Kathryn Millist is a self described ‘country girl’ and high school overachiever who grew up wanting to do everything. “I did a lot of school debating,” says Kathryn with a grin. “I was leading my subjects – it was good fun.”
Her legal aspirations began early. “I used to go camping with my dad. One day we were in the car for hours, arguing, and he said I should be a lawyer. I was 12. But later I looked it up and said ‘ohhh, that sounds interesting’…I’m sorry, it’s not a very good story!”
Graduating from the University of New England in 2006 with a Bachelor of Arts majoring in psychology and Bachelor of Laws with honours, Kathryn soon struck out to big city Sydney to pursue her grander ambitions. Her career to date is anything but cookie-cutter.
While studying, Kathryn would drive her parents’ car to watch the local court proceedings – criminal cases were her favourites, “witnesses would be on the stand just balling their eyes out!” As a student, she seized any opportunity at law-related work, helping her lawyer uncle during summer breaks, assisting barristers, and doing a brief final year stint as a law librarian. “When you first start, nothing is too good for you. Even making coffee is not beneath you – it was interesting, because you got to be there! I attended interlocutory applications and met plaintiffs – this was all in my first year!”
Once she was done with uni, Kathryn found a world seemingly divided into hip, privileged ‘city universities’ and ‘the rest’ – which included regional universities like hers. Far from deterring her, Kathryn simply packed her bags and began applying for jobs, scoring a paralegal position with Freehills. “When you are a country girl, being told you’re working with Freehills is just, ‘WOW!’” laughed Kathryn.
She went on to NRMA, working in claims and insurance, followed by some in-house work with Mallesons and a year in a boutique firm. “It was good to work for a small firm where I could manage my own matters,” says Kathryn. “There were a lot of car matters to cut your teeth on, but also cases where factories burnt down, etc.” Still, she felt the need to move up, and worked out Ebsworth and Ebsworth before assuming her current role as in-house counsel for Stockland.
“I used to think that work was my life. Things change,” says Kathryn. “When I got engaged, I thought, ‘My legal career will be around for years, but I hope ‘he’ will be around until I die. I’m still passionate and love the law, but I’m not willing to screw myself over and make myself ill. I want to be an asset – not a commodity.”
Kathryn remains actively involved in NSW Young Lawyers and co-wrote the upcoming ‘Survive and Thrive’ handbook.