Corporate with a heart of gold
Commercial law, business studies, pro bono – associate William Kontaxis juggles it all
Corporate law is more often associated with cut-throat negotiations than helping the needy. Yet for Salvos Legal associate William Kontaxis, the two go hand-in-hand. In just a few years, his career has taken him to the boardrooms of big-name clients and a processing facility on Manus Island.
William is a commercial lawyer with a twist – his work with banking and finance clients directly benefits people unable to afford legal representation.
The unique structure of Salvos Legal means the proceeds of its corporate advisory and commercial practice fund a pro bono arm.
According to William, Salvos’ pro bono sector has turned over 13,000 cases of advice and assistance – the equivalent of $35 million in free legal services.
The set-up allows William to use his corporate law skills to make a difference in the community.
“Through helping out on normal commercial work that I enjoy doing, I get to actually see the other side of the firm grow and prosper and help out many people in need,” he says.
“I get to do the big deals that you’d normally only expect to happen at a larger firm, but it’s still helping people.”
Down to business
William was set on law from a young age, announcing his career plans to his mother at just 12.
“I have no idea how or why it happened. I think I was watching too much Law & Order at the time,” he jokes.
When it came time to enrol in university, he decided to mix law with his other pet interest, business. “I’ve always been interested in anything that combines the two areas,” he says.
At Sydney’s UTS, William completed a Bachelor of Business followed by a Juris Doctor.
While this meant an extended stint at university, William believes his business background benefits his commercial clients.
Lawyers are renowned for using legalese, peppering their advice with Latin phrases and complex legislation.
While legally correct phrasing may protect business from lawsuits, it can be a nightmare for companies that just want their message heard, William believes.
He sees himself as a translator of sorts, balancing law with commercial realities. When clients send business materials for review, he can adapt them without losing the message.
“You want to change it to address the laws, but you also have that inclination to not want to change it too much so that it loses the marketing effect,” he says.
“I can put it in business-speak while making sure it’s legally compliant at the same time.”
In coming years William wants to deepen his understanding of the corporate world to assist his clients further. Despite his full-time workload, he is completing a Masters of Taxation at UNSW.
“If I can have a background knowledge in how tax will impact on a transaction, then I can also come up with the best advice for a client and not have to farm pieces off to other people,” he says.
Since William joined Salvos Legal about 18 months ago, the 27-year-old has gone from strength to strength.
Last year he became a finalist for the Lawyers Weekly Young Gun Award. He also got a chance to explore new worlds. While his parents emigrated from Greece at a young age, William had never left the country before starting at Salvos.
Like many young people, William’s first overseas trip took him to a tropical island.
Rather than a Bali resort, however, William found himself on Manus Island at the government’s asylum-seeker processing centre.
His role involved inspecting it as part of a contract between the government and the Salvation Army.
“It was certainly an eye-opening experience, getting on a plane to go overseas for the first time and ending up at Manus Island,” William says.
William relishes his work at Salvos but is already looking to the future. He and a close friend from high school plan to start their own practice one day, a multi-disciplinary firm covering accounting, legal and other areas.
“I am very much enjoying what I’m doing, but that’s something I look to once I reach partner level and I’m ready to go off on my own,” he says.
Reflecting on his career thus far, William believes his younger self would have been proud.
“Twelve year old William probably didn’t know quite what to expect, but William would be telling him you’ve done very well – there’s lots of room to go, but you’re on the right track.”