When a couple of Western Sydney University alumni met for a meal, they didn’t expect it would change the course of their careers. Bill Petrovski and Robert Ishak, both law graduates, had spent the first few years of their careers working in law firms when Bill casually mentioned the idea of starting a law firm together over their main course. “I said maybe, and a couple of days later Bill called me and asked if I was serious,” Robert says. “Initially I wasn’t, but within half an hour of that conversation, we both handed in our resignations.”
The pair met again, drafted a business plan on a napkin, and their practice William Roberts Lawyers (a play on their first names) was born.
Eighteen months after starting out, another classmate, Carlos Jaramillo, joined as a third principal, and at one point, half the lawyers they employed were Western Sydney University graduates. The firm recently celebrated a decade in business, during which it has expanded to over 40 lawyers and 20 support staff across offices in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Singapore. William Roberts Lawyers has also been named an Employer of Choice at the Australian Business Awards multiple times, as well as being named a finalist for Dispute Resolution Team of the Year in the 2014 and 2015 Lawyers Weekly Australian Law Awards.
Having started the firm while they were all in their 20s, Robert attributes their success, in part, to a fresh, innovative approach. “We call it fire in the belly – we’re still young, still hungry,” he says. “We leverage technology to level the playing-field so as to enable us to compete with top-tier law firms.”
The practical nature of the Western Sydney University education that he, Bill and Carlos received is another of the firm’s strengths.
“It made us fearless – it instilled in us the attitude that if you work hard, you can achieve.” Robert returned to the University as a casual lecturer for a few years after he graduated, and he continues to keep in touch with his former teachers. His firm has also stayed true to its roots, hosting events for Western Sydney University and offering the annual William Roberts Law Award for the top student in the dispute resolution unit. The prize winner is invited to join the firm for a few weeks, experiencing what it’s like to work in litigation.
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