Alumni Feature Stories

I lead the legal function at Greenpeace Australia Pacific. Things I am responsible for include: advising the Board and Senior Management Team on a range of legal matters including employment law, contract law and intellectual property; advising on strategic climate change litigation; implementing and upholding good corporate governance practices; and undertaking company secretarial functions.

The climate crisis is the defining issue of our generation. I was driven to the sector by the need to contribute to a meaningful solution for generations to come.

I love the way financial market interventions and strategic litigation can influence companies to take definitive action on climate change. Investors, consumers and litigants hold an incredible amount of power to influence climate solutions in this country and we are increasingly seeing them wield this power in new and exciting ways.

During my education and early career, I undertook pro bono work but didn’t really have any exposure to what it may be like to work inhouse within the not for profit sector. As a result, I took a leap from the corporate sector into the unknown when I joined Greenpeace Australia Pacific.  It was one of the most challenging and rewarding decisions I have ever made. To make sure that other students get the opportunities I didn’t, we have developed a summer clerkship program at Greenpeace Australia Pacific which gives law students the opportunity to volunteer within the legal team and get insight into our work.

I use my digital presence on platforms such as LinkedIn to bring attention to important issues in the environmental justice sector. At the beginning of my career I perceived the whole notion of “personal branding” to be somewhat contrived and artificial. I held the naïve notion that personal branding was designed to create a platform to elevate your ego and I avoided it like the plague (or Covid?). Since working with some pretty incredible, humble and high-profile people in the climate movement, I have come to understand that personal branding does not elevate your ego; it elevates your voice. And when you have something important to say, playing small does not serve the world.

To all the law students out there interested in a career in environmental justice, don’t let people’s compliments go to your head and don’t let people’s criticisms go to your heart. When it comes to environmental justice, we are all on the same team. We all want the same thing - some of us just don’t realise it yet.

Renee Bianchi

B Laws 2007 / Dip Legal Practice 2007; B Biomedical Science Hons 2004
Achiever in the Exceptional Community Service Award

Renée Bianchi’s exemplary record of voluntary community service within and outside the legal profession has enhanced the reputation of the University through volunteering, mentorship and leadership for both the legal profession and for the greater community.

As the President of NSW Young Lawyers she worked to increase the profile of NSW Young Lawyers and its many projects within the national and international legal profession.

She has also been an influential member of the International Girl Guide Movement and is currently a Director and Board Secretary of the B Miles Women's Foundation.

Jessie Porteus

Founding Director, The Learned Crew
B Law 2011 / Dip Legal Practice 2011; B Economics 2009
Achiever in the Young Alumni Award

Jessie Porteus is an active young leader of the legal profession, and is dedicated to the development of our next generation of lawyers through mentoring and thought leadership. Building off the success of her long-running blog Lawyered!, Jessie launched her start-up The Learned Crew (TLC) which is an innovative legal training business that prepares the next generation of lawyers for the real world of law.

Through her business she has launched Australia’s first in-house legal clerkship for law students in partnership with the Association of Corporate Counsel Australia.

Her experience includes Federal Court Judge’s Associate, advising on commercial and IP matters at top tier law firm King & Wood Mallesons, representing asylum seekers in a challenging legal environment at community legal centre RACS, and broadening her legal and business skills base at in her current role as in-house Legal Counsel at ASX top 100 listed company Coca-Cola Amatil.

I’m the Principal Lawyer of W & Co Lawyers in Newcastle. We practice exclusively in criminal and traffic law.

Previously, I was a Senior Associate at one of Sydney’s top tier criminal firms, Streeton Lawyers. After graduating from Newcastle University in 2014, I worked in Sydney for almost 6 years. It was always my goal to move back to my hometown, but for a long time I wasn’t sure how I would be able to make that happen.

From the beginning of my career, I was fortunate to be involved in a great range of cases, from running my own Local Court defended hearings and District Court sentences, to instructing Senior Counsel in murder trials and complex fraud matters. At the same time, I had the opportunity to be second in charge at my previous firm, which involved hiring and supervising staff, and involvement in the business side of the firm, which I loved.

Over the past 12 months, I came to realise that starting my own firm was not only a good way to move back to Newcastle, but it would be a new challenge that would build upon the foundations I had already established.

Throughout University, I always knew I wanted to practice criminal law. I loved the idea of being in court and advocating for my clients. But more than that, I loved the idea of being able to help people through what is often a vulnerable and stressful period. There are many misconceptions about the role of criminal defence lawyers, but I’m truly proud of the work we do and the difference we can make in someone’s life.

I’m motivated to help people achieve the best possible outcome for their case. Often, this involves referring my clients to undertake some sort of rehabilitation, such as AA or NA sessions, positive lifestyle programs or sessions with a psychologist. Many of my clients have never engaged in these types of programs before and it’s extremely rewarding when you see the positive changes that can come as a result.

Earlier this year I had a client charged with a string of quite serious offences. His father drafted an affidavit for the sentence hearing, and part of it reflected on how challenging the legal proceedings had been for their family, but it also said that it had been the best few months in over a decade for his relationship with his son, due to all the changes his son had made to turn his life around. To be able to successfully advocate for a community based sentence for this client, and witness this positive transformation, was a privilege.

It’s also exciting being able to stand up in court every day and advocate for my clients. Each case is unique and the law is complex, so there is always something new to learn and argue before a court. This area of law is never boring!

After studying psychology at university, the intersection of criminal law and psychology is something that interested me greatly. But at times, the complex mental health issues face by my clients has been a challenge, particularly when there is a background of severe trauma, or the crime that is alleged is extremely serious. These issues require special consideration, particularly when identifying the right approach to take and the right professional to refer the client to for treatment or assessment. Reaching out to other practitioners, or speaking with medical professionals to obtain advice has helped to overcome these challenges.

My work is quite intense, so it’s been really important to maintain work/life balance. Part of the reason for moving back to Newcastle was to ensure there was easier access to things that help maintain work/life balance. The gyms are less busy, the cafes are less crowded, and to drive into the beach for an after-work swim doesn’t mean being stuck in traffic for an hour!

I love the beach, seeing friends, reading non-crime-related books and watching non-crime-related shows on Netflix. At the moment, we’re renovating our 1940’s home, so that’s a great distraction from my job too.

To all the law students out there interested in a career in criminal law, you should absolutely give it a go. Reach out and take up volunteer positions with the Aboriginal Legal Service, or get in touch with local solicitors or barristers. The profession is extremely supportive, so don’t feel intimidated. Someone will always be there to encourage you or answer your questions.

The University of Newcastle acknowledges the traditional custodians of the lands within our footprint areas: Awabakal, Darkinjung, Biripai, Worimi, Wonnarua, and Eora Nations. We also pay respect to the wisdom of our Elders past and present.