melbourne was the only law school in Victoria who took only 300 students, 1 in 6 of whom were women. I was comforted by the fact that a CBC boy from the year before thought to be very clever went there but did not pass first year. As no-one thought the worse of him, it was worth doing if only to meet a nice husband. As it happened, it was not necessary to even go to the law school for that purpose as the week after I left school in 1965 I met a law student at the Palais (only older people will remember this as the local dance hall) who I subsequently married and with whom I had a wonderful daughter and three beautiful grandchildren.
Moving on I did win a scholarship and with my income as a Lady Bay waitress for four years managed to support myself. Despite a shaky start, I completed the degree with Second Class Honours in 1969. A most amusing aside is that when a waitress at the Lady Bay, I got the job of serving the County Court judges on circuit in Warrnambool their breakfasts on account of the fact that they knew I was a law student. About four weeks after I started my career in the city, I had to appear before Judge Adams to whom I had served eggs and bacon not six weeks earlier. He recognised me but thankfully did not order eggs and bacon.
I found going to university quite difficult as I knew no-one and had no idea of what it was all about. I also had no idea what people even wore. I came up with the idea they would be wearing corduroy suits so my dear mother made me three, red, brown and fawn. No, corduroy suits were not in fashion!

Post University I was very fortunate to find articles in a small firm in the city, Phillips Fox & Masel, where I remained for the whole of my career. I found no prejudice against women at that firm and became the first woman partner in 1977 (and remained the only women partner for 17 years). The firm, due to mergers and other amalgamations grew from ten lawyers in 1977 to one of Australia's 6 largest firms and now part of a world-wide group called DLA Piper.
Career Highlights including:

Advising Ministry of Construction in Hanoi, Vietnam to raise money to preserve the French architectural heritage area in Hanoi (our firm had a Vietnam office and I was asked to come over to advise).

Being rung in my kitchen one Saturday morning by one of the office partners to ask me if I was free to go to the USA the following Tuesday to pitch to an electricity company in Portland, Oregon for legal work. I was, so we set off and while waiting for a flight from LA to Portland we watched the OJ Simpson trial live. It was worth going for that alone. We were interviewed in a military mens' club at 7.30am by the CEO and legal counsel , and by 9am we had the job which was the start of the firm's highly successful electricity practice. As there were no flights home, it being Easter, we had a three day holiday in Portland hanging out at Powell's, America's then largest physical bookshop and the first place I ever saw a café in a bookshop.

Electricity privatisations where SEC assets were sold to international bidders - I was joint lead partner in the sale of Loy Yang power station, sale price $4 billion approx.

Mentoring younger lawyers up to year three in their career about the non-legal aspects of being a lawyer, e.g. how to write a letter, negotiating skills, presentation, appearance, need for confidence, team skills, attention to detail etc. One of my mentees was a Cambodian refugee who spent t his first three years in a refugee camp in Malaysia, came to Australia, got a scholarship to Melbourne High, got a scholarship to Monash, came to work at the office and is now working in the Hong Kong office, all through hard work, application and belief in himself.

I am happy to be inducted into the College Inspiring Alumni if I can help each of the students at Emmanuel understand that there are many possibilities in life if you believe in yourself, make a plan, and do your best to achieve it. Thinking outside of the square never does any harm.

I owe a great debt to the Mercy Order, the Nuns at St Josephs and St Anne's without whom none of the above would have occurred. They and our mother were great believers in education.

I end by expressing every best wish for the future to students of Emmanuel College and a sincere thankyou to the teachers who perform such a critical role in the life outcome of their students."
Kind Regards,
Judith A. Earls.