Raising the bar on native title

Flinders law graduate Michael Pagsanjan has become Young SA Lawyer of the Year.

Law Society of South Australia president Mr Tim Mellor says Mr Pagsanjan, principal at MPS Law in Adelaide, “is regarded throughout the profession as a committed, skilled, professional and passionate lawyer with the utmost ethical integrity”.

After several years working for the SA Native Title Service, Michael Pagsanjan founded MPS Law which specialises in native title, commercial law, dispute resolution and strategic partnering.

“While still dealing with the establishment of his firm, Michael provided many hundreds of hours of pro bono services to unfunded indigenous clients,” Mr Mellor says.

“At the firm, he has made significant contributions to Indigenous communities and the development of native title law, including the resolution of several native title claims.

“Helping to finalise Australia’s first successful native title compensation determination (South Australia’s De Rose Hill determination in 2013) paved the way for future native title compensation applications.

“Michael has recently been working on the confidential negotiation of a large-scale native title settlement in Western Australia involving several thousand traditional owners.”

“While still dealing with the establishment of his firm, Michael provided many hundreds of hours of pro bono services to unfunded indigenous clients,” Mr Mellor says.

Mr Pagsanjan, who graduated LLBLP(Hons)/BIS 2009, says native title claims were largely untested.

“Until the De Rose Hill Compensation Consent Determination, there had only ever been one unsuccessful compensation claim,” he says.

“Following this determination, several other compensation claims were lodged, including an additional claim in South Australia that I lodged and was the subject of a consent determination last year.

“Native title compensation is currently the subject of a Special Leave Application to the High Court.

“I am currently involved in other native title compensation matters around Australia.”

Principal and MPS Law founder Mr Pagsanjan welcomes new recruits Tayla Inglis, Anna Nelligan and Wendy Gilbert.

At the age of 33, Mr Pagsanjan (pictured with another Flinders graduate Tayla Inglis, left, at MPS Law recently), credits much of his success to “good luck, a passion for social justice and strong mentors”, including at DLA Phillips Fox (now DLA Piper) which gave him a pro bono secondment, an Aurora Internship at Cape York Land Council and clerkship early in his university studies.

“I was then fortunate to start my post-admission career as a solicitor at DLA Phillips Fox.

“Throughout university I volunteered with not-for-profit organisations and was particularly interested in the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.

“In many ways, working in native title – first at Cape York Land Council and then at South Australian Native Title Services, and now in my own practice – is a good fit.

“Working with First Nations is inspiring in and of itself but my practice also allows me to pursue my passion to be an agent of change.

“In saying this, my formative years as a practising solicitor at a commercial law firm also gave me an invaluable skill set that allows me to now practice in a variety of areas so that the practice is sustainable.”

Mr Pagsanjan feels fortunate to have been helped by “a number of like-minded mentors … senior practitioners who were always willing to share ideas and resources”.

“I have always had a solid network of respected mentors who I now regard as close friends and colleagues. These colleagues have caused me to continually seek out ways to be better.”

Paying tribute to his wife and extended family, Mr Pagsanjan says the demands of running his own busy practice is still teaching him many things.

“In fact, I am always learning new skills and seeking out opportunities to improve.

“What I do know is that the catchphrase of ‘work smarter, not harder’ is misleading.

“While you can always find ways to be more efficient, the reality is results require hard work, and being a lawyer is no exception.”

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