Mentoring and mental health

Having recently completed training to become a Mental Health First Aid Officer, partner Johanna Kennerley discusses her pathway into law and the importance of mentoring, support and mental health in an interview with Australasian Lawyer.

Source: Australasian Lawyer, October 2020


Johanna Kennerley got into law because of a love of legal dramas as she was growing up, but one major factor that keeps her in the profession now is a love of mentoring junior lawyers as a partner in Carter Newell’s Brisbane office.

Training staff online as a result of COVID-19 restrictions was a challenge, but Kennerley has powered through to provide productive guidance. She also learned how to offer support to her staff, and is presently training to be a mental health first aid officer within the firm – a role, she said, that is important in any organisation.

In this interview, Kennerley also talks about being a member of Carter Newell’s workplace giving committee, keeping her team engaged during COVID-19 and the value of keeping up with technology.

What made you choose a career in law?

To be honest – I loved all the legal dramas growing up!

What do you love most about your job?

Mentoring junior lawyers and becoming a “right hand person” to my clients.

What is going on at the firm? Are there any new programs and initiatives that you’re particularly interested in?

I have been a part of the workplace giving committee at Carter Newell since its inception in 2007. In 2020, the staff picked new charities to support for the next two financial years; our new charities are brilliant, and include a Sydney charity called Twenty10 that supports the LGBTIQA+ community, which will be a fantastic organisation to get to know and support.

What has been your proudest accomplishment in the last year or so?

My proudest accomplishment has been keeping the team together and engaged when COVID-19 restrictions meant working from home for extended periods

What’s the biggest lesson you learned in the past year and what advice can you give fellow lawyers about it?

The biggest lesson I learned has been to listen to how to support your staff as individuals – one size certainly does not fit all. Simply ask, “What can I do to support you?”

What should the profession and law firms focus more on?

Mental health in the profession. I am currently training to become a mental health first aid officer for Carter Newell. I think it is an important role in any organisation.

What are the challenges you expect in your practice, and in the business of law in general, going forward? What has been the biggest challenge you and your practice has faced amid the pandemic?

In the business of law in general, keeping pace with technological advancements. For me, one of the challenges I faced during the pandemic was the ability to train junior staff remotely. There was an invisible barrier to being able to explain the task at hand via an online platform when compared to walking to the office next door, and a mentality of “it’s quicker if I just do it myself” crept in. The continued growth of my team and the practice relies on the constant upskilling of my team, so I had to change that thinking quickly and work towards solutions to continue productive training in an online environment.

What are you looking forward to the most in the coming year?

Continuing to grow my team’s particular specialties of project and environmental approvals in the mining, oil and gas and quarrying industries.