Exceptional achievements in the spotlight at legal profession’s night of nights

Media Release

Outstanding solicitors and organisations have been honoured for their exemplary contribution to the profession and the wider community at Queensland Law Society’s 2023 Excellence in Law Awards.

The legal profession gathered for the annual Gala event held at Brisbane City Hall on Saturday 5 August to celebrate the extraordinary achievements of the state’s legal practitioners, with The Honourable Helen Bowskill, Chief Justice of Queensland, delivering the evening’s Toast to the Profession.

QLS President Chloé Kopilović said this year’s awards held a particular significance, as the Society marks its 150th anniversary.

“On 7 August 1873, 15 influential solicitors gathered to establish the Society, with a vision to be a force for good,” Ms Kopilović said.

“The QLS Excellence in Law Awards are a culmination and celebration of that founding vision – a platform to showcase those who exceed expectations and who are living out our values through their ingenuity and contribution to good law and the public good.

“An impressive number of nominations were received again this year across 12 award categories. The quality of these submissions is testament to the exemplary work being done by Queensland’s solicitors.

“I was privileged to serve as a judge on several Awards panels this year – and this experience filled me with pride. The dedication and passion exemplified by each of the 50 nominees was inspiring – and a nomination is prestigious within itself.

“I would like to extend my congratulations to all our 2023 award winners. Each has set the standard for excellence, going above and beyond to serve their clients, organisations, and communities. 

“They have inspired their peers and colleagues with their knowledge, expertise and dedication to the practice of law, and all those whose lives they have touched as part of their service to the profession.”

QLS Excellence in Law Awards – 2023 Winners

The Access to Justice Award recognises an individual who has made outstanding contributions to improving fair and equal justice for all through their work, including legal representation, advocacy, leadership, innovation and influence. This year’s winner Thelma Schwartz is the Principal Legal Officer at Queensland Indigenous Family Violence Legal Service, an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community-controlled organisation providing legal and non-legal support services to First Nations victims-survivors of family violence and sexual assault in Queensland. In her 23 years post-admission experience, Thelma has worked extensively with and for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in regional and remote Queensland, across the justice system and has served as a member of the Queensland Women’s Safety and Justice Taskforce, which produced the Hear Her Voice ReportsAward Partner: Bond University.

This year’s First Nations Student Award winner Ceferina Leedy-Villarin is a proud Aboriginal woman from the Kooma Nation with ancestral and familial ties to Cherbourg and North Queensland. Highlighting exceptional results in study and contribution to improved justice outcomes for First Nations communities, the First Nations Student Award recognises a law student with passion, dedication, and positivity. The eldest of six children and the first in her family to attend university, Ceferina is currently in her fifth year studying a Bachelor of Laws (Honours)/Bachelor of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Griffith University. Throughout her studies, she has worked as a Legal Intern at Gadens through the Career Trackers Program. In her spare time, Ceferina gives to her local community through educational programs such as Beyond the Broncos and sport and health programs such as The Boss Boxing.

The First Nations Solicitor of the Year Award celebrates an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander practitioner for their leadership and contribution to justice outcomes for First Nations people in Queensland. Our 2023 winner is Legal Aid Queensland criminal lawyer, Lorelei Billing. A proud Quandamooka, Bundjalung and South Sea Islander woman, Lorelei’s traditional country is Stradbroke Island, Moreton Island, and the Moreton Bay (Quandamooka) and Tweed Heads (Bundjalung) regions through her maternal grandparents. They were founding members of many First Nations organisations still operating today, including ATSILS. While studying at JCU, Lorelei gained an Indigenous Cadetship at the Anti-Discrimination Commission Queensland before working as a Court Support Officer at ATSILS. Lorelei was admitted in 2015 and took up a role as a criminal lawyer at ATSILS in 2017 before commencing in her current role at LAQ in 2018.

Another of the Legal Aid Queensland team in the winner’s circle this year was Senior Lawyer in the Violence Prevention and Women’s Advocacy Team, Jason Garrickhonoured with the 2023 Pride in Law AwardThis award recognises and rewards outstanding contribution and commitment to the practice of LGBTIQ+ inclusion in the legal profession in Queensland. Jason has worked in family, domestic violence, and child protection jurisdictions since admission. He sits on the Corporate and Social Responsibility Committee of Queensland Rugby League and is a Director of Proud2Play Inc., a nationwide grassroots LGBTIQA+ inclusion in sports organisation. Jason loves sport and credits rugby union and his career in law to finding joy every day. Prior to working in law, Jason worked in the mining industry and was a Director of CanTeen, the Australian Organisation for Young People Living with Cancer. Award Partner: Pride In Law.

The In-house Counsel of the Year Award recognises an outstanding in-house counsel that are high-performing practitioners with outstanding leadership attributes, commitment to the profession and their organisation. 2023 award recipient Mel Scott is the Senior Legal Counsel at Megaport Limited. Mel has worked in-house for eight years across multiple industries such as aviation, infrastructure, financial services and now, cloud computing. She has served as the In-House Advisor to the Women Lawyers Association Queensland. She is also a founding Board Member of the Centre for Legal Innovation’s Emerging Leaders Advisory Board. Mel launched "Counsel", a self-made podcast about in-house lawyer life, during the first COVID-19 lockdown. She is a passionate advocate for all things in-house and shares career insights for law students and graduates on social media. Award Partner: Law Staff

Hazrabee Mustaffa of HM Lawyers was named 2023 Queensland Solicitor of the Year (Sole Practitioner). This award recognises outstanding solicitors working in private practice, who are high-performing practitioners with outstanding leadership attributes. Hazrabee established HM Lawyers in December 2006 in Victoria, having migrated from Malaysia in 1988. She relocated to Queensland in 2009 after the Black Saturday bushfires and re-established HM Lawyers in Stanmore. Since 2009, Hazrabee has provided pro bono legal advice at the Suncoast Community Legal Centre based at Maleny, and for the past two years at Woodford under the auspices of the Moreton Bay Legal Service. Hazrabee is dedicated to the children she represents, working to ensure they have a voice and advocates for their best interest. Outside of work she enjoys badminton and has been President of the Caboolture Badminton Club from 2020-2023.

The Queensland Solicitor of the Year (Small Firm) award recognises outstanding solicitors working in private practice, who are high-performing practitioners with outstanding leadership attributes. This year’s winner was Adair Donaldson of Donaldson Law. 

In his 25 years as a lawyer, Adair has built a large regional practice, worked as a partner in a national legal firm, and founded Donaldson Law in 2016, with a primary focus on creating a national practice to provide a trauma informed, alternative approach for survivors of abuse. Since 2007 he has worked to develop educational programs and consulted on the legal consequences of a range of social issues. Adair has presented workshops to thousands of people and has worked with the NRL to develop and implement educational resources for their players and clubs. In 2023, he was appointed to the Domestic and Family Violence Prevention Council and has been an ambassador for Full Stop Australia since 2016. Award Partner: Vincents.

The 2023 Queensland Solicitor of the Year (Large Firm) award went to Giri SivaramanPrincipal Lawyer and Head of the Queensland Employment Law department at Maurice Blackburn Lawyers. This award pays homage to outstanding solicitors working in private practice, who are high-performing practitioners with outstanding leadership attributes. Born in India and raised in Zambia before migrating to Australia, Giri has called Brisbane home for the past nine years. He is a member of QLS’s employment law subcommittee, an accredited specialist in workplace relations, and a Law Society of NSW accredited specialist in employment and industrial law. Giri is recognised as a thought leader in employment law and has written on the issue for Fairfax and News Corporation publications, as well as legal and employment specialist journals. He has appeared before NSW, QLD, and Commonwealth parliamentary committee inquiries into employment issues such as bullying, sexual harassment, underpayments, and the gig economy. Giri is the Chair of Multicultural Australia, a not-for-profit organisation offering Migrant Support Services. Award Partner: First Title.

Another of the Maurice Blackburn Lawyers team to take home an award this year was Bianca Staffordhonoured as Regional Practitioner of the Year – recognising a practitioner outside of South-East Queensland who exhibits an outstanding commitment to their local profession and community. Bianca is an experienced Wills and Estates solicitor based in Cairns, Far North Queensland. Bianca is passionate about providing legal support and guidance to individuals and families during some of the most challenging times of their lives. Throughout her career, she has accumulated experience in all aspects of succession law, including estate planning, estate administration, estate litigation and elder law. Bianca has organised and participated in educational seminars, workshops and conferences aimed at promoting professional development amongst her peers and fostering a greater understanding of wills and estates law. She has served on the Far North Queensland Law Association committee for the past nine years and as President in 2021 and 2022.

The Workplace Health and Culture (Organisation) Award recognises a commitment to equity, diversity and wellness initiatives, events and/or activities. Established in 2014, this year’s winner Keypoint Law is a national mid-tier firm pioneering a paradigm shift for the benefit of both lawyers and clients. The result is a thriving, multi-award-winning firm, of 60 partner-level lawyers, working across 25 areas of law in Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, and Canberra. Keypoint has been a finalist ‘Employer of Choice’ and ‘New Law Firm of the Year’ in the 2022 Australian Law Awards; appointed as a member of the legal panels of the Australian Commonwealth Government, the Queensland Local Government, the NSW Government, and the NSW Trustee & Guardian and awarded ‘State/Regional Law Firm of the Year’ at the 2021 Australian Law Awards. Award Partner: Davy Partners.

Maurice Blackburn Lawyers Senior Associate Arabella Kullack was named the Emerging Leader Award winner for 2023. This award encourages and supports emerging lawyers on their journey in the field of law, by recognising a high-performing practitioner with outstanding leadership attributes and a thirst for knowledge and improvement. Residing in Cairns, Arabella practises exclusively in the area of succession law and regularly advises clients on family provision applications, contested probate proceedings and complex estate administration matters. She is a member of the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners, a global community of lawyers specialising in the area of succession law and lectures for Central Queensland University. Arabella also sits on the Cairns Community Legal Centre board and is Vice President of the Cairns Amateurs Racing Committee. Award Partner: Dare.

Legal Aid Queensland’s Senior Principal Lawyer Tricia Price was the third of her team to be celebrated, winning the Agnes McWhinney AwardNamed after Queensland’s first admitted female solicitor, this award recognises a female lawyer that has forged new pathways for themselves, their peers and/or those that they serve through a commitment to excellence, equity, professionalism, and service to the community. Born in Tasmania, Tricia was admitted to practice in 1992 in Victoria, before commencing a two-year contract in 1995 as Principal Lawyer with the North Queensland Land Council Aboriginal Corporation. Tricia moved to Legal Aid Queensland in 1997 in the position of Senior Solicitor and has enjoyed a successful career there for over a quarter of a century. 

Full list of 2023 winners and finalists.

Images of 2023 winners.

Media Contacts:

Melissa Seiler – Senior Media and External Affairs Advisor | m.seiler@qls.com.au | 0424 184 846

Lou Corrigan – Marketing and Communications Manager | l.corrigan@qls.com.au | 0400 970 994