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The legal profession needs to set the ‘right foundation for the future’

After a massive 2022, the Maddocks CEO revealed to Lawyers Weekly the firm’s priorities moving forward and how he plans to future-proof the BigLaw firm.

user iconLauren Croft 09 January 2023 Big Law
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Following the promotion of 59 staff in June 2022, Maddocks then celebrated the 10th anniversary of its Canberra office, which opened in 2012, and the 20th anniversary of the Sydney office, which opened in 2002, as well as 138 years in operation.

At the time of its Sydney expansion in 2002, the firm comprised 200 staff and 20 partners in Melbourne. Now, Maddocks is a firm of 90 partners and more than 640 people working with a wide range of private and public sector clients from its offices in Melbourne, Sydney and Canberra.

In a conversation with Lawyers Weekly, Maddocks CEO David Newman said that the firm has evolved significantly over the past few years.


“Like many organisations emerging from the last couple of years of the pandemic, we’ve continued to capitalise on the rapid rate of adoption of technology and innovation across the business. Our people have adapted quickly to new ways of working and we want to progress this transition. We have launched a new strategy internally that is focused on modernising the way in which we work, while still maintaining the incredible culture for which Maddocks is best known,” he said.  

“To facilitate this strategy, we have upgraded our core technology systems, refreshed our innovation strategy and engaged with our clients about how we can continue to improve the delivery of our services. Some examples of these changes include overhauling our document management system, implementing a new document automation platform and increasing investment in low-code apps, such as Microsoft PowerApps, that will start to reduce administration time across our teams.

“Hybrid working will continue to be supported for those who want the flexibility of where they work. At a team level, leaders have been working with their team members to ensure that this arrangement works for our clients, the team and for each other.”

The firm has also seen increasing demand in a number of other areas — including in competition for talent.

“Although we are always looking to grow with the addition of new people to join the firm, our retention rates have exceeded the industry average and engagement scores are excellent. We have recruited record numbers of lawyers over the last two years and we expect to keep attracting new graduates and experienced lawyers who are looking to make their next career move to a firm that aligns with their values and career aspirations,” Mr Newman explained.

“Over the last year, we have continued to focus on providing a range of initiatives that support wellbeing and the career and lifestyle needs of our people, including an investment in a significant project that focuses on our remuneration and benefits. Providing flexible working arrangements and focusing on wellbeing continue to be major programs for us.”

Another big project for the firm last year was a “strategic review across the firm to redefine what Maddocks wants to be and how we will evolve over the next five years”, which the firm conducted over nine months.

“2023 will be our implementation phase of this strategy to modernise the firm. It will inform how we will work with each other and our clients for the next decade — it’s incredibly exciting,” Mr Newman added.

“In terms of legal recruitment, we think the legal market will improve slightly next year with borders reopening further and an anticipated slight softening in demand for legal services, but similar to the last few years, we believe that 2023 will remain a competitive market for attracting strong legal talent.  In light of the current challenges in the economy, we particularly see ongoing competition in the areas of litigation, regulation, energy, government, health and cyber.”

Another main goal for the firm over the course of this year is to invest significantly in their legal operations, according to Mr Newman.

“We are looking at how we make flexibility work better. We are also investing in our premises — having recently taken additional space in Melbourne to accommodate growth in headcount and allow us to continue to maximise the benefits and attraction of attending the office. Overall, how we will work with each other and our clients will continue to evolve and we continue to invest in modernising our client and employee experience. 

“When it comes to our clients, we’ll be very much focused on their needs in what is likely to be a challenging year. We see ongoing demand across the emerging areas of risk including cyber, climate change, supply chain and advice on regulatory issues and business resilience. We’re also expecting demand in digital transformation with a range of clients now facing issues around aging systems and data protection risks,” he added.

“These areas continue to be major horizon issues for our clients and will see most of our practice teams involved in preparing our clients to deal with each of these areas from a range of perspectives.”

Maddocks will also continue to invest in and evolve their key IT systems so that the firm is better able to leverage those systems for our clients’ benefit, including increasing the breadth and value of the data available to the firm.   

“Our legal operations will be in much more focus with our service offerings being integrated with our clients’ needs to create more efficiencies and enable them to do more with less,” Mr Newman noted.

“We are investing in supporting our clients in emerging issues, such as risk associated with climate change, digital transformation, aging populations, supply chain pressures and an increasing regulatory environment, as well as assisting them as they face high inflation and a rising interest rate environment. ESG will be a big focus area with many of our clients now requiring assistance with their own ESG commitments.”

This means the firm will advise on climate change and biodiversity, through to employment, data protection, modern slavery, as well as advice around governance including culture and ethics and risk and compliance frameworks — something which Mr Newman said was among the most important issues within the legal profession right now.

“ESG is a priority not only for many of our clients but also internally for our people — they want and expect to see progress. For the legal sector, we need to stay ahead of the curve so that we can ensure our clients are aligned with the latest trends and expectations.

“As changes occur in the regulations around employment, with both psycho-social risk regulations and the Respect@Work legislation, our employment, safety and people teams will be partnering with clients to help them navigate and implement a new way of managing and leading their workforces,” he said.

“Separately, we also recognise the importance of having meaningful recognition of our First Australians with the proposed Voice to Parliament. The legal profession has an obligation to participate in a meaningful and informed discussion around this important issue. As a firm, we will be actively engaging with our partners, staff and clients to ensure people are educated and informed about the proposed referendum to enshrine a First Nations Voice in the Constitution.”

In addition, one of the biggest challenges for the legal profession moving forward will be developing lawyers of the future, Mr Newman added.

“Providing our up-and-coming lawyers with those essential rites of passage and learning opportunities that used to give them that real-world experience and help them to develop is now far more challenging because of how the legal profession has evolved — the fact low-level work is being commoditised; we’re now working far more flexibly; and we’ve got downward pressure on rates where clients are often no longer prepared to pay us for the traditional ‘master-apprenticeship’ model. These issues are not new but they have been really brought to the fore because of COVID-19.

“The pandemic’s effects on how we are working has also led to more young lawyers missing out on opportunities to grow or develop; for instance, with more of us working flexibly and in back-to-back Team or Zoom calls, there are no longer informal post-meeting or court debriefs that would expose lawyers to insights about the actual work, that used to happen in the office. Training future lawyers is a challenge for our universities and the profession more broadly,” he said.

“There is also a risk of a disconnect between younger lawyers and the profession itself. In pre-COVID-19 times, new lawyers would be admitted in a ceremony at the Supreme Court and hear from the Chief Justice about the privilege of being in the profession, and the important role lawyers play. Over the past few years, they receive a letter in the mail congratulating them on becoming a lawyer without any fanfare. It risks not having the same significance.”

These challenges, Mr Newman emphasised, need to be a key priority for all aspects of the legal profession.

“The Courts need to modernise and work with the profession to ensure we are preserving the important aspects of the legal system as well as making sure we are acting efficiently and effectively for our clients. 

“The universities might also need to continue to consider how they are bringing law students through and the skills they provide their students might need to go beyond simply how to do research with a greater focus on what a modern lawyer looks like, in addition to giving them traditional legal skills,” he concluded.

“The profession more broadly needs to work on these issues so that we are setting the right foundation for the future — and from a societal perspective, we’ve got a legal profession in 20 years’ time where lawyers are well trained, ethical, and able to operate in and contribute to a modern society.”

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