Nicholas Carney is a Partner at Herbert Smith Freehills. He graduated from UNSW Law in 2004 with a Bachelor of Commerce (Finance) and a Bachelor of Laws. In 2012 Nicholas was awarded a National Volunteer Award (Education category) for the electorate of Sydney for establishing a scholarship and mentoring program between Herbert Smith Freehills and the Come-In Youth Resource Centre, Paddington and was awarded Doyle’s ‘Rising Star’ for Planning and Environment law in 2016. Nicholas also sits on the University of New South Wales Council and the UNSW Risk Committee.

Describe your career path after university.

After graduating from UNSW Law, I worked for 18 months as the executive officer of a national campaign for a Human Rights Act for Australia. It was good fun and very challenging, though sadly unsuccessful in its ultimate goal. I then joined Freehills (as it then was). Over the past 11 years, I have worked in the M&A team, Banking Restructuring team and more recently in the Infrastructure and Projects team. I became a partner on 1 May 2017 of Herbert Smith Freehills (HSF).

What originally drew your interest to infrastructure law? What does a typical day for you look like?

I advise on major infrastructure projects. I was attracted to it because it involves the intersection of government and the private sector and occasionally not-for-profits. From an intellectual perspective, it also involves a wide range of legal issues, including contracts, finance, property, environment, tax, employment.

It is very satisfying to work on deals that affect people’s lives. For example, over the past 18 months, I have been advising the NSW Government on the Social and Affordable Housing Fund which will increase the supply of social housing in NSW by 2,200 dwellings. With 67,000 families on the NSW social housing wait list, these new dwellings will improve people’s lives and could provide a sustainable model to reduce the waiting list further here in NSW and in other States.

A typical day involves lots of drafting and reviewing contracts, meetings or phone calls with clients or opposing lawyers, hopefully some business development (aka marketing), too many emails and multiple trips to the lolly jar (I don’t drink coffee).

Who are you most influenced by?

The matriarchs in my family. My wife Sian, my mother Helen and my grandmother Monica.

What compelled you to create the Herbert Smith Freehills Social Mentoring Program with the Come-In Youth Resource Centre in Paddington? What is the most rewarding experience you have taken from this?

I joined Freehills’ Sydney Community Committee shortly after starting as a graduate and asked for a project. Fortunately the firm was keen to develop a relationship with an organisation which supported young people who are experiencing challenges in their lives. The Come-In Youth Resource Centre (which has recently changed its name to Centre 360) had supported a family friend of mine through some very tough times so I knew what a great organisation it was.

Working closely with the Centre, I and others at HSF developed an annual scholarship and mentoring program which is aimed at recognising and unleashing the potential in 10 young people who are connected with the centre. HSF has now awarded over 70 scholarships (of approx. $1,100) and provided mentors to young people from the centre. My favourite part of the program is the annual scholarship night when we give out the scholarships to the young people in front of their families and friends to recognise their potential.  

You have seats on the UNSW Council, UNSW Risk Committee and are a Director of the State Library of NSW Foundation Board. Could you share how you became involved in giving back to the community in this way and what it means to you?

I am grateful to UNSW for the education and the friends it gave me, so sitting on the Council is an opportunity for me to repay my debt of gratitude. I was fortunate to be a member of the UNSW Council when I was a student. I stayed involved in the University after I graduated through the UNSW Law Alumni Committee and threw my hat into the ring for a vacant Council position. I would encourage all graduates to look for opportunities to get involved in committees or advisory boards associated with the university.

The State Library of NSW Foundation Board opportunity was more serendipitous. They were looking for some new board members and I was looking for another charitable board. I was attracted to it because I love history and the State Library houses so much of our history in its $3bn collection. Institutions like the State Library have a critical role to play in celebrating the people and events which built this country.

How do you create a balance between your personal life, including your volunteer commitments, and your work at Herbert Smith Freehills? What lessons would you share with new graduates as they enter the workforce?

Life is about juggling commitments. I make time for what is important to me and what makes me happy. That often means working weekends or staying back late to get my HSF work done (which is essential – if you can’t do that then the gig is up) but I can justify it because volunteering activities and charitable boards give me energy. If I wasn’t involved in these things, I would be less effective in my role at HSF. As you enter the workforce, graduates should think about what’s important to them and how they can juggle it with their careers. Talk to others about what works for them.

What is your favourite memory from your time at of UNSW Law? And what makes you most proud of UNSW Law?

My favourite memory is producing the 2001 Law Revue “Dude, Where’s Bob Carr?” We thought it was funny…

I am proud of the enormous contribution UNSW Law makes to the legal profession and the community through its teaching, research and thought-leadership. 

What advice would you share with our UNSW Law students as they embark upon their careers?

Have fun and don’t take yourself too seriously.