First NT-born QC reflects on law faculty's origins 

Michael Grant is the first Northern Territory-born lawyer to become a Queens Counsel

The first Northern Territory-born lawyer to become a Queen’s Counsel might not have taken his career path if he had not made a trip home to visit his parents.

Michael Grant had initially started an economics degree at Sydney University, dropping out to work on oil rigs and travel the world before deciding on the law.

‘I was back home in Darwin visiting Mum and Dad when I noticed that a law degree was starting up,’ says Grant, who last week made history as the first Territory-born lawyer to take silk.

‘So I thought I would try my hand at law,’ he adds.

Behind the nonchalance of the remark, though, lies the years of study and commitment that were required to become a practising lawyer.

Grant was among the first intake of 40 law students to begin their studies in 1987 in the fledgling law faculty located at the old Darwin Hospital site, now a patch of vacant ground at the western end of Smith Street overlooking Cullen Bay.

At that time, however, the law faculty was attached to the University of Queensland, with the lecturers flying in from Brisbane to take classes.

‘As students, though, we were part of the University College of the Northern Territory,’ recalls Grant. ‘About half-way through the course the name was changed to the Northern Territory University.’

‘But I spent most of my time at the old hospital site, where arts and law were studied. I don’t recall taking classes out at Casuarina, which was mainly where the science courses were held.’

Studying law on the old Darwin Hospital site had a certain nostalgic appeal for Grant, who had been born at the hospital – leading him to reflect that the site had done ‘double-duty’ in his life and education.

And it was at law school that he met his wife, Marita Fitzpatrick, who was also studying law. The couple now have three daughters.

The first graduates from the law course were handed their degrees in 1991, and the University of Queensland law courses were finally phased out in 1993.

For Michael Grant, however, his law studies were interrupted for a year in the middle when he took a year off to work in a Sydney legal firm.

Back in Darwin after graduation in 1992, Grant worked as lawyer for the Attorney-General’s Department (now the Department of Justice) and later went into private practice, becoming a barrister.

In the late 1990s he lectured part-time in law at the Northern Territory University.

He now works in the field of personal injury, property law and acts as legal counsel in coronial inquiries.

His elevation to Queen’s Counsel as the first NT-born and educated lawyer means another milestone.

His appointment as QC will be the last appointment by the Queen’s representative. Under a Bill before the NT Parliament the appointment of distinguished barristers will no longer need the vice-regal assent of the NT Administrator.

In future, assuming the Bill is passed, the Territory’s Chief Justice will be able to recommend to the Attorney-General who becomes a Senior Counsel – the alternative to Queens Counsel, a role that will disappear in the Territory.

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