Volunteer spotlight · Access to Justice

EDO looks back on its volunteers

28 September, 2018

EDO Queensland is turning 30 in 2019! Our volunteer profile series celebrates 30 years of volunteers, who are integral to the work we do. This time, EDO Qld Principal Solicitor Sean Ryan, recalls his experience as a student volunteer.

Sean Ryan volunteered with EDO Qld in 1999 as an undergraduate law student. After working in government and private practice for more than 10 years, and with extensive planning and environment litigation experience under his belt, Sean was head-hunted by EDO Qld in 2011.

As Principal Solicitor, Sean leads EDO Qld’s landmark litigation and advice work, with a focus on climate and water litigation, scrutinising major coal projects like the Adani Carmichael Coal Mine and the New Acland Stage 3 development. Sean is also a wonderful mentor for young professionals.

Sean took some time to recall his experiences as a volunteer years ago!

What did you do as a volunteer?

I remember looking at the public consultation times under the Planning Act, which was the then newly commenced Integrated Planning Act 1998. When I started to work for EDO in 2011, I was looking over a file in relation to the Integrated Planning Act 1998 and found my research memo from 10 years earlier, which was nice to see.

I recall also helping on the early drafts of the Water Act 2000. And I was surprised to have the responsibility as a volunteer with EDO to attend stakeholder meetings in relation to the formation of that Act. Being as short staffed as EDO is, volunteers often have quite a high level of responsibility.

What are the benefits of volunteering for EDO Qld?

Volunteering at EDO Qld is a great way to get a sense of the real world application of legal skills, including gaining exposure to preparing Court documents, doing research for letters of advice, attending Court appearances, and gaining valuable insights and skills for later practice, while at the same time benefiting the community who can’t otherwise access legal services.

Do you have any tips for lawyers at the start of their career?

Law can be a hard road, particularly in the first couple of years. I think the best thing you can do early on is just get as much experience as you can in as many areas of law as you can and work hard at getting up your skills and experience and knowledge. That might mean that your social and personal life takes a back seat for a couple of years, but then when you’ve got a few years of experience, you can then look back and think about where you might want to be and you’ll find that you’ll probably have more options, having that experience under your belt, than you did when you were just starting out.

The other key point is that a career process is often non-linear and you often don’t end up exactly where you thought you would be when you started. So be open to opportunities to take sideways steps, or follow your passions and interests as you might find that it leads you to somewhere better than you were initially aiming for. Don’t have a fixed view of your career progression.

Things that surprised you about EDO?

The main thing that surprised me about EDO is just how warm and supportive and collegial the office is, despite being a high pressure boutique law firm. It’s certainly the best place I’ve worked in terms of people supporting each other while the office is under enormous pressure to deliver to the standard of top-tier law firms, who are often our opposite number.

EDO Qld's Sean Ryan

Environmental Defenders Office Queensland (EDO Qld) gives a strong legal voice to the environment when needed most.

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