MINTER ELLISON senior associate Andrew Lu said he almost hyperventilated on finding out his name was being considered for an Order of Australia medal for his service to the arts.
After opening the letter he found in his in tray, Lu was surprised to see he’d been invited to attend a garden party at Government House, before realising the invitation was actually a request to accept the award.
“My partner, who I work closely with, saw that I was holding the letter in my hand,” he said. “He was the first person I told, simply because I needed to explain why I was in the office hyperventilating!”
On the Queens Birthday public holiday, the Canberra-based lawyer was officially named in the honours list for his service to the arts — through a range of administrative roles — and to the community. The network of cultural projects across visual arts and music that Lu is involved in are numerous, including board positions with the Canberra Symphony Orchestra, The Jigsaw Theatre Company and ACT Filmmakers’ Network.
He is also currently a partner of Proportio Arts Management.
At just 30 years of age, Lu could well be one of the youngest Australians to win the award for service to the arts. It’s an impressive feat, given the usual workload he endures as a full-time commercial lawyer.
But on finding the time to use his administration and legal skills to assist with a number of different areas of the Arts, Lu says it’s simply a matter of wanting to contribute: “If you are passionate about something, you make time to fit it into your life,” he says. “You make time for beauty in your life. You hope to make a contribution with what little time you have.”
The passion, he said, comes from a background in music, his avid ear for listening to classical music and interest in attending the theatre and art galleries. “I think I’m a bit of a frustrated artist,” he said.
Frustrated or not, Lu has managed to surround himself with other like-minded people, both in and out of the legal community. His inspiration for giving back to the cultural sector, he said, arose out of observing how other lawyers — including David Gonski, a former partner at Freehills who has also served as chair of NIDA and the Australia Council — were able to use their skills to get involved.
As a young lawyer, Lu said he’d also use his lunchtime breaks at the Freehills Sydney office to find inspiration for his work: “I’d often walk from Martin Place to the Art Gallery of NSW, and I would sit in the gallery spaces surrounded by whichever genre of painting took my fancy on a particular day,” he said.
“I would use that fifteen minutes to clear my mind to be able to go back and work on a deal until the wee small hours of the morning.”
Lu said that in his early years as a lawyer he was able to network with former Minter Ellison partner Maurice Cashmere, who is a major donor to the Art Gallery of NSW, as well as artists Ray Wilson and James Agapitos and even more senior colleagues in the legal profession with strong cultural interests, such as Justice Michael Kirby.
Meanwhile his pathway to Minters has not been the most conventional of routes. Once upon a time, Lu applied for and got into medicine. “I thought: ‘I don’t really like physics, or chemistry or blood, but I do rather like music and the visual arts and history and literature’.”
So Lu moved on to study a Liberal Arts degree where he fell into a group connecting with the visual and performing arts. Initially assisting by writing grant applications, the extra-curricular activities quickly paved an alternative career as an arts administrator and manager.
He decided to study law as a means to brush up on tax law and other issues surrounding contracts, but was at the time adamant that he would never practice in a commercial law firm.
“At first, I was actually turned off the idea of becoming a lawyer and entering the commercial world of people in pin-striped suits,” he said.