LAW BEYOND THE BORDER: Opening Address by Anthony Cassimatis


Opening Address:

I would like to begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which we gather, Turrbal and Jagera people, and their elders, past and present.

I would also like to thank the Justice and the Law Society and the UQ United Nations Student Association for their invitation to speak tonight and to congratulate them on their many valuable initiatives.

I have been given a great deal freedom in speaking to you this evening. The JATL representative who I asked about what I should speak on said that I could speak “on any topic that ... [I] would prefer, so long as it is relating to a topic or issue on international law or international affairs”.

Given that our keynote speaker will be speaking on the substantive and important topic of Australia's role in fighting transnational crime, I thought I might focus instead on a discussion of career options available to you in international law. I will do this primarily by mentioning for you some of the career achievements in international law of former UQ students.

Before talking about these former UQ students, however, I would like to say something briefly about working in international law in Australia. I have been working in the field of international law in Australia as a legal academic for over 20 years. I have also been serving for roughly the same time as a volunteer in the field of international law through participation in the work of the Australian Red Cross which has an important role in raising public awareness of international humanitarian law (IHL or the law of armed conflict).

Traditionally, opportunities to work in international law in Australia have been restricted to working for the Australian government, in departments such as the Attorney-General’s Department (in the Office of International Law), the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Defence Department. In the non-governmental sector, there have traditionally been employment opportunities in international law working for the Australian Red Cross. Apart from these opportunities, there was not much more that you could do in Australia in the field of international law.

What I would like to emphasise is that this traditional position is changing. In terms of legal practice, international law firms are establishing themselves in Australia and have brought with them their international legal work and opportunities to move within these firms to pursue international law related work outside of Australia. Two international law firms in particular, DLA Piper and White & Case, have established, or are establishing, offices in Australia. DLA Piper has been representing Timor Leste in its various international legal disputes with Australia. Much of that legal work has been done out of the firm’s Brisbane office. An increasing amount of international arbitral work is also being done out of Sydney (at the Bar and in law firms). International legal work in Australia, outside of government, is still relatively modest in scale but it is increasing.

One other feature of potentially dramatic change globally that I would like to briefly mention is the challenge to globalisation reflected in the Brexit referendum result in the UK and in the election of President Trump in the United States. It is easy to portray these developments as threats to international law. After all, one of the few things that President Trump has actually been able to follow-through on has been his promise to turn his back on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which was a regional trade treaty negotiated between 12 Asia-Pacific States that included Australia and New Zealand.

Notwithstanding the potential for negative consequences for the international community (of which I can foresee many), it would be wrong, I think, to assume that Brexit and the Trump administration will mean there is less work in the field of international law. The opposite may indeed be true. The UK’s withdrawal from the EU is going to require an army of international lawyers, both advising on the process and consequences of the UK’s actual withdrawal from the EU, and in negotiating replacement free trade agreements for the UK outside of Europe. A former UQ law student, Belinda McRae will be speaking at UQ on 5th of May, I think, about exactly these sorts of opportunities. After having worked in international law in Paris, Belinda is now a barrister in London.[1]

Even in the United States, I think President Trump is discovering that things are actually much more complicated than he initially imagined. While it is dangerous to try to predict what President Trump is likely to do or achieve, his initial threats to withdraw from regional and global trade agreements, such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (or NAFTA) between the US, Mexico and Canada, have been replaced with statements that the US will be seeking to “renegotiate” such agreements. This is again going to mean more work for international lawyers.

Turning then to some concrete examples of careers of former UQ students in international law. First, I would like to offer a couple of general points about the former UQ students who are now working in international law (some of whom I will specifically mention in a moment). Many of these former law students also studied international relations as part of their other degree and this has helped them in their subsequent work in international law. These former students have had a variety of backgrounds. Some have had no family connections in law. Many have achieved excellent academic results at UQ, which has enhanced their international law opportunities, but this is not true of all of the former UQ students that I have kept in contact with over the years. Some of these students have participated as students in legal advocacy competitions such as the Jessup International Law moot competition, but others have not taken part in such competitions. Some have done internships with international organisations, but others have not. Some have studied overseas, others have not. There are multiple career paths that they have followed.

Before getting in to some individual stories, one final general point. While not all of the former UQ students who have pursued successful careers in international law have achieved outstanding academic results at UQ, excellent academic results do help a great deal. While former students have not always done extremely well in their general studies, they have all studied diligently in the area of international law. Wide and careful reading of the international law case law and literature has been a common feature of all of the successful former students who I have kept in contact with. Through the development of their research and writing skills, in the field of international law, some of these former students have been able to create wonderful careers even though they had only modest academic results at UQ.

But again, I must stress, good academic results definitely help. They will help you secure funding for internships and scholarships to study abroad. Average results reduce your chances of admission to prestigious overseas universities and increase the chances that you will have to pay your own way to study abroad.

With modest academic results it is still, however, possible to study abroad at excellent institutions in places like Leiden in the Netherlands and in Geneva. And if you do study abroad, and do well in that study, your most recent degree is what scholarship awarding bodies will focus upon in the future. So achieving good results overseas in a Masters degree, for example, can increase the chances of you getting a PhD scholarship at a prestigious university overseas.

The first former student who I would like to specifically mention[2] is Melinda Taylor.[3] Melinda is now senior defence counsel in the field of international criminal law in The Hague. Melinda competed in the Jessup moot competition as a UQ student and then completed an internship with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY). Melinda didn’t initially study abroad.[4] Melinda established her career on employment with the ICTY and the International Criminal Court (which followed her internship) and she developed her expertise in international criminal law through practice. She now represents high profile defendants in important international criminal law cases.

The second former UQ student is Michelle Butler.[5] Michelle is now a barrister at Matrix Chambers in London which has a concentration of some of the very best international law practitioners including Professor Christine Chinkin and Professor Philippe Sands. Michelle did not compete in any mooting competitions at UQ. However, like Melinda, Michelle did do an unpaid internship in the area of international criminal law. She also completed a Masters degree in international law in the UK, having received a scholarship for academic excellence. The combination of this Masters Degree and the experience she derived and connections she made through her internship helped establish her career, which has now expanded beyond international criminal law to include, for example, advocacy before the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea.

All of the students who I mention by name in this address worked extremely hard in the field of international law at UQ and achieved excellent academic outcomes and nothing should be implied regarding the academic results they achieved at UQ, other than that they studied international law diligently at UQ.

The third former UQ student is Katherine Del Mar.[6] Katherine did compete in mooting competitions at UQ (the Red Cross IHL moot competition and the space law moot competition); but she did not do an internship. After studying international law at UQ, Katherine enrolled in a Masters Degree in Geneva. This was followed by a PhD in international law in Geneva and Katherine now is practising at the Bar in London at 4 New Square.

Katherine Del Mar has appeared before the International Court of Justice with our fourth former UQ student, Kate Parlett.[7] Kate had no direct family connections with the law, with both of her parents having been primary school teachers on the Gold Coast. Kate didn’t do any internships but she did do extremely well academically at UQ, competed in the Jessup moot competition and received scholarships to do a Masters Degree and then a PhD in international law in the UK. Kate worked for a period in Paris with the firm Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer and is now at the Bar in London at 20 Essex St, where she works with Belinda McRae, who you can meet on the 5th of May at UQ, and Jonathan Ketcheson, another former UQ student. Kate was recently invited to speak on careers in international law in Washington DC to a packed room of young lawyers just near Capitol Hill in Washington. She spoke at UQ in 2016 on careers in international law and she is sure to visit UQ again.

The final former UQ student is the major reason why so many former UQ students have worked at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer in Paris. Ben Juratowitch [8] didn’t do moots at UQ but he did do an internship and he received a Rhodes Scholarship to complete a DPhil in the UK. He has risen rapidly through the ranks at Freshfields and he is now that firm’s global head of its public international law practice. Ben values the quality of the legal education that students receive at UQ. He has employed a number of brilliant former UQ students. Catherine Drummond, who taught international law at UQ in 2013 and 2015, is currently working with Ben in Paris.

To conclude, there are three general points I would like to finish on. The first is that each of these success stories is built on dedication and hard work in developing legal research and writing skills in international law. All 5 of these former UQ students have worked incredibly hard to develop their legal research and analytical skills; reading and analysing cases, journal articles and monographs (and, for most of them, also writing journal articles and monographs). The second point I wish to emphasise is that all of these former students have been very generous in offering advice and support to more recent UQ graduates. I would strongly recommend, for example, that you come to hear Belinda McRae speak at UQ on the 5th of May. Details of her visit are available via the Facebook page of the UQ International Law Society. [9] The third point I wish to emphasise relates to the diversity in the ways in which these careers have been developed. I think this diversity illustrates the benefits of being flexible with your career plans. Often wonderful opportunities will appear unexpectedly. Being open to taking these unexpected opportunities as and when they arise can open other even more exciting career opportunities.

Despite Brexit and Trump, there are still many important and fulfilling opportunities in international law and there are amazing former UQ students who are prepared to help you make the most of these opportunities. Study hard and do the best you can academically and this will allow you to make the most of these opportunities. Thank you and good luck! 



[1] - I believe that Belinda is currently on secondment to the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office. 

[2] All of the students who I mention by name in this address worked extremely hard in the field of international law at UQ and achieved excellent academic outcomes and nothing should be implied regarding the academic results they achieved at UQ, other than that they studied international law diligently at UQ.

[3] See, for example, lawyer-, and

[4] Although after establishing herself in The Hague, Melinda obtained a Masters degree in the UK.