ILSA held a highly successful Meet-A-Lawyer event, where Mr Thomas John was the keynote speaker. Mr John is a Principal Legal Officer at the Hague Convention on Private International Law (Permanent Bureau), and has also worked as a lawyer, barrister, lecturer, and author.
By Alexandra Wagenaar
Mr Thomas John has a highly impressive resume. Since 2014, he has been working as a Principal Legal Officer at the Permanent Bureau of the Hague Convention on Private International Law. Prior to that, he was head of the Private International Law Section at the Australian Attorney-General’s Department. He has led numerous conventions and key reform projects, building on over ten years’ of experience in public service, private practice and legal scholarship.
Mr John has published several books and worked as a lawyer, barrister, in house counsel, and university lecturer. Furthermore, he has obtained undergraduate and postgraduate law degrees from civil and common law jurisdictions and is a member of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators.
Despite the profound respect and admiration he commands in the international community, Mr John gave off a remarkably grounded and approachable air as he stood before the Hague University audience to speak of the countless accomplishments of his career and give students practical advice on how to succeed.
Mr John spoke very articulately, in an enthusiastic and accessible manner, captivating the youthful audience his remarkable stage presence. He described his personal background, evoking two distinct reasons behind his decision to study law.
Firstly, influenced by his entrepreneurial parents, he did an internship at a bank, where he became inspired by his mentor, an avid supporter of the German Civil Code. Secondly, he recalled the horrific ordeal he experienced at a party, where a serious attempt was made on his life, and the subsequent criminal trial where the perpetrators’ lawyer did a trick which deprived him of a true feeling of justice.
This moved him to study law in the beautiful city of Konstanz, where he suddenly found himself lacking stimulation, having achieved the initial objective of qualifying. Uncertain, he started travelling when he was approached to join the new legal department of a bank. This was his self-proclaimed impetus to continue.
Shortly thereafter, Mr John fell in love with an Australian woman and decided to move to her country. Although the relationship ended, he remained there, working as an in-house counsel involved in commercial and banking law. He eventually resumed his studies, gaining another law degree.
Thereafter, he worked as a government lawyer and adviser to the Australian Federal Government and the Attorney General’s Office. Not only was he the head of the private international law section, -but was also attaché to the Secretary General, where there was an increasing focus on the law of international organisations and tribunals.
Mr John humbly took a moment to appreciate the numerous amazing people he worked with over the years, including leading academics, judges, lawyers, and many more. He reflected on the enjoyment he got from organising conferences and doing policy work in the field of reforming international commercial law in Australia. Following the “red line” through his career, he recalled his deep interest in organisational framework and constitutional, commercial, banking and trade law.
Seeing the fundamental thread in his career in terms of risks and his practical, logical approach thereto, he highlighted themes such as contractual issues, enforcement risks at the international level, confidentiality, cost factors, and the economic impact of such manners. He also discussed making justice more accessible and “levelling the playing field” by helping to create treaties at The Hague Conference on Private International Law.
Mr John spoke of the internationalism of the legal practice as a result of globalisation, fondly remembering feeling special about simply having his own email address in the earlier days of the internet, while expressing excitement as to the ever-changing nature of the law.
Listing off a variety of motivational recommendations, he spoke of how essential it is to constantly upscale and reinvent yourself, to be passionate about what you do, to work hard and push yourself outside your comfort zone in order to grow. He advised students to be vigilant in taking opportunities, sharing knowledge and continuously learning. Integrity, honesty, dedication, diplomacy and a strong moral compass were all assets he considered important.
Mr John provided a fascinating insight into the far-reaching work with which he has been involved and presented many interesting topics. He was a particularly informative, confident speaker, who answered the audience’s questions carefully and with a friendly sense of humour. It was a wonderful opportunity for all in attendance to enrich their knowledge and gain a real insight into the professional and academic legal sphere.