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Law Council of Australia

Legal Practice Section

Interview with Jess Hamdorf

Recipient of the 2021 Mahla Pearlman Award for the Australian Young Environmental Lawyer of the Year

What does it mean to you to be awarded the 2021 Mahla Pearlman Australian Young Environmental Lawyer of the Year?

It is a huge honour and privilege to be awarded the 2021 Mahla Pearlman Australian Young Environmental Lawyer of the Year. I see the award as a recognition of the role that organisations such as the National Environmental Law Association and Law Society play in educating, challenging and advancing matters of environmental law. In my opinion, this role is incredibly important because the environment is not able to advocate for itself. Further, it is very humbling to receive an award which honours the memory of Mahla Pearlman AO as she has done so much for the legal profession and I thank the Law Council of Australia for this honour.

What is your favourite aspect of environmental law and what made you become passionate about this area?

My favourite aspect of environmental law is that it is a constantly changing practice area. Since I began practicing environmental law six years ago, I have seen a lot of statutory reform along with major developments in case law precedents. I also find environmental law to be a very collaborative and supportive practice area. I have found that colleagues from other firms, government agencies and in house are all very motivated and keen to contribute towards the development of environmental law.

I became passionate about environmental law because I grew up in the South West corner of Western Australia and I saw the law as a tool to help protect the amazing environmental values of the south-west. I undertook a clerkship with Glen McLeod part way through my university degree. Glen’s passion and knowledge of environmental law solidified in my mind that environment and planning law was the practice area that I wanted to spend my career in, and I have been working with Glen ever since. 

From your perspective, what are some of the key legal issues and challenges the legal profession needs to focus on?

As our natural environment comes under increasing pressure, it is important to ensure that our environmental laws are fit for purpose. Australia needs to ensure that its legislative and policy framework is well positioned to address matters relating to climate change. Complementary to the need to address matters relating to climate change, Australia’s environmental legislation needs to prevent, control and abate pollution and environmental harm for the conservation, preservation, protection, enhancement and management of the environment.

Over the course of your career so far, what are some of the key highlights you are most proud of?

I am most proud of the achievements of the National Environmental Law Association (NELA) over the past few years. NELA has made significant contributions to a number of environmental law issues including the second 10 year review of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Act 1999 (Cth), the regulation of greenhouse gas emissions and the ministerial environmental appeals system in Western Australia. I am also proud of managing my career and becoming a mum in 2020, thanks to the support of my colleagues at Glen McLeod Legal, my husband and my family. Achieving a balance between family and work life is something that I feel strongly about.

Is there anything you aspire to do in 2022 and beyond?

In 2022 and beyond I aspire to continue advocating for the advancement of environmental law with my colleagues at NELA and Glen McLeod Legal. Further, I hope to assist in connecting the legal profession with other professions to allow for a better understanding and a more cohesive approach to matters affecting the environment. In private practice I hope to become involved in additional legal work relating to emerging industries such as carbon farming.