Anne Sullivan, a partner in the dispute resolution practice at Blake Dawson, has worked as a barrister in the sometimes "alien" bar. She speaks to Kate Gibbs
You are a partner in the litigation and dispute resolution practice at Blake Dawson. What does your average day involve?
My day is usually based around two things. The first is my work for clients and this involves liaising with clients as well as talking to the team about how we progress matters and reviewing the work we've done. The second is my responsibility as team leader of Sydney LDR where I'm dealing with issues across the spectrum from work flow to staff issues to business development. This week has been a little out of the ordinary as we have been preparing for a major hearing in the High Court next week and this is where my focus has been.
You have spent time on the New South Wales bar. What did you think of that sort of work?
It was challenging and interesting, but it involved a complementary skill set to that needed in resolving disputes in private practice. Good advocacy is about persuasion, as is good management, and that involves an understanding of who is listening to you and how they may interpret what you say. It is also reliant on very thorough preparation. The most significant difference was as a barrister, my focus was on court work, whereas today my practice is largely about avoiding court!
How has this experience helped your advocacy work?
There is no doubt that my experience at the Bar has stood me in good stead , both in terms of advocacy , which requires ongoing practice if one wishes to excel, and also in terms of case preparation, especially the way in which evidence should be presented to the Court. It also helped me to understand more fully the relationship between the Bar and the Bench.
Would you recommend this sort of experience to any lawyer looking to work in dispute resolution?
Not necessarily - there are some litigation lawyers in private practice who are natural advocates, and the Bar may well be their professional home, either temporarily or permanently. The Bar will feel alien to others, though, and there are many excellent dispute resolution practitioners who never have, and never will, contemplate a stint at the Bar.
How has dispute resolution work changed in the past year, if at all?
With the Commonwealth and State government focus on increasing the use of dispute resolution outside the court process, there is greater focus on achieving an outcome quickly, cheaply and efficiently. This often involves thinking creatively about how to find a resolution which is commercially attractive, practical and relationship-saving.
Have you seen a shift in the way lawyers work as a result of the GFC?
Not really - I think our team is as focussed as ever on delivering an excellent outcome for our clients, which involves technical expertise, hard work, some creativity and courage.
What are the biggest challenges facing lawyers in your practice area?
Developing amd maintaining a broad skill set encompassing negotiation, mediation and litigation skills.
What is the most interesting deal you've worked on?
I have had the benefit of working on many great cases! At the moment, the matter which will be heard in the High Court next week is very interesting. The legal issue raised is whether claims for the loss of an unlikely chance of a better medical outcome should be allowed at common law. It has been fascinating to review the case law and jurisprudence of other jurisdictions to analyse how the same issue has been dealt with, and it is a significant case for the development of the common law in Australia.
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