Written on the 25 June 2014 by Laura Daquino




"A BIG firm without the big attitude" is how McCullough Robertson is described and it transpires when you speak to its Brisbane practitioners. Dylan Kerrigan and Liam Davis of Queensland's largest law firm spoke to Brisbane Legal about taking their work seriously but not themselves, emerging trends and prevailing challenges impacting the way they practice, and what they perceive to be the McCullough Robertson edge.




Dylan Kerrigan (Senior Associate)

How long have you been at McCullough Robertson and how did you end up at the firm? 

I started at McCullough Robertson with a summer clerkship in late 2007. After some study overseas, I commenced as a graduate in the Litigation and Dispute Resolution group in February 2009, before rotating into the Intellectual Property and Competition group where I have been since November 2009. The mentoring and development opportunities I received were tremendous, and helped me rise to the position of Senior Associate in July 2013.

How important is workplace culture to McCullough Robertson? 

The workplace culture at McCullough Robertson is really what makes this such a great place to work. We take our work seriously, but not ourselves. I count a number of my colleagues as friends outside work. We embrace  working in a collegiate and collaborative manner to achieve client objectives, which often involves assembling teams across practice groups on larger or more complex matters to ensure we provide the highest quality legal advice and service. Our partnership is also fiercely independent and focused in the growth of the firm in a way which is consistently and transparently communicated to staff.

What are the challenges and opportunities in your role?

Intellectual property law is at the forefront of innovation and technological change. Our challenge is to educate our clients on the importance and value of IP to their business, and our opportunity is that as more and more clients appreciate IP, our practice continues to grow.

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

We are seeing clients becoming increasingly sophisticated in their understanding of IP and how it affects their business. There is also a continuing conversation about how social media and big data are changing communication and our expectations of privacy, and how we as a community intend to regulate that.

What projects have you been working on lately? 

Recently I have been acting in a government procurement bid in the health sector, as well as the negotiation of several large scale IT development and implementation projects for a few of our ASX and overseas-listed clients. I have also been leading a range of major IP/tech M&A deals including the sale of a life sciences business to private equity, two research and development collaboration projects for a mining technology company creating an underground mining vehicle, and acting in the acquisition of digital and software assets in the sports arena. We have also seen growing demand for complex Australian regulatory advice from independent overseas firms acting for clients looking to enter the Australian market.

Are there any industry challenges currently impacting your operations? 

Recent changes to the Privacy Act and forthcoming changes to franchising regulation are both key areas of focus for many of our clients this year, just as the introduction of the Personal Property Securities Act and the Australian Consumer Law were a couple of years ago.

Is there a business mantra you have adhered to throughout your career? 

Deliver technically excellent, commercially focused advice on time and on budget, and take every interaction with your clients and colleagues as an opportunity to build the relationship. Most of all, back yourself and your ideas, and speak up when you have something to say and contribute.

Liam Davis (Resources & Project Approvals Speciality) 

How long have you been at McCullough Robertson and how did you end up at the firm?

I started with McCullough Robertson in late 2009 following the completion of my university studies. I had previously worked at the firm in the Resources Group – I knew the team, I knew the clients, and I knew this is what I wanted to do, so there was never a second option for me.

What is the McCullough Robertson edge?

We are one of Queensland’s largest firms with far and away the largest resources practice in the State, while also serving our Hunter Valley clients out of our Newcastle and Sydney offices - rivalling the nationals across the eastern seaboard. We know what it takes to get a project up and running, and we deliver that with our on the ground experience.  We don’t just throw an army of lawyers at every issue, our approach is to match the expert to the problem and deliver value in a cost constrained environment.

I’ve been lucky enough to have opportunities to work on secondment in both gas and mining companies, which has given me a unique handle on what it takes to deliver a project. I’m often out of the office – whether it be visiting sites across Queensland and New South Wales, or negotiating agreements with Traditional Owners on country. By working closely with our clients on the ground, we understand the commercial realities that are facing the industry.

What are the greatest challenges and joys you get from your job?

My highlight reel is all about project delivery. Exploration to production can be a long road, and the best moments are when the work of the project team comes together, and with the support of the affected stakeholders, we see ‘dirt turned’ on our clients’ projects.  In these moments, the challenges are forgotten, the success is celebrated, and the focus moves to the next big project.

A large part of the approval process includes negotiating native title and cultural heritage agreements, including Indigenous Land Use Agreements and approved Cultural Heritage Management Plans.  In doing this work you get to see a side of this great country that not everyone gets to see or is familiar with.  Working with Traditional Owners, in particular, is part of my job that I take great pride in and, as such, I have during the past few years also worked with the firm’s clients on a range of initiatives to increase the participation of Indigenous employees in the resources workforce.

Are there any emerging trends in the cases you are handling?

Stakeholder involvement is critical. Landholders, Traditional Owners, community groups, governments – it’s essential that everyone comes along for the journey. More and more, proponents are recognising this and committing to inclusive processes – a critical step, in my mind. But it can be difficult to identify just who you should be talking to, particularly when managing your native title and cultural heritage obligations. This was an issue we identified with our clients and were committed to resolving. We created a mapping system available from any iPhone that gives the user instant access to the relevant information. My clients continue to use the app to help manage their legislative obligations.

What projects have you been working on lately?

Queensland coal has been keeping me busy. Adani’s Carmichael Coal Project, which will be one of the largest coal mines in the world, is stepping through its project approval requirements – we have been advising on the EIS and related matters, and it is a terrific project to be involved in.  Having spent time in-house at Peabody and worked closely with their project development and stakeholder liaison teams over the years, I enjoy getting out on site with them whenever I can. I also enjoy working with the new players in the market, a critical aspect of our practice here at McR.

Are there any industry challenges currently impacting your operations?

It’s been well publicised that the resources industry has taken a hit over the past couple of years. We can’t control the market, but as an industry, one of our challenges together with the State and Federal governments, has been to streamline approvals processes and ensure the focus remains on delivering sustainable projects for Queensland and Australia.  We have come some way, but I think it’s fair to say we all acknowledge there is still work to do.  

Is there a business mantra you have adhered to throughout your career?

It’s all about delivering project certainty through commercial advice. I don’t think that we, as lawyers, can deliver that without understanding the industries in which we operate.  And that sets McCullough’s apart.  We know the resources industry. 


Author: Laura Daquino Connect via: Twitter LinkedIn





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