Posted on 18 Mar. 2016
From Tamworth to New York – Fiona Ley's legal adventure
By Slater and Gordon
Our Senior Associate Fiona Ley is safely back in Tamworth managing the Slater and Gordon office, but there was a time not too long ago when she was blocked from leaving her New York home by a snowstorm.
‘We did have snowstorms. I usually caught the subway to work, but when it snowed heavily, a ‘snow day’ was declared and I’d have to stay home.’
Fiona moved to New York City following a successful stint at Slater and Gordon, and ended up living stateside for almost three years.
‘I miss the snow in winters, the buzz and energy of the city, and the characters of New York. Every day there would be an incident or other – like the time when I witnessed two people hollering at each other from the different ends of a crowded New York subway car in rush hour.
‘I also miss Broadway shows, running in Central Park, the changing seasons, and being immersed in US politics and social affairs.’
During Fiona’s New York adventure, she passed her New York Bar exam and practiced personal injury law in a Manhattan law firm as Special Counsel.
‘I started in personal injury back when I was at university and I practiced for years in Slater and Gordon Lawyers Sydney office. I received my specialist accreditation in 2010. In 2011 I went on holiday to New York to see a friend, who introduced me to an Australian lawyer who told me how she had sat the New York Bar exam.
‘The New York Bar exam has a reputation as a difficult exam and I found it interesting as an intellectual curiosity.'
'I am fascinated by the American constitution, how state and federal governments interact in the U.S. compared to Australia, and the personal injury schemes in the U.S.'
‘I made multiple trips to New York over the following year, and in 2012, I passed the exam. Once I had my qualifications, it made sense to see if could find work over there. I left Slater and Gordon to go to New York and find work, which I did after interviewing with a few different firms.'
Life in New York
‘I lived on the Upper West Side, a block from the Dakota Building (where John Lennon lived and Yoko Ono still lives) and minutes from Central Park. I had some close and wonderful friends, and travelled the US and neighbouring countries at weekends and on vacation. I also trained for and ran the New York City Marathon, and got involved in community legal activities and other volunteer social welfare work.
‘Living in New York has emboldened me even more to take a tough stance on behalf of my clients. I was often in court in New York and I grew from the challenge of the other lawyers’ fearlessness and passion. New Yorkers say what they think – and are stimulated by engaging in vigorous debate. Here in Australia, we’re a lot more reserved, and conscious of sharing our opinions. My time overseas has only enhanced my passion for the law and determination to zealously advocate on behalf of my clients. I am proud to represent the people of Tamworth and surrounds and deliver them world class legal services.
‘I had no idea my American experience would turn me into a global citizen; now, I’ve seen and lived with people from all parts of the world in a way that causes me to think bigger and consider others’ perspectives more. I’m also a much prouder Australian and am seeing my own country in a whole new light, with much greater appreciation for the advantages we have here and the naturally beautiful country that is Australia.
A calmer life
‘I moved back to Tamworth last November after the opportunity to lead the Slater and Gordon Tamworth office arose, and when serendipitously my boyfriend, who is also from Tamworth, proposed to me. It seemed like the right time to return – after having a wonderful time in New York – and knowing that although I will always miss it, I had an incredible experience and memories to treasure.
‘I’m proud to say that Slater & Gordon was supportive of me rejoining the firm and coming to the Tamworth office upon my return.'
‘It’s only been a few months back, but my life is a lot different. I do more outdoor activities now, spend more time with my family, who are from Tamworth, and tend not to go out to as many shows or restaurants. It’s a vastly different lifestyle – and a relatively calmer life.'
‘My work remains challenging, though. I feel more personally invested in my clients here compared to when I worked in New York – I guess because Tamworth is my hometown.'
‘Although I sadly won’t be in the U.S. for the 2016 presidential election, and potentially the first female president, I am still keeping on top of daily politics by listening to podcasts on my drive from the farm into work, and reading the newspapers online.
‘I’d like to especially thank (State Practice Group Leader, Asbestos) Joanne Wade who was supportive of my returning to Slater and Gordon, and (Group Managing Director) Andrew Grech. I met up with Andrew in New York last year and he was instrumental in encouraging me to rejoin the firm.’
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