10 February 2015, Written by Laura Daquino


LEADERS from Brisbane law firms have put a mixed 2014 behind them to embrace a new year of opportunity.

Holding Redlich partner Troy Lewis described the prevailing sentiment perfectly, when he said he was "cautiously optimistic" about the year ahead.

Across the board, there is a view that the way legal services are being delivered is fast changing, and firms need to increase their level of service to compete. TressCox Lawyers litigation partner Bill Hickey says clients are taking a more active role in the client/solicitor relationship, and Herbert Smith Freehills Brisbane managing partner Michael Back says clients are moving away from fixed fees. By most reports, client expenditure is levelling off as more competitors enter the market, and also through what MacDonnells Law partner Don Macpherson calls the "commoditisation of legal services".

For young lawyers, there is a resounding piece of advice - don't be picky. As Brisbane Family Law Centre director Clarissa Rayward says: competition may be heating up, but the job market is tight. Learn your industry, hone your skills, find good mentors (there are a couple right here) - and don't give up.

Herbert Smith Freehills

Brisbane managing partner Michael Back

What are some of the emerging trends you are observing?

One of the key trends in 2015 will be the 'bedding down' of firms such as Herbert Smith Freehills who have merged with international firms. There really is a global flow of major transactions and more and more we are seeing Australian lawyers working on major matters in Asia and Europe, and being offered career opportunities never before open to them.

What do you believe are the biggest opportunities for the year ahead?

With asset sales off the agenda, there will be a major opportunity in working with the Queensland State Government on alternative ways of funding infrastructure and capital expenditure. This could include the re-emergence of PPPs and other forms of private sector delivery including mutuals which have been very successful in the UK. Opportunities will continue in M&A especially in the property and junior mining sectors. We expect to see continued activity in the private equity sector as well as ongoing major investment in the Galilee Basin.

At your firm, which practice areas are growing, and which ones are scaling down?

Our banking, projects and dispute resolution areas continue to grow and we do not see that abating in 2015. Real estate was uneven in 2014 and is likely to remain that way at least for the first half of 2015. 

What are some of the challenges the legal community is facing for 2015?

There will continue to be pressure on fees as more and more clients move away from accepting straight hourly billing to fixed fee and contingency fee proposals. The challenge will be to ensure that the same high quality of service is delivered in the most cost effective way.

TressCox Lawyers

Litigation partner Bill Hickey

What are some of the emerging trends in your area/s of law?

Across many of the industry sectors and practice areas, there is an ongoing shift in the dynamic of the client/solicitor relationship.  Increasingly and not surprisingly, clients who have a substantial need for legal services in their business operations are driving how those legal services are to be delivered and the price for those services. 

What do you believe are the biggest opportunities for the year ahead?

The trend identifies the opportunity.  Law practices can obtain a better understanding of their clients' needs in a changing business environment and adapt to meet those needs.  There are opportunities in collaborating with clients and other consultants to form management teams to help clients deliver on large projects.

At your firm, which practice areas are growing, and which ones are scaling down?

The growing areas of practice are agribusiness, government, health and aged care, renewable energy sector and employment.  The commercial litigation area is scaling down in terms of full scale litigated disputes.  While there is commercial activity, there will always be commercial disputes.  Clients are perhaps increasingly warier of the costs involved in litigation, and are looking for more cost effective dispute resolution.

What are some of the challenges the legal community is facing for 2015?

The figures show that the overall legal spend by clients is not increasing, and as more players enter the market including international firms, the legal services market becomes increasingly competitive.

What advice can you give to prospective candidates?

For new entrants it is obviously a difficult market and I do not think you can have any preconceived notion of the work you want to do.  You have to be alert and willing to take whatever opportunity presents itself.  With respect to lawyers who are a few years out, there will always be a demand for good young lawyers who have honed their skills.  For more experienced lawyers, it is about being able to align with the firm's practice areas and demonstrate how you can be an asset to the firm in a very competitive environment.

Holding Redlich

Partner and national head of construction & infrastructure practice Troy Lewis

What do you believe are the biggest opportunities for the year ahead?

After a couple of years of volatility in the Queensland legal market we are cautiously optimistic about the outlook for 2015 and have already seen a greater than normal increase in matters, both litigious and non-litigious to start the year. This is even in spite of the election being called, which has traditionally had a negative effect on the legal market generally. In our view this is consistent with an overall increase in consumer confidence generally in spite of the obvious challenges still being faced in Queensland and nationally. There is also a real opportunity for the state government to increase this confidence quickly by commencing some of the often discussed Queensland infrastructure projects early in the government's terms. Such projects will be good for employment, investment and consumer confidence in not only the construction industry generally, but also the wider community.

Brisbane Family Law Centre

Director and family lawyer/mediator Clarissa Rayward

What are some of the emerging trends in your area/s of law? 

There is a continued shift in family law for out of court alternatives for settlements.  I am also personally seeing more clients who are wanting to manage their settlements largely themselves and who are seeking the assistance of my firm more in a 'coaching' or 'consulting' role.

What do you believe are the biggest opportunities for the year ahead?

Over the past year I have invested heavily in product development.  The way we can deliver legal services is changing, particularly with market pressure due to the significant costs, risk and delays involved in traditional litigation.  I believe there are openings for more innovative and holistic solutions for separating families.

What changes do you believe need to be made on a legislative level in your area of law?

We have seen significant changes over recent years with a strong focus on mediation for families.  It would be helpful for the legislature to also consider bringing all 'family' issues into the one court - in particular child protection matters -so that children have the best chance of protection as a result of more consistent information flow.  The courts also need more resources to ensure that families can have decisions made in a more timely fashion.

What advice can you give to up and coming lawyers?

It is a very, very tight job market for up and coming lawyers at the moment.  I would encourage those starting out to not give up, to find good mentors and look at every stage as an opportunity to learn more. 

What advice can you give to prospective job candidates?

Take every opportunity available.  Seek out work experience, follow firms and practitioners you respect on social media to understand more about them and connect with them where you can.  Continue to study and learn.  And research the firms you are seeking work with - learn about their culture, values and work practices so you can be clear in any application why you are choosing them - and more importantly why they should choose you.

MacDonnells Law

Partner and family lawyer/mediator Don Macpherson

What are some of the emerging trends in your area/s of law? 

My practice primarily involves property settlement matters involving high net worth individuals with companies and trusts. A niche area of practice which is expanding is the area of adoptions, which we anticipate will be an increasing area of work in 2015.

What are some of the challenges the legal community is facing?

There are many challenges for the profession of law for this year and beyond. Digital has raised the bar with respect to what clients expect from their legal practitioner. This connectedness means that today's consumer is savvier, demanding greater communication, transparency, timeliness and value for money. Firms who do not embrace this collaborative approach will find the market more challenging as time goes on.

Another challenge is the increasing commoditisation of legal services where work that previously provided a steady stream for the legal profession is increasingly being commoditised and dealt with at a lower cost/paralegal level. Also a more sophisticated consumer is willing to 'do it themselves', rather than seek professional legal assistance.

A significant issue for the profession generally is the struggle to take on the high number of graduates exiting university. Our firm, having offices in Cairns and Townsville as well as Brisbane, tends to get the cream of the crop in terms of North Queensland graduates. However, for many graduates, establishing a long term legal career will be challenging.

Which areas of work are increasing, and which ones are scaling down?

For some years now the level of property work has been progressively decreasing, and certainly in the last few years less work is coming from the mining industry. On the other hand, in my practice family law work seems to be continuing strongly, and a pleasing feature is that more and more matters are being resolved by way of mediation. Certainly mediation is an increasing area of practice in family law.

Do you foresee any recent legislative changes as making a profound impact on the legal profession?

The recent ATO ruling with respect to the treatment of payments made out of companies and trusts pursuant to a family law settlement has created significant challenges in relation to crafting property settlements, and potentially will increase negligence claims against lawyers who are not up to speed with the latest tax rulings.

Shine Lawyers

Professional Negligence department manager Jan Saddler

What are some of the emerging trends in your area/s of law?

One of the emerging trends is particularly in the financial services area. The legislation is relatively new and the average person is becoming more exposed to issues arising out of the financial services market. For example, everyone has superannuation, people are starting self-managed super funds. So there are a lot of issues both regulatory and just general issues associated with compliance and making sure those sorts of products meet all the standards and regulatory requirements.

What changes do you believe need to be made on a legislative level in your area of law?

In Queensland in particular, the landscape in relation to class and group actions is fairly underdeveloped. More broadly in Australia, the other area of real concern is access to justice. One of the ways in my area of practice that access to justice can be achieved is by opening up opportunities for litigation funding and for considering different ways for law firms to be paid. I'm not advocating contingency fees in relation to law firms, but you either have to be dirt poor or very, very wealthy to be able to afford legal services in Australia. And the average joe, the average business owner, the average small to medium sized business is excluded from that opportunity. To me, that doesn't seem to be right. We need to look closer at opportunities for litigation and legal funding, and ensure the market is properly regulated - I think that will give a lot more people greater access to justice.

What advice can you give to up and coming lawyers?

Work incredibly hard and suck it all in. You are the maker of your own destiny and it's important that you take on as much as you possibly can.  It's like being a small child - you learn so much in those first few years of life and it's no different for young lawyers in their first years of practice. When you're time poor and everything is escalating quickly, it's in those times that you learn so much. So bite off more than you can chew, take on extra work when more senior practitioners request it - that's the way that you will honestly learn so much. And it's the perfect time to be doing that.



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