How did you come to specialise in private clients and what do you enjoy about this area of the law?
I made the decision to specialise in private client work (spanning across M&A, general commercial advice and ‘private wealth’ work) during university, after my vacation clerkships.
I grew up on a wheat and sheep farm in North West Victoria. It was a multi-generational business, started by my great grandfather, then run by my grandfather and his brothers, and then by my father and his brothers (and now by my cousins). All of the business decisions were made around our kitchen table, so I saw first-hand the benefits of a family working well together, but also the importance of good communication and succession planning.
I also wanted to work directly with decision makers. What I enjoy most about the law is the personal interface, working out difficult problems with the person who has the most to gain (and the most to lose). Private client work gives me the opportunity to work with some of the brightest, most interesting people in the country.
Having studied commerce, did you always intend to straddle business and the law?
Yes, for a long time I thought I would be an economist. However it became apparent through university that I was more attracted to the grey areas that law throws out, rather than the black and whites of economics. Commercial law is all about trying to allocate risk between parties or achieve a client’s goals in a way that fits within rules and norms which have evolved over centuries - it’s fascinating and there is not always a clear right or wrong.
Although it probably isn’t essential, my commerce degree has definitely assisted me in developing solid financial skills, which I now bring to transactions, particularly private M&A. Financial adjustments are becoming more common and a more significant part of transactions. A business is hardly ever sold for a fixed price anymore - there will always be fairly complex purchase price adjustments which require a level of financial or accounting expertise.
Where do you see the legal environment heading in terms of your areas of expertise? What are the major trends that will impact on the work that you are doing?
Australia’s rich are ageing. In the next few decades we will see a transfer of trillions of dollars of wealth between generations in Australia. At ABL we are helping our clients prepare for that via restructures, exits and increasingly sophisticated succession plans (which will often include family agreements or constitutions).
Another trend we are seeing is the increase in family offices for high net worth families. A key concern for these families is maintaining (and growing) assets long term, and for that to be effective, you need more than just a Will for Mum and Dad. Family offices are a good mechanism to involve every generation in the management of shared assets, but also to introduce consistency in their advisers, consolidate the way in which family members access professional services and to achieve effective asset protection.
How would you describe the professional environment here at ABL?
I started at ABL as a paralegal then an articled clerk, after clerking at several larger firms.
What has always attracted me to the firm and the private client space is that we don’t just say we are lawyers and advisers - we do it. We sit alongside clients, not only to tell them what the legal answer is, but to think about how different decisions will affect them going forward, and also what is practical and achievable in the circumstances.
There is never a sense at ABL that you need to be at your desk 10 hours a day or that somebody is looking over your shoulder. I don’t think this is because the firm has suddenly decided to be “flexible” because it’s a buzz word. I think it’s a function of the confidence we have in ourselves as a firm - and our belief that we can do things a bit differently. Lawyers here are trusted to get our job done, exceptionally well, in a way that suits the client, but also in a way that suits whatever else is going on in our lives.