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Q&A with new Special Counsel Emily Simmons

ABL Private, Corporate and M&A
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Newly appointed ABL Private and Corporate and M&A Special Counsel, Emily Simmons, gives an insight into her background, what she is passionate about in her practice and her experience with ABL as a firm.

When you joined Arnold Bloch Leibler in 2009, you were the first graduate who hadn’t previously undertaken a seasonal clerkship with the firm. How did that come about?

Coming from Tasmania, I hadn’t had much exposure to mainland firms before embarking on an extensive graduate interview process.  I’d missed seasonal clerkship applications due to a death in the family, but after several red-eye flights to Melbourne for back-to-back interviews, I was lucky enough to have several grad offers on the table, including from ABL.

The firm was working to diversify its intake from the traditional Melbourne/Monash duopoly, and I was told afterwards that they were impressed by my so-called chutzpah! According to my grandfather, Mallesons was the obvious choice. But ABL stood out right from the start – the interview process felt more human and it was clear there was no cookie-cutter ABL type.

I was also attracted to the firm’s values and relatively flat structure, which gave me the opportunity to work directly with the partners on interesting and complex matters from day 1. Although there was an element of being thrown in the deep end, it certainly didn’t feel like a sink or swim situation.

As a commercial lawyer, what drew you to specialise in private client work?

When I first joined the commercial team, the firm was already well-known and well-regarded for its private client work, even though it wasn’t a distinctly branded practice area at the time.

From the start, I was drawn to the hands-on and very personal nature of the work, dealing directly with the founders and key decision-makers of private businesses, high-net-worth family groups and community organisations. I have the privilege of being able to advise and support some clients all the way through the business life cycle – from structuring a new business venture, to expanding and bringing on new investors, restructuring, through to ultimately selling the business or facilitating a smooth transition to the next generation.

At the same time, I am advising them on personal matters – estate planning, asset protection, business succession planning and philanthropy. The trust clients place in me to do this work, to be discrete and to help them find practical solutions for highly sensitive, sometimes fraught, private family issues, is stimulating and enormously rewarding.

Tell us something about your interest in impact investing.

Arnold Bloch Leibler is a firm whose heritage is steeped in social justice and supporting causes that are important to our clients and the broader community. This tradition has attracted philanthropically inclined clients to the firm, and it’s meant that a significant focus of my work over the years has involved setting up private ancillary funds and other charitable foundations.

In recent years, there has been a shift in appetite towards profit for purpose and a convergence between clients’ philanthropic focus and their commercial, entrepreneurial drive. This kind of “conscious capitalism” is all about how to generate a positive social and/or environmental impact as well as a financial return, and in doing so, breaking down the traditional dichotomy between business and philanthropy.

From our perspective at ABL Private, this shift is going to intensify with the emergence of the next generation of philanthropists and impact investors. Over the next 20 years, an estimated $3.5 trillion will be transferred from one generation to the next - the biggest wealth transfer in the nation’s history. We see the next generation of private clients wanting to harness the power of capitalism to change society for the better, to harness brilliant, commercial, entrepreneurial minds and experience to tackle some of the toughest global challenges and generate profit at the same time.

The market for impact investing is growing rapidly and I’m passionate about advising clients in this space and supporting the development of an eco-system where profit for purpose can thrive.

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