This is Allens

Zac Thompson

Zac is an Associate in the Disputes and Investigations team specialising in commercial litigation, and contentious regulatory and criminal matters. He is also the national co-chair of Allens' firmwide LGBTIQ+ network, ALLin.

This profile was published during Mental Health Month where some of our people shared their stories and perspectives on mental health.

Zac-Thompson-profile.jpg

In my teens and early 20s I was lucky to have a rewarding sporting career in canoe slalom. I learnt some major life lessons as an athlete that have helped me manage tough times in my personal life and made me a more resilient lawyer.

One valuable lesson I rely on is to remember that it is only worth worrying about things that are truly within your control. For example, you can't control the competition, the criteria you're measured against, or the circumstances on the day. But you can control your strategy, attitude, mental and physical condition and work very hard to ensure these are in peak condition when it's time to perform (as an athlete or as a lawyer).

This mindset was put to the test when I 'came out' for the first time. I was a 20-year-old undergraduate at a dinner with an old school mate and his girlfriend. My plan was to calmly drop it into conversation at an opportune moment. The split second after I said those words for the very first time, I was in a mental freefall. I was terrified. I had no idea what I had done, how my friends would react, or whether I would need to bolt and never see anyone again. While it felt like an eternity, without hesitation my mate leapt up with joy and disappeared to grab a bottle of champagne. His natural reaction was to celebrate! My family and most other people were also extremely supportive.

Each coming out moment still invokes a bit of terror in me and I'm never sure how people will react, but my old sporting mindset comes in handy. I can't control the sexuality I was born with, nor the reactions of others, but I can control my strategy and attitude as a lawyer and the example I set for others, especially those who are out, questioning or allies.

I aspired to be an Allens lawyer when I was a student, but if I had not come out years earlier I don't think I would have had the courage, determination or self-confidence to apply for the clerkship that led me here today. Honesty about this part of my life has turned out to be a powerful source of strength, differentiation and pride. [Photo: Zac (right) with his partner Josh.]

If this story raises concerns for you or someone you know, reach out to your General Practitioner, or call:

Lifeline – 13 11 14 within Australia

Beyond Blue – 1300 22 46 36 within Australia

10 quick questions

  1. When do you feel happiest? My happiest place would probably be on a boat or swimming in the harbour on a hot summer's day.
  2. What are people surprised to find out about you? That I competed in canoe slalom (which often needs its own explanation) and that I almost dropped out of uni to pursue my athletic career.
  3. Who would compose the soundtrack to your life? Jimmy Somerville.
  4. What's the bravest thing you've done in your life? Coming out. As described in my story, nothing compares to the terror, uncertainty, relief and affirmation that comes from that moment.
  5. What's a cause that's important to you? Recognition of the historical injustices experienced by LGBTIQ+ people and ensuring future generations are empowered to be themselves and reach their full potential.
  6. What's inspiring you right now? This is very dorky of me, but our alliance partners Linklaters have recently launched a 'Diversity & Inclusion Faculty' which is a legal service intended to help clients develop and execute diversity strategies. I'm excited by this because it combines three of my very close interests: the evolving legal profession, corporate governance and matters of importance to LGBTIQ+ people.
  7. If you could switch lives with someone for a day, who would it be? Cathy Freeman on the day she won the women's 400m final at the Sydney Olympics.
  8. What's the most important thing you've learnt about being human? Relationships are the most important thing in the world. You might be incredibly successful on paper, but what's the point if you don't have any family or friends to share it with?
  9. How do you practice self-care? By hanging out with my partner Josh and our mischievous Italian greyhound Nino, enjoying a slow breakfast at a café and reading the weekend paper cover-to-cover, or watching a good film.
  10. What does being strong (or resilient) mean to you? I find compassion and generosity tend to be better indicators of strength than bravado. Resilience is different for everyone but for me it comes from the knowledge that I'm doing the right thing for the right reasons.

Recommended reading, listening and watching for Mental Health Month

Books Leviathan: The Unauthorised Biography of Sydney by John Birmingham – I have been engrossed by John Birmingham's chaotic and ugly history of Sydney. I didn't think reading about the city's flukes, paradoxes and injustices would deepen my affection for the harbour-city, but it really has. 

The Insider by Christopher Pyne – I love drama of all kinds but political dramas are a weakness of mine. I am dying to read about some of the biggest twists and turns in Canberra from the perspective of the brutally witty and notorious 'fixer'. 

The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst – a gift from a workmate at Allens, this Man Booker-prize winning novel was my slow burn last summer. It tells the story of a gay man from humble origins anxiously navigating the upper echelons of Thatcherite London while the stigma of the AIDS crisis looms in the background. It's profoundly moving, tragic, and beautifully written. 

The Talented Mr Ripley by Patricia Highsmith – the book I have read a thousand times, because it is just so good. Only a queer woman such as Highsmith could create a character like Tom Ripley, an anti-hero so tormented by his own identity that he is willing to kill to reinvent himself as someone more acceptable in the eyes of society. If you get hooked on Highsmith, I also recommend René Clément's 1960 film adaptation Plein Soleil which is probably my all-time favourite film.

Film Orlando – Sally Potter's beautiful and quirky adaptation of Virginia Woolf's time- and gender-subversive play is spellbinding and Jimmy Somerville's score is brilliant. Highly recommended if you're after something different in a Sunday arvo film.

Podcast Stories From Sydney – this podcast is researched and presented by an old uni friend, and I really enjoy how it delves into the weird and often miraculous backstories from Sydney's past. As we're not travelling anywhere soon, it's nice to learn new things about familiar places and see them in a different light.