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27 January 2017

High school drop-out to be sworn in as Australia's first woman chief justice

In three days' time, Susan Kiefel's extraordinary legal career will reach new heights as she assumes leadership of the High Court of Australia.

By Kathryn Higgins

Malgorzata Smigielska

Justice Kiefel’s upcoming tenure Australia’s chief justice has captured the public imagination for more than one reason. Not only will she be the first woman to ever hold the position, but in an industry still dogged by elitism and sluggish mobility, she has arrived at the top through sheer grit and determination. After leaving high school at 15 years old, Justice Kiefel’s career in law began when she secured a job working as a secretary at a Brisbane law firm. She studied for completion of her high school qualifications part-time while working at the firm, before later studying law part time through the barristers’ admission board. After practicing at the bar and then winning a master of laws from the University of Cambridge, Justice Kiefel became the first woman in the state of Queensland to take silk in 1987. She was appointed to the Queensland Supreme Court in 1993 and the Federal Court of Australia in 1994, and has served a tenure as president of the Queensland Bar Association.

Now, the 62-year-old Justice Kiefel is preparing to succeed current Chief Justice Robert French on 30 January. Announcing her appointment in January, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull described Justice Kiefel’s career as ‘an inspiration’ for young lawyers: ‘Justice Kiefel's talent and commitment to her profession has taken her to Australia’s highest judicial office. Justice Kiefel’s success should serve as an inspiration to all young people considering a career in law,’ he said.

Sources: Australasian Lawyer; The Australian

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