Tuesday, 27 February 2024
OIU News caught up with Harry Lawless (OR2010) , a lawyer from Sydney who headed to United States Capital Washington D.c.C two years ago for a policy role with the world's largest development institution, The World Bank. Harry has advised Governments in a range of countries including Ghana, Ethiopia, Sri Lanka and Fiji.   

Q: Seeing the world through a 'View boy's eyes. Did you ever think in those deepest, darkest July day in Canberra, you would end up in Washington D.C.?

A:  I did a really good internship in DC in my second year at university, through ANU, with Senator Kirsten Gillibrand from New York. It was six students from ANU and six from Flinders Uni in South Australia, living in a big share house in bunkbeds, and it was so much fun. In the back of my mind, I always thought it would be great to go back. I spent my first few years out of Uni at the law firm Henry Davis York in Sydney which then became Norton Rose Fulbright. After a few years I began vaguely planning a move to the States, which culminated in travelling to Saratoga Springs in New York in 2019 to sit the Bar Exams. I came back to Australia, found out I’d passed, and had just started sending out CVs to the New York law firms, when a combination of things happened – I’d met a girl, now my wife, and it seemed to be going well,  then there was COVID, and also a great opportunity emerged through Norton Rose to work as a solicitor for the NSW Government inquiry into the Crown Casino. As a result of those factors the prospect of moving overseas didn’t seem as appealing. Then in 2021, after the Crown inquiry, I was burnt out on private practice and ready for a change. And out of left field my boss at the time made me aware of an opportunity to apply for a job at the World Bank. It was originally a short term opportunity, working from Australia for a team in DC, to write a report. So I worked remotely from Australia for nine months  which was pretty surreal, in the middle of lockdowns, getting up for 2am for calls with DC. Then it gradually snowballed into the job I have now, and I moved here in March 2022.

Q: It must be amazing.. 

A:  It is amazing. The thing I find most incredible about the World Bank is its convening power. For example, we just wrapped up a project, we're trying to understand how our area of work – insolvency law reform – intersects with climate change and how and whether we can change what we’re doing with that information. So we can put the call out with two months notice to leading lawyers across the world, academics, practitioners – people that would never have picked up the phone to Harry from Norton Rose Fulbright - and they basically only too happy to drop what they were doing and come to DC to contribute to this project. The quality of people you get to work with is incredible.  

Q: And there is clearly a need for these fledgling democracies to build the legal infrastructure that developed nations such as Australia have taken for granted. 

A: Exactly. I work in a team focused on market reforms to strengthen the financial sector, with the goals of increasing investment and access to credit. Reforms to insolvency laws is one of the ways a country can do that because what happens when a person can’t repay their debts is a key factor in the decision of lenders or investors to invest, and a predictable insolvency law puts in place an orderly process for that situation. It’s a global team but I’ve mostly been working in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia. Then you have the challenge that there is so much more to a working law than just the letter of the law, so a lot of our work is also around strengthening the capacity of the people that give life to the law, such as judges and lawyers. And then because this area of law can be a bit technical, in addition to the actual technical law reform work, a lot of my job is also explaining and demystifying it for governments.

Q: What’s it like living in Washington D.C.? Having lived and worked in Canberra, you can see the similarities in terms of the built environment and the notion that you're surrounded by power.? 

A:  I loved studying in Canberra. I think of it as halfway between a country town and a city, and its pretty suburban whereas DC is a true city. Probably the best thing about D.C. is the expat energy. There are lots of Australians here which is great but even the Americans you meet, most of them have come to D.C. for work rather than having grown up here, so everyone’s pretty friendly. It’s also been a great base to explore the rest of the country.  

Q: Have you made it out to Georgetown? 

A:  Yeah I go running in Georgetown. I live up in Adams Morgan, which is like, sort of not quite neighboring, but a 20 minute walk.

Q:  People are going to read this and go, Harry is living in a country, which from where we sit, is completely democratically fraying at the edges. The prospect of  Donald Trump as President is a real prospect. What's it like, on the ground, heading into an election year? 

A:  My job is 100 per cent removed from US politics. I am fundamentally a USophile and have a lot of faith in the resilience of the country. Some of the challenges in the US at the moment underscore how good we have it in Australia, really, and living here has cemented for me what I already knew which is that Australia is without a doubt the best country in the world. Interestingly, in an election year, you think it's all happening in D.C. but it's the one time every four years where the political class is focused, you know, out in the rest of the country, out on the hustings, everywhere but D.C. 

Q:   Sport in the US. Are you into Baseball ? Also I read somewhere that the Super Bowl Game Time was 14 minutes out of four and a half hours ?.

A:  I haven't quite managed to get my head around baseball. I think you only have room in your life for one slow bat on ball sport, obviously  for me it is cricket. The American football I've come to like a lot. I’m in a fantasy football league and I love the culture of just spending your entire Sunday on the couch. 

Q:  Finally, do you often reflect on some of the building blocks that the Riverview provided you? Is that something that you can just comment on? 

A:   I think Riverview does two things in combination better than any other school. First of all I took from Riverview the lesson that you are no better than anybody else. Second, our School Motto Quantum Potes Tantam Aude – which to me means, recognise how lucky you are, work hard, and not just for yourself. 

Q: Thanks very much for your time.