The dux of Kincumber High School in 1999 was Rachel Peckham, a student who was involved in just about every available extracurricular; the debating team, the SRC, Anzac Day speeches, zone cross-country and a Year 11 trip to Russia as part of an international student program operated through Rotary. But Rachel’s achievements didn’t stop there. While completing her Bachelor of Media and Law at Macquarie University, Rachel was invited to be a member of the Golden Key Society for students with high grades, was the recipient of the Deans Award for Outstanding Academic Achievement and graduated with First Class Honours in 2004.
Despite her numerous awards, Rachel says that success has nothing to do with money or prestige; “I have worked with many people who the outside world might classify as a success because they earn a lot of money, but it is clear to me that they are not happy with their lives ... To me, these people aren’t successful because they are clearly miserable! I think that anyone who is following their passion and is doing what makes them happy is a successful person. The most interesting people I know now are the ones who have followed their own path and haven’t necessarily conformed to the mainstream way of doing things.”
“I think when you’re at school you tend to think that you’re never going to leave. But looking back now, it is actually such a short time of your life. It can also be such a fun time of your life, especially if you choose to take advantage of all the opportunities that are available when you’re there.”
For Rachel, her success comes down to a work/ life balance which integrates her love of travelling. In the fourth year of her degree, Rachel went on a student exchange to the University of British Columbia, Canada and spent a month travelling through Europe. It was important to her that she still had these opportunities when she started working full time.
After graduating, Rachel started her legal career working at the NSW Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions in Sydney. In this role, Rachel advocated in the District and Supreme Courts and was the instructing solicitor in several high-profile cases involving sexual assault and drugs charges. After two years in this position, she decided to live and work overseas and moved to London in 2008, where she remained for five years. She worked as a commercial litigation lawyer at a top tier firm, but still found time to fit in some unforgettable travel experiences, such as seeing the Northern Lights in Iceland, snowboarding in France for Christmas and going to the Sahara Desert in Morocco. Rachel also found time to dedicate to charity, and through her firm’s pro bono department she represented victims of domestic violence in court and secured AVO’s against their partners.
Since returning to Sydney in late 2012 Rachel has turned her attention from the private sector to the public, and has been working as an in-house lawyer for the NSW state government, specialising in advisory and legislative work, mainly on environmental law issues. Rachel says that “the focus of my job is to provide legal advice to various NSW Departments. For example, when ICAC found that former politicians had been corrupt in their dealings with mining and water licences, it was up to my Legal Branch to provide advice on how to change the legislation to cancel these tainted licences.” The public sector has the flexibility to allow Rachel to pursue interests outside of work, something particularly important now that Rachel is expecting a baby.
Rachel says that things can seem very different in retrospect, “I think when you’re at school you tend to think that you’re never going to leave. But looking back now, it is actually such a short time of your life. It can also be such a fun time of your life, especially if you choose to take advantage of all the opportunities that are available when you’re there.”