07/30/2015 04:42 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

My Journey: Assisting Businesses to 'Bridge the Gap' Between Australia and the United States


The United States is Australia's fourth largest export market with goods and services exports continuing to steadily increase each year. It is also the second largest importer of goods and services into Australia and as of May 2015, Australia remains the 14th largest export market for the U.S. Australia enjoys a long history of strong ties to the U.S., including government and military relationships, and as the statistics show, the signs all point to continued growth in trade relations between the two countries.

Over the last 5 years or so as technology and innovation has boomed around the globe so too have the number of Australian entrepreneurs looking to bigger markets such as the U.S. and, similarly, large companies like Facebook, Yahoo and Google, have also made the move into international markets, including Australia. U.S. expansion is certainly not limited to these industries though. Australians have long looked towards the U.S. as it presents an exciting and much expanded market for Australian goods and services . Entering a new market anywhere in the world though is no easy feat, particularly when significant distance and different time zones are involved, different laws apply and there are cultural and language differences that often exist as well. Failing to adequately prepare for these factors can lead to problems and costly mistakes.

In 2010, I was a partner-level lawyer in Australia and although I had a fantastic job that I loved, I was going through some horrific personal issues following an extremely difficult relationship breakup. What transpired following the end of the relationship was nothing short of a nightmare, something that horror movies are made of. For 18 months I was embroiled in the legal system, but this time from a personal perspective, desperately trying to get the authorities to assist me. I was in and out of court frequently as my ex continued to breach the intervention (restraining) order that the court had awarded me against him. It was an experience that I can only reflect upon and look at as if I am talking about someone else, because I never again want to relive those dark days.

At the time it was difficult to see the forest for the trees and I could not imagine that I was ever going to be able to live a normal life again. However, my grandmother, who I was immensely close to, was the most positive and inspirational person I have ever known in my life, and even though she was no longer with me when I was struggling through the experience, I tried to think of her throughout and remember that there just had to be some reason why it was all happening, some reason that would lead me to a something positive at the end of my journey. That thought gave me the strength and hope to get through and believe that I would be okay if I turned the journey into something positive.

The court has recommended that I consider changing my identity, but I was determined not to do this as I felt to do so would mean that my ex had achieved what he had set out to do and I had worked too hard building my career to let him do that to me. The court directed that I attend sessions with the victims of crime center to talk through the issues and during a session with a counselor there she asked whether I had considered moving to another country for a while as an alternative. I hadn't thought of that as an option. I have always been extremely close to my family and although I had travelled the world extensively, the thought of leaving them on a more permanent basis seemed unimaginable to me. I decided that I would visit some friends in the U.S. and see how I felt. Once there I felt a really strange pull, as if perhaps I really was meant to take this journey. By the end of the trip I had decided that if I could pass the California bar then I would make the move to Los Angeles.

My boss in Australia was extremely supportive of my decision. I could not have made the move without his assistance and support and for that I am incredibly grateful. He assisted me by allowing me to travel back and forth to the U.S. to complete requirements to obtain admission to the California bar and introduced me to various people, including my current firm. Although practicing law in the U.S. had its challenges to begin with and it took me much longer than I had anticipated to get through all of the regulation and required steps to obtain admission, I remained determined throughout the process. I strongly believed that there was a huge gap in the legal market in the U.S.-Australia space and a real opportunity to create the type of legal practice that would not only create great personal satisfaction but would also mean that clients could be serviced in a more efficient and effective manner.

When companies are looking to expand internationally they often obtain local legal advice. Although in isolation the advice might be correct, there is nonetheless potential risk to miss consideration of the types of issues that can arise in a cross-border context. Unless a company's legal requirements are considered from a global perspective, these issues are often overlooked, something that I had seen occur frequently. Expanding business outside of Australia for example, can trigger requirements under taxation, employment, migration and data-protection and privacy laws.

Recognizing the difficulties that businesses face when moving across borders, and the amount of interest in the U.S. that I saw coming out of Australia, I sought about developing a unique practice that specializes in assisting companies in this Australia-U.S. space. My current firm, Littler Mendelson, the largest labor and employment firm in the world, believed in my vision as they too saw the huge potential. Littler was prepared to provide me with the opportunity to demonstrate that it was something worth investing in. Developing the U.S.-Australia practice has been an incredibly rewarding experience.

I am extremely passionate about the practice that I have established as it enables me to help companies to 'bridge the gap' to market entry in both directions and, together with my team, we also work closely with the Australian government and various state governments, working to encourage trade and investment back into Australia. To further this initiative, in October Littler will be expanding its presence in the Australian market by running events in Adelaide, Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne with AusTrade and the state governments. The events will be aimed at providing essential information to Australian companies considering U.S. expansion.

Since the introduction of the United States-Australia Free Trade Agreement ("FTA"), entered into force on January 1, 2005 , business between the U.S. and Australia is now easier than ever before. As such, there is a real need for service providers to develop ways to make doing international business more efficient and cost effective for clients. This is really at the heart of why I developed the AU-US team at Littler. I am passionate about the work that our unique practice does for clients by focusing on global, cross-border legal issues as we are able to offer our clients the type of services that will undoubtedly be sought after increasingly in the future. From a personal perspective, I am also extremely thankful that I was fortunate to have found happiness and fulfillment at the end of such a horrible time in my life. My experiences, although extremely difficult at the time, have made me strong and have brought me to where I am today. I am incredibly grateful for the love, support and assistance that so many people were willing to provide me along the way and I know without a doubt that I could not have experienced success in many aspect of my life without them. Whenever I hear talk about the selfishness and unkindness of humanity today I like to remember how so many people were there for me during my times of struggle because it reminds me that there are so many good people in the world and we really should have more faith in humanity. I genuinely believe that in life if we just show kindness towards others then kindness and happiness comes back to us ten-fold.