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Alumni Chronicles Edition 1: Sebastian Cross, White & Case

Sebastian Cross, in conversation with Zoe Ellis.

Alumni Chronicles are designed to connect current Deakin Law students with their graduate counterparts. A way to see the future more concretely, each edition of the Alumni Chronicles gives a unique and personal insight into the path of a past Deakin Law student and shows current students one of the many ways their future may shape up. In this edition of Alumni Chronicles, we meet Sebastian Cross, a Deakin Alumni now working to help Australia’s renewable energy transition at White & Case.

I meet Sebastian Cross the way I’ve met many people the past few years—separated by the glass of our screens and miles shortened by Zoom. He’s immediately lacking some of that stiffness many have on video calls. He is warm in his greeting, letting me know that most people just call him ‘Bas’. Perhaps best of all, he’s excited by the Alumni Chronicles in the way I hoped he’d be; we both see the value in getting to connect current students with graduates of the past.

‘There’s not as many Deakin graduates out there….so it’s nice to have a touch point.’

The Alumni Chronicles were born from this sentiment he’s expressed so well. As students, we all crave a connection to those people who have graduated before us. We like to see that the people who have been in our position have made it through the other side and are thriving; their success gives us belief in our own ability to succeed.

We start from the most appropriate place, if not the most dynamic. The beginning.

‘I had probably a bit of an unconventional time at Deakin. I did my degree over 7.5 years…I did a double degree with Commerce, which I started straight after school. I effectively worked full time [at a firm] and did that for about 3.5 years.’

He’s immediately stumbled into an area that many don’t like to talk about—the extension of an already 5-year long degree. Going into a double degree, the prospect of 5-years, plus PLT, is already daunting. The classic ‘4 subject per trimester’ course load, combined with jobs and the other pressures of life causes no end of stress to many. Luckily, there’s an easy solution—underloading. But for many students, this solution isn’t talked about, and the prospect of extending your degree is intimidating. It’s refreshing to hear someone so openly talk about the benefits of slowing down. He praises Deakin’s flexibility, and the way the hybrid offerings gave him the chance to pursue his degree as just one facet of his career. Working full time while studying opened doors and gave him the opportunity to gain experience not otherwise available in his studies.

It becomes apparent that Sebastian is the sort of person who doesn’t do things half-heartedly. I catch that he mentions having gone overseas, and I’m immediately curious—did he do an exchange? A short course? An internship? As it turns out, the answer is all the above.

‘I did an exchange in Spain, an internship in Korea, and a short program at the London School of Economics.’

As a student who had nearly three years of university interrupted by a global pandemic, so much overseas travel is hard to imagine. But it’s not so much the overseas element that sticks out, but the message he has about the trips.

‘I really squeezed in everything I absolutely could.’ I tick them off in my head—Spain, Korea, London, a full-time legal job. He certainly did.

It’s not the end of this unconventional path. Although Sebastian lined up a graduate role after having completed his clerkship, he wasn’t ready to go straight into it.

‘I took a year off, and then I lived in the Kimberly in WA.’ He explains how a 6-week internship became a year-long job at Legal Aid. The lifestyle sounds incredible—finishing work and jumping in a tinny with mates and drinks, hiking in the evenings when the heat is a little less intense. But it’s clear that the fantastic lifestyle afforded by an environment where world class hikes, swims, and boating is at your front door helps balance the intensity of the role—Legal Aid in Kununurra does exclusively criminal defence work.

‘You rely on your mates; everyone is in a service role, and so you can confide in each other. To balance things out and it's important to enjoy the social aspect of such a unique experience though - A group of mates and I pitched in and bought a boat which was great way to spend our evenings and weekends .’

We like to focus a lot of time on mental health strategies, and how things like mindfulness and gratitude can help you feel at peace. And while that’s true, Sebastian brings it back to having fun. ‘I think it comes back to “are you fulfilled in other places of your life?” It’s the same in other places-you have to have other things going on, and that’s not just to be happy but to be successful. You need to be able to have other conversations and be an interesting person.’

We come to the end of his adventures in the Kimberly, and it’s taken a hop, step, and a jump, but we’ve gotten to now, to the modern office he’s calling from. Sebastian is now an Associate at White & Case. Hearing of his adventures abroad and in Australia, it’s of little surprise to me that he has ended up at White & Case, the firm self-described as ‘Truly Global’.

He tells me about his Clerkships experience, and how as students, the process is as much for us to feel-out potential employees and the culture of their workplaces, as it is an opportunity for firms to scope grads. ‘I really liked White & Case…All the soft things I really enjoyed—the culture is great, the people are great, it’s been absolutely the right choice. It’s been intense—it has that sort of New York edge to it. But you’re pushed out earlier, you have client roles earlier. I love that.’

‘And I like what they’re about and where they’re doing.. White & Case is working on Australia’s first offshore wind project—Star of the South—so they’re really at the forefront of that green transition and renewables, and that’s what resonated with me.’

White & Case advises ‘Star of the South’, what will be Australia’s first offshore wind project. The project will have the ability to supply up to 20% of Victoria’s energy needs, while also creating jobs for Victorians and investment opportunities.

As our time rapidly comes to an end, I’m relieved to learn that behind this lawyer that seems to have his life so together, there is someone who irons a new shirt every day because ‘…while I’d like to say I do them all on the weekend, that doesn’t always happen.’ I cast a thought to the pile of washing in my laundry; lawyers—it turns out they’re just like us!

Then we get to that awkward moment in wrapping up where I need to ask him for his advice. He laughs a little, noting that the best advice really is ‘…such a trope…it’s a bit of a cliché…but I think the best thing to do is to take as many opportunities as you can, wherever that is. I think to succeed you don’t just need to be a good lawyer, you need to be an interesting person.’

I think about the conversation we’ve just had, where in a few minutes I’ve heard about a Deakin Alumni who has made his way around the world to learn, across the country to serve, and landed back in Victoria in a dynamic firm at the forefront of the Australian energy transition.

‘I think about the Kimberley…and that was something I just did because I thought it would be a bit of fun.’

Striving to be an interesting person has sure paid off, and that is a lesson I think we can all learn.

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