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On the job as a commercial litigation solicitor at Colin Biggers & Paisley
Joey McKenzie studied Bachelor of Laws / Bachelor of Justice at Queensland University of Technology and is now a commercial litigation solicitor at Colin Biggers & Paisley.
What is your role?
I am a commercial litigation solicitor in the Commercial and Dispute Resolution Group at Colin Biggers & Paisley.
Where did you study?
I attained my Bachelor of Laws and Bachelor of Justice from the Queensland University of Technology in 2013. I was admitted to practice as a solicitor in December 2014, after successfully having completed my Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice (also with QUT).
Can you describe your professional and academic background?
I was born and raised in Brisbane. During my last year of high school, I participated in QUT's Start program which allowed me to undertake two university subjects, whilst completing my senior year. This helped me to realise what I was passionate about and what I wanted to study. After having completed high school, I went straight on to study law. I knew from an early age that I wanted to study law. As a child, I had a passion for problem solving. My mother worked in law firms while I was growing up and I would often go and sit in her office after school and watch her work. This was where my enthusiasm for the mechanics of law developed.
While studying, I was fortunate enough to obtain a job as a secretary in a small firm. I was promoted through the ranks of junior law clerk and graduate and was eventually taken on as a solicitor, before moving on to a larger boutique firm in Brisbane's CBD. This was where I received my first taste of litigation and made my first appearance in Court. After working within this firm for 18 months and gaining exposure to various matters and areas of law, I knew I wanted to become a dedicated litigation solicitor and moved on to my current position at Colin Biggers & Paisley.
How did you get to your current job position and for how long have you had it?
I attained my current role through a recruiter I had been working with for a number of months, who put me forward for the position. After a whirlwind interview process, I was notified that I had been successful just two days after my initial interview. I have now been with Colin Biggers & Paisley for six months and absolutely love my role and the firm.
Are there any life experiences that have had an impact on your professional or personal priorities?
During university, I worked full-time and supported myself financially. I also cared for my mother, who was diagnosed with cancer early on in my studies and worked with a number of different volunteer groups, as volunteering is something that is close to my heart.
In my final year of university, I was successfully awarded a half Law Founder's Scholarship, which offers financial support to disadvantaged law students so that they are given the opportunity to reach their full potential. This scholarship provided me with valuable connections and mentoring opportunities, that have been integral to my career growth and progression.
What does your employer do?
At Colin Biggers & Paisley, we have four key practice areas – construction, property, commercial and dispute resolution, and insurance. I work within the commercial and dispute resolution practice, as a solicitor in the litigation team. Within the litigation team, we handle litigious disputes ranging from minor debt recovery, to large scale construction and insurance disputes, and everything in between.
What does your job involve?
Under the supervision of my partner, I am involved in the end-to-end resolution of these matters which includes undertaking tasks such as drafting pleadings, facilitating settlement negotiations, liaising with clients and barristers and appearing in Court. With offices in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane, as well as clients located interstate and internationally, my work is not restricted to Queensland matters. Our firm is fully integrated across these states and I often have the opportunity to travel or appear via telephone and video link in Court and at events being held in each of the states. I work closely with my colleagues in each state and have learnt that their experiences within and enthusiasm for Colin Biggers & Paisley closely mirrors my own.
Can you describe a typical day?
A typical day in my role includes checking in with my team, assigning priorities and undertaking those tasks typical of a dispute resolution lawyer such as meeting with clients or barristers, drafting pleadings, preparing advices, interviewing witnesses, court or mediation appearances or a combination of these tasks.
Could somebody with a different academic or professional background do your job?
Absolutely. One of the things that I love most about the law is its inclusivity. The beauty of this is that everyone's opinion is valuable and no matter what your background, race, age, gender or sexual orientation, everyone has a different perspective to contribute. Law is constantly evolving. Less than 30 years ago it was a criminal offence to engage in acts of homosexuality and, while the fight against discrimination of people within the LGBTI community continues, this is a great example of how a change in societal views has impacted the law. This would not have occurred if not for the input of lawyers from different backgrounds coming together for the common good.
Is there anything about your job that you’re particularly proud of?
I am particularly proud of the corporate social responsibility work undertaken by Colin Biggers & Paisley through the Colin Biggers & Paisley Foundation, of which I am an ambassador. The Foundation represents our community focused work, whether it be through pro bono legal work, volunteering or charitable contributions. Participation is actively encouraged and the firm is recognised as a market-leader in these endeavours. Lawyers have a very important responsibility to prosecute the case for change, in circumstances where the system has stopped working or has come to empower injustice.
Which attributes or skills are required for success in your role?
I do not believe that there is any one set of characteristics or skills that are essential to being a lawyer or litigator. One of the skills that I have noticed develop in myself in the last five years has been my resilience and my ability to take on board feedback as constructive, which I believe is an important characteristic for people working within the legal profession to have.
In saying that, I do think that a degree of value can be placed on solicitors who are able to negotiate with other solicitors and resolve a matter for the benefit of their client, without being aggressive. One of the most important skills I have learnt is the ability to pick up the phone and have a discussion with my opposition counterpart to determine how best to get a resolution that suits each of our clients.
I also think it is important to have a good work ethic and be willing to work hard while still achieving a work/life balance. This is another area that I see Colin Biggers & Paisley seeking to excel in. Colin Biggers & Paisley recognises that the meeting of an individual's needs outside of work directly impacts their productivity and motivation within the firm. Lawyers who are able to achieve a successful work/life balance equilibrium are more likely to have long, successful careers and are less likely suffer from burning out.
It is also important to be able to work both autonomously and as a part of a team. One of the things I value the most is being able to bounce ideas off of my colleagues and take into account differing perspectives and experiences to get the most value for our clients.
What’s the coolest thing about your job?
What I love most about my job is the fast-paced nature of litigation. I am constantly receiving instructions to work on disputes arising from vastly different factual backgrounds and find the appropriate remedy, defence or strategy to deliver the best available outcome for the client.
I am constantly challenged and given the opportunity to work on matters that challenge my abilities and, while I sometimes make mistakes, it is a great feeling knowing that my supervising partner trusts my judgment to give me the autonomy to grow and learn, while still offering support and assistance where it is required.
In terms of daily tasks, I love appearing in Court. A lot of hard work goes on behind the scenes in preparing for Court, and actually being able to take a matter that cannot be resolved through mediation or negotiation through to final hearing is very rewarding.
What are the limitations of your job?
Law is not for everyone - it can be as demanding as it is rewarding and getting the work/life balance right can often be difficult, particularly when you have a demanding matter or deadline to meet. It requires constant adjustment as your life and work priorities evolve over time.
My experience has been that Colin Biggers & Paisley recognises this and does everything it can to support me, and all of its employees, in the quest to balance this equation. Of course I have had many late nights and have had to turn down social events in preparing for cases and meeting deadlines. At times, this line of work can be stressful and challenging in dealing with client expectations and matters of great technical complexity. But working at this pace is not a constant and I value being able to have passions outside of the law that I can maintain and which provide a great form of stress-relief away from the office.
Do you have any advice for law student?
Don't burn bridges. We often outgrow relationships and there is nothing wrong with this, but the world - and particularly the world of law - is a very small place, and you never know when someone from your present or past is going to resurface as a future client, colleague, counterpart or even your boss.
Make sure you pursue interests outside of the law. Whether it be sport, theatre, or expertise in an entirely separate discipline, outside interests broaden our ability to think laterally and also provide a source of sanity and motivation when work, at times, seems overwhelming.