Amber Courtenay-Foster

BEc SocSci 2000, LLB (Hons) 2002

Amber Courtenay-Foster is currently working as in-house legal counsel for a mining company.

What made you decide to study law, and why did you choose Sydney Law School?

I think there were a few motivating factors. In my mind it seemed like an incredible goal to work towards during my final year at high school. I also looked up to my aunty and uncle who were both lawyers. They seemed to have a relatively good life - they travelled overseas and were intelligent, but also fun and witty to be around.

Also, once I got to the University of Sydney, it seemed to me that the law school had more of a community feel, and it was easier to meet people than in my other subjects where I sat in lectures with hundreds of other people.

While I did not manage to get into law school in my first year, I worked hard to get a place in my second year of studies.

I chose Sydney Law School because at the time you had to do law with another degree, and I was already enrolled in the Economics (Social Science) course, so this was a natural fit.

Where has the study of law taken you in your career and/or life in general?

Upon finishing my LLB I spent two years working at Mallesons Stephen Jacques in their project finance and private equity divisions. It was long hours and hard work, but it gave me a basic training in structuring transactions and to see a ‘best practice’ way of providing legal advice.

To broaden my understanding of law, I then moved across to the Justice branch of the Cabinet Office in the NSW Government. In this role I provided policy advice to the Premier and Director General on policy matters relating to the Attorney General, and the Ministers for Commerce, Industrial Relations, and Fair Trading.

Following this I moved across to the UK to work as a parliamentary secretary to a member of the House of Commons. The pay was awful, but it was a great experience to be around so many interesting people.

After a few years not practising law, I was again interested in becoming a lawyer, as it seemed that by working as in-house counsel in a corporate environment I could be a part of a business.

I moved into a role at a carbon trading firm that set-up the projects in Asia that would receive carbon-credits from the UN so that they could be traded. It was a really challenging role, but it was great to work with the corporate finance team and the Directors. This role took me across to Singapore, and I provided legal advice for their UK, USA, Indonesian, Thai and Singapore operations.

Returning to Sydney, I then moved in-house to a mid-sized coal mining firm with operations both in Indonesia and Australia. The private equity/IPO experience I had learnt at Mallesons came into use when we listed the Indonesian coal assets into a separate corporate vehicle on the ASX.

While I had not worked for a mining company before, in-house corporate legal skills can be adapted to different industries, and then it takes some hard work to get up to speed on the particular industry that you are working in. Doing some short-courses in mining law also helped give me confidence and understanding of the particular regulatory environment that my company works in.

Shortly I will be moving across to work for a large multinational mining company, and I looking forward to the new challenges it will offer.

What is your fondest memory of your time at Sydney Law School?

Without a doubt, the enduring friendships I made at law school and the fun times we had hanging out at lunch, or going to parties, are my fondest memories. Those friends are still in my life, and I am so grateful for meeting them at law school.

In terms of a sense of achievement, I felt so proud of myself when I graduated. At school it seemed only the smartest girls were going to be lawyers, and so I thought it was beyond me, but fortunately I did not give up!

During my law degree I did an exchange to Duke Law School, and studied US corporate law and structured finance. Other friends of mine went to other parts of the US, and a few went to Canada. The six months I spent overseas at such an amazing law school (which I doubt I could have ever afforded were I not on an exchange) opened up my life both personally and professionally, and I highly recommended to anyone the opportunity to take a semester overseas.

What one piece of advice would you give to law students today?

As much as it was, at times, a torture working in a large law firm with very long work hours, I think it was a good place to learn how to be a lawyer. Nonetheless, at the end of the day, I am glad I took the risk and tried different avenues of law, as I think you have to find the right environment to suit your personality.

Working as in-house legal counsel, I find it very rewarding working with the Board of Directors and the CFO to make projects happen, and working in a mining industry, there is an interesting interplay of both law and government policy, which suits the experience I have built up over the years working both as a lawyer and a policy advisor.