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The Legal Elite: Stevenson goes it alone

WITH more than 20 years under his belt at law practice Mallesons Stephen Jaques, Chris Stevenson is going solo.

Considered Western Australia’s elite Native Title lawyer, by his peers, Mr Stevenson is planning a move mid-year to the independent bar, hoping that his strong reputation, built up since he first joined the law firm in 1982 when it was known as Stone James & Co, will work to his advantage.

That year the firm merged with Stephen Jaques & Stephen and was subsequently called Stephen Jaques Stone James.

In 1987, when the firm merged with Mallesons and adopted its present name, Mr Stevenson was made a partner.

He started out as lawyer specialising in the resource industry, somewhat of a baptism of fire as it included responsibility for political hot cakes such as land rights and environmental law – specialities that he has since been able to adapt into other industries.

During his time as lawyer Mr Stevenson has watched the evolution of Native Title, from the days when the Aboriginal Legal Service lodged objections  in the Wardens’ Court whenever an application from a mining company was lodged, to the current post-Mabo era.

Along with the change in the legislative framework, Mr Stevenson has witnessed a change in processes used by lawyers and their clients from one of pure litigation to the use of mediation.

“The industry has gone from a fairly adversarial position to using an agreement process,” Mr Stevenson said.

Having learned the skills of litigation and mediation, and having the flexibility to successfully interchange between the two, has been one of the strengths to which Mr Stevenson attributes his success as a lawyer.

“Traditional litigation and mediation require two different skill sets. A lot of the others [lawyers] don’t understand the mediation process,” he said.

A firm believer in the gains that have been achieved through mediation for all parties in the dispute process, Mr Stevenson has been a strong advocate of LEADR, a prominent mediation training organisation. He now regularly acts as mediator at the request of other legal practitioners, government departments and other organisations.

As a lawyer specialising in Native Title and the resource industry he has worked with, among others, the Chamber of Minerals and Energy, the Association of Mining and Exploration Companies and the Australian Mining and Petroleum Law Association.

For Mr Stevenson job satisfaction comes from being able to resolve disputes.

“I like to help people. It’s about helping a client to achieve an outcome in an efficient and fair way,” he said.

And he has no regrets about his decision to study law at the University of WA instead of following in his father’s footsteps as a surgeon.

“I think more than ever the legal profession offers a satisfying career where there are so many options in different areas of speciality,” Mr Stevenson said.

But for now he is facing the challenge of removing the Mallesons badge and its inherent restrictions and looking forward to greater professional flexibility.

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