Laina Chan has been named as a winner in the Top 100 Women in Construction 2023.
Laina is an appellate advocate with a significant appellate practice. Laina works on complex disputes with an emphasis in construction, property and insurance law. Recognised as the distinct expert in Australia on the interplay between construction and insurance law, Laina is the 2021 Lawyers Weekly Female Barrister of the year. She has also been a finalist for the Lawyers Weekly Australian Barrister of the Year for 2019, 2020, 2021 and 2022.
Her win in the New South Wales Court of Appeal has been life changing for the appellant in Aslan v Stepanoski  NSWCA 24 where she successfully overturned a judgment of $2.6million against her contractor client. Laina appeared in the seminal case on the Design and Building Practitioners Act 2020 (NSW) on the scope of the extended statutory duty of care at trial and on appeal: see Roberts v Goodwin Street Developments Pty Ltd  NSWCA 5.
Laina is also the "go to" counsel in property law, conveyancing and retail lease disputes. See for example Huang v 18 Woodville Holding Pty Ltd; Tao v 18 Woodville Holding Pty Ltd  NSWCA 15 where she sought to extend the application of the principle in Burke v Dawes (1938) 59 CLR 1;  HCA 6 to the equivalent section in the Real Property Act 1900 (NSW). Her win in the New South Wales Supreme Court in Goyal v West  NSWSC 526 is significant. She was briefed by the New South Wales Pro Bono Scheme to appear at an urgent expedited hearing on the statutory construction of 182G of the Retirement Villages Act 1999 (NSW). The case has created "new law" that will benefit all residents and former occupants of retirement villages going forward.
Strategy, execution and resolution As your counsel, Laina strives to achieve the optimal resolution for your dispute utilising her legal, commercial and strategic skills.
Adept at identifying the rights and liabilities of the parties to a dispute, Laina will design the best strategy to achieve favourable client outcomes. Depending upon the needs of the clients, these outcomes may be achieved via negotiation or via contested hearings. Rest assured that Laina will utilise the most appropriate means to resolve your client’s dispute. This is likely to involve a combination of court room advocacy and her negotiation skills.
Laina is a fearless and ethical advocate who is willing to push the envelope to encourage the systematic development of the law both at first instance and also on appeal. Her negotiation technique is based upon the open, collaborative and relationship building methodology advocated at Harvard Business School. Laina used this technique and settled 12 matters in the six months following completion of her Harvard Business School Negotiation course in 2018 on extremely favourable terms. This included the settlement of 2 matters which had been the subject of 2 failed mediations at subsequent informal settlement conferences on better terms than had been on the table at the failed mediations.
Arbitration In 2013, Laina completed the advanced ICC Institute PIDA Training on international arbitral practice at the ICC headquarters in Paris. In the last few years, she has presented throughout Australia and in New York on the enforcement of international arbitral awards in the Asia Pacific. She has been published in Construction Law International as well as the New York International Law Review on the issue. She has advised widely on the impact of Arbitration Clauses in Commercial Contracts and also appeared in Traxys Europe SA v Balaji Coke Industry PVT Ltd (No 2) (2012) 201 FCR 535.
Subject Matter Expertise Laina has been commissioned to overhaul of the annotated Insurance Contracts Act 1984 for the LexisNexis Australian Insurance Law Practice. It is pleasing that since November 2022 and under her authorship, readership of the annotated Insurance Contracts Act has gone up in excess of 450%.
Laina authored the chapters on professional liability and insuring risk in construction projects in the fourth edition of Bailey's Construction Law in Australia, a Thomsen Reuters publication. She co-authored a book with Professor JW Carter on Contract and Consumer Law which was published by Federation Press in March 2019. The book looks at how Consumer Guarantees, Unfair Contract Terms, Misleading or Deceptive Conduct and Unconscionable Conduct have modified the law of contract. Her recent work with Professor JW Carter published in the Building and Construction Law Journal on the new way for quantum meruit claims is widely referenced by the professions.
Her publications are recommended reading at courses taught at the University of Sydney, the University of Melbourne Masters of Construction Law Course, the University of Queensland and many others. A published paper on the lessons to be learned from the failure of the Lane Cove Tunnel has been very well received by the geotechnical community as well as McDougall J, the trial judge and may be downloaded here.
Since Laina has been at the bar, she has been briefed on a range of professional indemnity matters defending construction professionals, town planners, pre-purchase building inspectors, real estate agents, financial planners, stock brokers and lawyers as well as commercial disputes involving guarantees and indemnities. See for example Gupta v Fordham Laboratories Pty Ltd  NSWSC 551 (Specific Performance of a Retail Lease), Gupta v Fordham Laboratories Pty Ltd (No 2)  NSWSC 694 (gross sum costs order), Thiess v Parsons Brinckerhoff  NSWSC 173 (concerning the collapse of the Lane Cove Tunnel), Aquatec-Maxcon Pty Ltd v Barwon Region Water Authority (No. 2)  VSC 117 (a significant authority often cited on proportionate liability), Tabbouch v Devlin (2008) 14 BPR 26,325;  NSWSC 600 (whether a contract for sale had been properly rescinded), Brand v Monks  NSWSC 1454 (professional negligence of a town planner), Monaghan Surveyors Pty Ltd v Stratford Glen-Avon Pty Ltd  NSWCA 94 (professional negligence of a surveyor) and Filmlock Pty Ltd v Nissi Investments Pty Ltd (no 2)  NSWSC 959.
Laina graduated from the University of Sydney in 1994 and commenced working for the then Justice Clarke in the Court of Appeal as his researcher, carrying out detailed research and preparing draft judgments including that of Woollahra Municipal Council v Sved & ors (1996) 40 NSWLR 101 and Akins v National Australia Bank (1994) 34 NSWLR 155. For the 6 months of the 2 years that she worked for the judge, she was assigned to Justice Michael Kirby as his researcher where she had the opportunity to work closely with the judge and to also prepare several draft judgments. Those judgments include Nicholson v Nicholson (1994) 35 NSWLR 308, Forgeard v Shanahan (1994) 35 NSWLR 206 and several more.
Most rewarding of all, Laina has been able to apply her skills as a barrister and as a business person to assist Tribal Warrior Association as their Executive Manager of Fundraising to raise funds for the continuation and expansion of the Clean Slate Without Prejudice Program. The CSWP program is a collaboration between the Redfern Police and Tribal Warrior Association and was featured on First Contact on SBS in November 2014. The CSWP program is credited with virtually eliminating indigenous juvenile crime in the Redfern area.
I met Laina Chan, a prominent construction barrister and academic, in 2015 in my capacity as President of the Australian Insurance Law Association.
Listed as one of the Top 100 Women in Construction in 2020, Laina possesses notable experience and expertise in the field of construction law. Whether dealing with contractual disputes, the complex and technical aspects of construction law, or regulatory matters, Laina consistently demonstrates a solid understanding of legal complexities, coupled with a pragmatic approach. What sets Laina apart is her dedication to her clients. Laina’s approach is thorough and precise, and she consistently achieves favourable outcomes.
Laina contributes significantly to the advancement of construction law in Australia. Her work, including research and publications, has enriched the collective knowledge of this specialised area of the law. Laina excels in conveying complex legal concepts in an accessible manner through her engaging lectures and well considered papers.
In addition to her legal and academic achievements, Laina upholds professionalism and personal integrity. Laina is champion of young professionals and her accessibility, responsiveness, and willingness to offer guidance supports the development of the next generation of insurance lawyers and practitioners. Laina’s unwavering commitment to ethical standards has earnt her the respect of her peers and her clients.
I confidently endorse Laina and recommend her services to those seeking an experienced construction law barrister. Laina’s contribution to this area of the law is commendable, and it is always a privilege to collaborate with her.
Laina conducts herself with integrity. Laina is, in my view, a practitioner worthy of note, her capable intelligence has made her a trusted sounding board for myself and my team. She has acted for Berkley Insurance Australia on many occasions both in NSW and Western Australia in contested hearings. Her consistent diligence, integrity and intellectual honesty is what sets her apart from average. She willingly goes the extra mile, recently where an error had been made in cover provided Laina focused on the result to ensure that our valued insured clients and ourselves both receive an exceptional resolution of a very difficult circumstance.
As part of our standard process when denying indemnity for claims, to ensure transparency and fairness we instruct Senior Counsel to provide an advice. Notwithstanding the fact that Laina has not yet been elevated to Senior Counsel she is often Counsel of choice instructed to review contested denials of policy coverage and is required to provide a written advice on this that may be provided to our insured. Her advices when reviewing policy coverage are carefully considered, written in plain English, well researched, with on point references to the law whilst also exhibiting a common sense and practical approach to policy construction. Importantly her views are given without fear or favour. To put this in perspective Berkley Insurance’s declinature policy is to prefer Counsel’s advice even if it is against our decision at first instance to deny cover.
Laina is a skilled negotiator. Laina willingly collaborates with colleagues where required and brings to the table her training from Harvard Business School to achieve negotiated outcomes that are favourable to each participant. Her negotiation skills add another dimension to her toolkit and definitely lead to positive outcomes for all stakeholders that I had not thought possible.
I have known Laina Chan of Selbourne Chambers for more than 5 years. As partner and head of the Insurance team at Jackson McDonald lawyers and more recently as a partner of Mills Oakley I brief Laina to provide opinion work and to act in the defence of complex Professional indemnity, Directors & Officers and construction claims. I select Laina as Counsel not only because I hold her in the highest regard, for her intelligence, insight and knowledge of the Law, but also because she has gained the confidence of National and International insurers who request her engagement.
In relation to her opinion work, her advice displays sound judgement, is well reasoned and is concise. As to her defence work, Laina has the ability to identify the issue/s and is not distracted by matters that are not relevant to the determination of the claim. Her collation and analysis of the evidence ensures that the interests of the client are protected and the case is presented to the Court in its best form. Laina is unique, with respect, to other Counsel as she is always mindful of alternate resolution strategies and is highly skilled at mediations.
Importantly, Laina is value for money too. She has the expertise and skill of Senior Counsel but her charge rate is more competitive and she does not (often) require Junior Counsel. She works extremely well with the solicitor team ensuring the work is done at the appropriate level (and where the expertise resides).
I have sought Laina's expert comprehension in a range of matters, including optimising an outcome in a US employment contract dispute with a multi-national to completing a granular review of a complex, multi-year government contract to extend the favourable terms. Laina's legal and commercial expertise and her ability to analyse complex contracts and then provide a clear path forward, was invaluable. I would be delighted to recommend her if you are seeking a meaningful outcome.
I have been engaging counsel for more than 20 years and have found Ms Chan to consistently attempt to provide the most comprehensive assistance available. Ms Chan is always very well-presented, well prepared, and fully engaged. She consistently shares her thoughts as they develop and encourages open dialogue; which ultimately benefits the client.
Ms Chan plainly has a deep knowledge and understanding of the law and its application, and she is always across the leading authorities. She approaches each step of each matter with a high degree of skill and sound judgment. She presents carefully constructed pleadings that although relating to complex issues, are so well-worded to ensure an ease of understanding. All correspondence is similarly drafted to the highest calibre.
Ms Chan is always approachable, respectful, and considerate in her dealings. Her honesty and integrity are beyond reproach.
I have no hesitation in recommending Ms Chan.
I have briefed Laina for a number of years now.
Laina is an easy choice for both myself and my clients in matters involving construction and/or property law. Her knowledge in these areas is exceptional. If a matter involves an idiosyncratic query or consideration, Laina will surprisingly promptly refer to a judgment or relatively unknown legislative provision directly on topic. Perhaps this should not be surprising, as she literally wrote the textbook.
Laina applies her extensive legal knowledge not only with ethics and integrity but also in a commercial manner to achieve the best outcome for her clients. Unlike some barristers, disputes are not a black or white outcome for Laina but involve understanding and appreciating risks, the optimal approach and best resolution methods.
Further still, Laina has always proven herself willing to go beyond her retainer, nurturing both legal and insurance professionals, including those not likely to ever be in a position to refer her work.
I have no hesitation recommending Laina as a barrister.
I have consistently been impressed with Laina’s ability to articulate complex legal arguments as well as her unwavering commitment to assist clients with professionalism and integrity.
Laina has an outstanding ability and comprehensive understanding of the law and possesses exceptional advocacy skills to communicate this in the Court room. Laina has a unique ability to articulate complex legal arguments. I often refer to Laina as the “queen of construction law” to my colleagues due to her ability to navaigate and articulate complex legal issues.
Laina has an ability to command the stage and make elquotent and sophisticated technical legal arguments which have resulted in favourable outcomes for our clients. Laina is always transparent and fair with the advice she provides to clients and contributes enormously in the administration of justice.
Laina is always willing and able to take the time to discuss matters and goes above and beyond in times of need. Her assistance does not go unoticed.
As a principal solicitor who has had the unique honour of both instructing Ms. Chan on a multitude of cases and receiving her mentorship since my graduation from law school in 2016, I am uniquely positioned to attest to her remarkable expertise, tireless dedication, and profound professionalism. The depth of Ms. Chan’s legal knowledge is truly extraordinary. Her comprehensive understanding of various legal principles and jurisprudence, combined with her razor-sharp analytical skills, make her an expert strategist. In every case she handles, she systematically identifies the core issues, anticipates potential challenges, and devises robust legal strategies that consistently yield favourable outcomes.
Moreover, Ms. Chan’s aptitude is not confined to pure legal theory; she is also an exceptionally pragmatic barrister. She understands that clients need solutions that are not only legally sound but also commercially viable. This attribute is particularly evident in her ability to dissect intricate business dynamics and provide legal advice that aligns with the client’s commercial realities. Her solutions are not only legally robust, but also strategically designed to optimize commercial advantages for her clients.
Ms. Chan’s professionalism extends beyond her legal knowledge and strategic capabilities. She is deeply committed to the ethical practice of law, always placing her clients’ interests first. She does not simply see clients as sources of business, but treats each one as a trusted partner. This approach is refreshing and has earned her high praise from the clients we have served together, who routinely commend her for her integrity, sensitivity, and dedication to their cause. In my capacity as a solicitor, working with Ms. Chan has been immensely rewarding. Her clear and concise communication makes instructing her straightforward and efficient. Her thoughtful and timely advice is a testament to her vast experience and deep understanding of the law, making her an invaluable collaborator and mentor.
During FY21-22. Laina has provided valuable pro bono assistance in four different matters, two of which were complex proceedings before the Supreme Court and Court of Appeal.
It is particularly noteworthy that Laina has secured favourable outcomes for her pro bono clients in Aslan v Stepanoski  NSWCA 24 and Goyal v West  NSWSC 526. Both matters involve unconscionable conduct and significant financial loss for the litigants.
Our clients frequently experience vulnerabilities including disability, underemployment or mental health concerns. The clients are not always capable of providing clear instructions or a coherent picture of the desired outcome. Laina has responded to these challenges by approaching all of her clients with empathy, respect and patience.
Laina' s assistance in these matters has also worked to strengthen the relationship between the Courts and members of the bar. Most applicants referred by the Courts are not eligible for assistance from Legal Aid NSW, nor are many applicants able to afford representation. Through the participation of barristers in this pro-bono scheme, the Court is able to directly refer applicants that are in need of assistance to members of the Bar who are willing to volunteer their time and expertise.
I first met Laina, substantively, at a dinner when she had just been awarded the Lawyers Weekly Women in Law Barrister of the Year award. She was who I wanted to be – a successful woman from a diverse background similar to my own. We started chatting and I was asked if I could assist with some pro bono work that she was doing. In the ensuing years I have worked with Laina on multiple matters, including twice in the Court of Appeal. As her junior, I have watched her take to my work with the digital equivalent of red pen. Her superior advocacy experience and legal acumen is used to expunge the mistakes and frivolities from my draft submissions, the work not complete until the submissions are both “tight” and “right”.
This acumen is applied to both commercial matters and her work on pro bono matters referred by the Bar Association’s Legal Assistance Referral Scheme; I have had the privilege of working with Laina on both, and in the finest traditions of the Bar she gives every case her utmost.
Another of the finest traditions of the Bar is the “open door policy”, where senior barristers give advice to junior barristers. Laina’s subject matter expertise in construction and insurance law makes her my first port of call when I have questions about those areas of law. She is always generous with her time and happy to workshop issues with me.
Laina’s practical work is enough basis for her to be awarded Australian Barrister of the Year, but it is as a mentor that she truly comes to the fore. The Bar is traditionally very “male, pale and stale”, and Laina is nothing but. The typical migrant at the Bar is a white man from the UK; an immigrant woman from South-east Asia has very few role models to look up to. Although the mentoring relationship arose organically, and not formally through an established scheme, I could not have asked for a better mentor. Laina has been supportive, practical and pragmatic, and most important of all, always available.
I highly commend Laina Chan as a worthy future recipient of the Australian Barrister of the Year Award
It is with great pleasure, honour and pride that I write this personal reference for Ms Laina Chan Barrister. I was fortunate to have Ms Chan represent me as senior Barrister in my Appeal matter in the New South Wales Court of Appeal in the Supreme Court of NSW in November 2021, in Aslan v Stepanoski  NSWCA, Ms Chan worked extremely hard with her Junior Barrister Mr Kunal Sharma on my case on a Pro Bono basis through the New South Wales Bar Pro Bono Scheme, and delivered a life changing outcome for me personally and my family by winning my Appeal case in February 2022.
Ms Chan professionally and sincerely fought for me and successfully persuaded the 3 Honourable Appeal Court Judges to overturn a $2.7m judgement against me in the lower Court for restitution and damages for consequential loss, and helped secure a $50,000 judgement for me for unpaid invoice plus all my legal costs for my appeal and for the trial case that went on for over 6 years prior in the lower Court.
Ms Chan saved my life and livelihood in many ways, I was on the verge of bankruptcy if it was not for Ms Chan who barracked for me, believed in me and defended my case, and turned my whole life around. I cannot thank her enough and I’m extremely grateful to her and sincerely forever indebted to her for her amazing efforts and hard work, her dedication to her honourable profession, her honesty and strong belief in me and in my case that it was a just case, and for her belief in herself and persistence in making sure justice is served and the truth triumph.
I have had the pleasure of working with Laina on several dispute matters, and I am always impressed with her extensive knowledge and thorough understanding of the relevant pieces of legislations. She has a remarkable ability to navigate complex legal issues with ease, and consistently fights hard for her clients' best interests. I highly recommend Laina to anyone seeking a dedicated and highly skilled counsel.
Laina was recommended to me by a mid-tier law firm as having construction law expertise. This was an excellent recommendation. She is very knowledgeable in this area and sensible in providing her legal advice. I find her easy to deal with and personable. She was also able to effectively relate to non-lawyers within the business and to provide advice in the commercial context.
Laina assisted in achieving a very good outcome for the client on a complex matter. She is very skilled and able to get across the relevant issues quickly. I also recommend her as a barrister.
Laina is one of the most commercial lawyers I have come across. She understands what drives a corporation and the importance of getting a commercial outcome. Unlike any other lawyer I have seen she is motivated to resolve issues rather than let the dispute continue. She has an instinctive drive in relation to mediation and resolution of issues and an ability to be able to break down and unlock an issue. She is pragmatic, strategic, technically brilliant and a strong advisor - she is someone you want on your team.
I have known Laina since 1998 when we worked together at Minter Ellison. As a solicitor, Laina always produced first rate, focused and on point, work. Since Laina went to the Bar in 2004 I have briefed her in a wide range of litigious matters. Laina has a very sound, well thought through approach to litigation: her tactical judgments are good and she is a skilled cross examiner. She has been instrumental in achieving many good outcomes for parties I have been acting for. I have also recommended Laina to others who have invariably reported that they have been very pleased with the work she has done for them. I have great confidence in Laina's abilities and I am sure she will continue to do well.
My name is Sally Saroukos and I have had the pleasure of Laina representing me in a very long and stressful battle over my late husband's life insurance. Laina has always been very determined and very confident in her work. This is something I am very thankful for because her determination and tenacity has paid off for me! Even when I thought of giving up in my battle against my late husband's super fund and life insurer, she never stopped fighting for me. Laina is very kind, well spoken and a selfless person who will always do whats right for the underdog! Words cannot explain how thankful I am to her for all that she has done for me.
My first brief to Laina involved an emotionally charged dispute between neighbours which had previously been the subject of a Deed between the parties to resolve their differences by way of boundary realignments and payment of consideration by one neighbour to the other.
The neighbour (later "the defendant") defaulted in his obilgations and the only course of action left available to my client was to approach the Court for assistance by way of orders for specific performance. My client had an intense emotional investment in the matter and the first conference with Laina gave him much cause for comfort. Her grasp of the brief was obvious and this gave my client much confidence and made the decision for him to proceed with litigation much easier.
Laina has been invaluable throughout my career. Her legal skill as a barrister combined with her enthusiasm and willingness to work alongside less senior solicitors has been a great asset. Laina's particular knowledge in the areas of insurance law and building and construction is excellent, demonstrated by her ability to answer any curly questions that crop up in such matters. Her skilfulness and attention to detail when it comes to drafting pleadings is greatly appreciated. I feel very confident in recommending her as Counsel to my colleagues.
Laina is regarded by our firm as an outstanding court room advocate and client adviser. We have engaged Laina in contract disputes and statutory matters before Federal and State jurisdictions. Chris McArdle of our firm has known Laina since she commenced in the profession, and has no hesitation in recommending her as a barrister.
Laina is very thorough and has great attention to detail. She also is very helpful and courteous to more junior members of the profession.
I have no hesitation in recommending Laina as Counsel for any potential client. Ms Chan has assisted me in several matters with the provision of insightful, practical and clear advice. She has also been an excellent advocate for the cause of my clients. Ms Chan is able to quickly grasp complex issues not only in the law but other areas of expertise and apply them to the question at hand. As an added bonus, Ms Chan is personable and easy to work with both as an instructing Solicitor and when dealing with clients.
Laina has significant experience in building disputes and I have found her to be persuasive in Court. She also has good interpersonal skills that makes it easier for clients to deal with the stresses of litigation.
Our firm has recently briefed Laina in two complicated commercial matters, one a damages claim against our client and the other a claim by our client for breach of contract. Both matters involved large sums of money and were difficult factually and procedurally. Each of the cases was resolved successfully in favour of our clients who were well pleased with the result. Throughout the course of the proceedings, Laina was always prompt with her advice as well as highly competent and professional in the protection and prosecution of our clients’ interests. She is unfailingly pleasant, good-humoured and easy to work with.
Laina is an articulate experienced counsel I have briefed for approximately 10 years in property and construction matters. Laina exceeds her opponents with her exceptional research skills and her ability to source and apply common law to unique legal arguments. Laina’s cross examination is comprehensive, well thought-out and calculated. When briefed, she will use all tools at her disposal to pursue the best outcome for her client. To date, Laina has obtained favourable outcomes in all the matters that I have briefed her in.