Allens Confidential podcast
Do law firms really care about culture and the community?
In an interview with one of Allens' longest-serving Partners, Ian McGill (Partner, Technology, Media & Telecommunications), and one of its newest, Simun Soljo (Partner, Funds, Super & Wealth), Geneva and Roseanna explore the firm's culture and commitment to pro bono and community work.
This in-depth discussion includes an overview of how Allens has changed with the times, and topics ranging from marriage equality, reconciliation, and all the different ways of being involved with advocacy – to the benefits of saying hello to colleagues in the kitchen.
What did we talk about?
- The RAP and ALLin committees at Allens
- Interview recollections
- The importance of advocacy
This episode is part of our 2018 series.
Listen to the episode
Geneva Sekula Hi, everyone. I'm Geneva.
Roseanna Bricknell And I'm Rose.
Geneva Sekula And this is Allens Confidential. We are both junior lawyers in the Competition team and we are bringing you our podcast again to give you a bit more insight into Allens, our culture and the people that we work with.
Roseanna Bricknell All sensational.
Geneva Sekula Today we are lucky to have two partners joining us. First of all, we've got Ian McGill, who's been a partner in our Technology, Media and Telecommunications team for longer than he will care to admit. And also Simun Soljo, who's a partner in our Funds, Super and Wealth team and was made a partner only in July 2018, this year, and he's one of our fun and fresh new faces.
Roseanna Bricknell And there's two of the best junior lawyers working for him.
Geneva Sekula Oh yeah, that's us.
Roseanna Bricknell That's us.
Geneva Sekula So, let's get straight into it. So, we thought we'd start, which we often do with our guests, by asking if you have a favourite podcast, because part of the reason we're doing this podcast is because we have many favourite podcasts and are always looking for recommendations.
Roseanna Bricknell Although, clearly, it will be after, this will be your new favourite podcast but then what comes second to this.
Ian McGill So, Simun, why don’t you kick off.
Simun Soljo I can kick off. I am a regular listener to podcasts on my commute and when I go to the supermarket and that sort of thing, it's always good to have something playing in the ears. I actually quite like conversational podcasts, so this is right up my alley, although usually the ones I listen to, interview – I like conversations and Radio National, and they interview really interesting people who do really interesting things; not commercial law usually, it's usually …[laughter]
Geneva Sekula So, is this Richard Fidler the third-best podcast interviewer after us, basically…
Simun Soljo Yeah, so Richard Fidler is your benchmark today.
Geneva Sekula I actually did listen to some of his podcasts in preparation for this and found it a little bit depressing.
Simun Soljo [laughter]… So, he's terrific. I also like The Philosopher's Zone on ABC, so if I'm feeling like a philosophical topic, I'll get that on.
Geneva Sekula Some solid Australian recommendations made there.
Ian McGill Yeah, well, look, I'm also going to put a little vote in for Richard Fidler, I think; I really enjoy his conversations. I think, because he's a great listener, you notice that he has his plan but he goes with the interview and it's wonderful, he's one of the – he's very, very good. But, so I'm a bit despondent at the moment about what's going on in the world and, particularly, what's going on in the United States of America. I shouldn't be political but what I do do to centre myself is, I listen to the New Yorker podcasts on politics and that helps to centre me because it gives me some confirmation that there are still sensible people in the United States of America.
Roseanna Bricknell That's fair, sometimes you need a bit of happiness to get through.
Geneva Sekula Well, I guess we'll kick right on into it, and we thought we'd get to the heart of, some of the things we've been talking about with students in the recruitment process, and that we've been talking about with Lauren, who people might know at Allens. So there's kind of an idea that Allens is quite conservative or that we're quite a traditional firm but there's kind of that reputation, and you know, Simun, you've come from somewhere else, and so I'm just wondering, in your experience, did you have that view of Allens and since coming here how have you found your preconceived ideas, maybe, and versus what is the reality.
Simun Soljo So I came to Allens 4½ years ago and I didn't know anybody at Allens so I didn't really have people inside to ask about the firm so I had a very superficial understanding of it, and I have to say, even as recently as that, in my mind it had a bit of a conservative reputation but I was really pleasantly surprised when I came that the reality is not like that. In fact I think it's one of the most progressive workplaces that I've ever come across. We have a lot of people who are really interested in what's happening in the world; are really interested in supporting important causes, but often they do it in an understated way, and they do it in a quiet way, which involves using their minds and their legal expertise to support what other people are doing, so a great example is all of the work we're doing in pro bono work, which is often behind the scenes, working with people, using our legal expertise, not necessarily trumpeting ourselves, but you'd be surprised in how many places and the sorts of causes where Allens has had a role in supporting the work people do.
Geneva Sekula I think that's true. I mean, and I know a lot of my colleagues even, more at junior level, a lot of us love the pro bono side of things and we've all got our sort of matters that are close to our heart.
Roseanna Bricknell You've had some quite interesting ones haven't you, Geneva?
Geneva Sekula Well, I had a great one with Ian that was based in constitutional law, which I kind of thought, Oh, once I come to a commercial firm, that'll be the end of my constitutional law days, but not so, which was good news for me [laughter].
Ian McGill Is that a segue?
Geneva Sekula Well, it could be.
Ian McGill Yeah.
Geneva Sekula Yeah, do you want to tell us a bit about this particular matter, Ian, or it's something…
Ian McGill No, no, I just wanted to say that, picking up on the conservatism point, it's an interesting one, isn't it, because what is it about law firms that makes them different, and I think for people who are not lawyers looking into law firms, they all tend to look a bit the same, a bit grey, I would have thought. But it's only when you start working with other law firms, or you come into a firm that you get to know it but, so Simun joined the firm 4½ years ago, and I joined it 36½ years ago and the firm that I joined then was very, very different to the firm that we have today, is the truth, and the firm has changed dramatically. And, frankly, it needed to because Australia has changed over that period; so the firm I joined, all the partners were, I kid you not, 'Mr'. There were no 'Ms' or, there were no female partners in the firm that I joined. And so, Australia has changed, the firm has changed. What formality there used to be no longer exists. But also the firm is, I think, much more strongly engaged with its community; in a sense, it always was because it's been an Australian law firm for nearly 200 years, it'll turn 200 in 2022, so, in a way, you can't last for that long without being engaged, but the firm, because Australia has changed, the people that are coming into the firm are changing it, it's starting to reflect who we are as Australians, and more strength to its arm for doing that. The other thing I noticed when I became a bit more involved in the management of the firm, was that it was, it was a firm that prided itself on the substance of what it did and it just quietly went around doing the substance of the work that it did, looking after clients and doing great work; but it didn't believe in press releases about what it was doing. So, I used to think it was a firm that hid its light under a bushel and there is an element of that to some extent even today, though I think we're much better at engagement with media and much better at celebrating our successes than we were before. So, if conservative means that we're a firm that failed to change with the times, no, we're not conservative, and, in a sense, I don’t think we ever were.
Geneva Sekula I think that, I mean, obviously I have not been at the firm as long but, yeah, it hasn't been my experience at all. I've felt like I can come to work and be myself and that we're doing really exciting and cutting-edge things.
Roseanna Bricknell It's interesting you say come to work and be yourself because, actually, that's my favourite thing about working here, is that everyone, and to a certain degree perhaps too much, knows everything about my life, I come here and everyone knows what I did on the weekend and, you know, it's a place where I can be my whole self all the time, I never have to pretend to be anything that I'm not, which I think is one of the best things about it, and, in my experience, that's pretty much true for everyone else who works here, and I'm curious if that's also your experience, and I think it's one of the most wonderful things about coming to work every day. That it's just a bunch of people who are friendly…
Ian McGill I'm sure I don't share as much as you do, Rose [laughter]… it might be oversharing, but no, I think you can be authentically yourself at Allens, it's a very secure place to be and to work, and I think Allens has always been a very tolerant firm and it's prided itself on its diversity over the years and the talent that it's taken over the years.
Simun Soljo I also have to agree that it's a very, very friendly place and a place where you know there's really good camaraderie between people, and it's something that once you're at the firm, you don't even notice because it's just the way we work; we are so easy with each other, people speak to each other easily and people are friendly, and, in fact, I remember, it may have been my first or second day here, Ian was the first person to introduce himself in the kitchen when I was making myself a cup of tea. He was this friendly face who came along and put his hand out and I almost fell over. I had never had somebody introduce themselves in the kitchen to me.
Ian McGill Is that right?
Simun Soljo That's right.
Ian McGill I have no recollection of that.
Simun Soljo It has happened several times since. It is the sort of place where if you see somebody in the kitchen you don't recognise on a floor, people will say hello and introduce themselves. It might be someone visiting from another office. It might be a new lawyer who has just started. That's just a little example, I think, of how we interact with each other.
Geneva Sekula I have to say, my first day as a clerk, I arrived, I was ready to impress, I was really going to try so hard to do my work. I got no work done because people just kept coming to my office to be, like, 'Hi, how are you. Welcome. How are you settling in. How's it all going,' and I just did nothing, because everyone just wanted to have a chat, which, I mean, I loved. It is a real testament to how friendly people are and that they really want to engage with you.
Ian McGill It's true. That reflects the way, not only the way we play together and we get on with each other, but it is also the way we work together. Because there is a really strong emphasis on collaboration and teamwork and the fact that everybody's office is open and people go and share problems with each other. We get expertise in when we need it from other areas of the firm. No person is encouraged to pretend they're an island. It's a part of the culture of the partnership, in a sense, because it's the way we share profit. We don't have an eat-what-you-kill-type performance structure. It's a joint enterprise, so it's a true partnership in that sense. Hopefully, that is noticed by the staff. Partners get it. We need to work together.
Geneva Sekula I certainly notice it. One of my favourite matters at the moment is a matter I am working on with my team, the Competition team, but also with, not you, unfortunately, Ian, but another partner in your team, the Technology, Media and Telecommunications team, which is quite a difficult one, really, and there is lots of, I think, the Corporate team is involved as well on things that I am not seeing. In fact, Simun, you might be on it too and we are acting for a company that has lots of different things that they need help with and, as a result, I am on the phone to people on different floors all the time, going up and down visiting them, and I love that. Just working with people that you are not otherwise seeing in the next-door office.
Ian McGill Yeah, so it's a real team effort.
Geneva Sekula On the topic of in the community, you both are involved in the non-work aspects of life at Allens, and I was wondering if I could ask you a bit about both your work on the RAP Committee and the ALLin Committee.
Ian McGill Okay, well, Simun, do you want to kick off?
Simun Soljo I can kick off. I am on the RAP Committee, which you mentioned, but I feel like a bit of fraud on the RAP Committee because I am one of these people who – I am not, no, Ian is giving me a look. I am one of these people who joined the RAP Committee because I wanted to be more informed, and I think that there are people on the RAP Committee who joined for that reason. We have committees that are really open to everybody. So, you can be on a committee just because you are really interested in a topic and you want to be involved in attending events and hearing about the work that the firm is doing, or you can be much more heavily informed, actually drafting stuff and that sort of thing. I have been involved in ALLin, which is the Allens LGBTI and allies group, which has been around for a long time. It was at the firm when I joined, which has been terrific, and, really, we are here to support people in the firm who identify as LGBTI and quite a lot of our members are allies as well. There have been, obviously, lots of issues that have been important for that community, including marriage equality, which the firm was one of the earliest supporters of, public supporter of marriage equality, a couple of years before the, what was it, the survey.
Ian McGill Plebiscite.
Simun Soljo Plebiscite.
Ian McGill Was it a plebiscite. It was a non-binding …
Simun Soljo A voluntary non-binding survey of the Australian population about a very important issue.
Ian McGill Which conclusively answered the question – Yes.
Simun Soljo That's right.
Ian McGill I have been involved with the Reconciliation Action Plan Committee from the very commencement of it. The reason I got involved was initially, like Simun, I was just curious and I wanted to know about – I wanted to know about reconciliation and I was very taken by the challenge of closing the gap. I felt as an Australian, I felt totally ashamed as an Australian, that here are we in one of the wealthiest countries in the world, with infant mortality rates and education rates for our Indigenous people, where the outcomes for them are not the same as the outcomes for us. It seemed to me that a great firm ought to be involved in the great issues that Australia has to wrestle with and we have not, even to this day, successfully closed the gap. We are improving on education outcomes, but health outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are still, frankly, appalling. I initially thought what can a whitefella law firm do about this, but then it has dawned on me over the years since I joined that we can actually do a lot, the lot that we do, and I am very proud of the whole of the Australian legal profession. It's not about Allens here, the thing about a RAP is it's about the community of lawyers that are involved in reconciliation. This is not some competitive advantage we seek by having a RAP. In fact, the more law firms that have RAPs, the better we feel about it. Reconciliation for me at Allens means the practical legal assistance that we can provide through our pro bono practice, for example, to deal with Indigenous issues. That's really powerful and in our latest RAP we are committing to a much larger percentage of our pro bono work to go to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations and issues. So that's really a ground-floor type, on-the-ground assistance. Then we've become quite heavily involved in Constitutional recognition, which is a higher-level issue but highly symbolic. As lawyers, we know that words matter, and words matter in our Constitution and there is a gap in our Constitution and we need to fill it by recognising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and we need to hear the message of the Uluru Statement from the Heart. We need to hear that message and we need to act on it, and Allens is at the forefront, working with a great number of lawyers around Australia to see if we can hear that call and execute on it. I am extremely, extremely proud of the work that we are doing in that area. If you can't tell, I am rather committed to it as well.
I, certainly as a junior lawyer who's involved in a few committees, but also the RAP Committee, I think it's exciting to me that as part of my job I can be involved in the advocacy, and I think that we are so lucky as lawyers, it’s a privilege to have the voices that we have and the education and skill sets that we do. So, it's fantastic for me to have that buy-in from someone senior who says, 'Actually, yes, the whole point of this is that you have all of this privilege and what you should be doing is opening the door to other people to enjoy that as well because they're the people that know best how to make a change.'
Ian McGill Not because we can, but because we must.
Roseanna Bricknell I want to change gears because, Ian, you have been promising me a story of your starting as a grad or interviewing as a grad. You have been promising me this story for a while.
Ian McGill I have.
Roseanna Bricknell So, now that you have a microphone in front of you, recording the answer, I would love to hear it.
Ian McGill It is really important not to overpromise and underdeliver. You can't have a span of time at a firm like I've had without having some stories. I guess this story is just about me not being a summer clerk at Allens and the lesson from this story is get prepared for your summer clerk interview. I came to Allens as a graduate, and I did interview as a summer clerk at Allens and I turned up for my interview and I was interviewed by a very senior partner who, to my recollection, didn't do much legal work, so he was in charge of telephones and getting equipment procured for the firm. It was a different time. Anyway, he said to me, 'Come in, young fellow, and why don't you tell me a little bit about yourself,' and I said, 'Oh, well, look, I really like sport and I play cricket.' He goes, 'Oh, you play cricket, do you.' I said, 'Yes, I love cricket. I really do.' He said, 'What do you do?'. I said, 'I like to open the batting and I am a wicketkeeper,' and he just looked down and he made a note and he said, 'I'm the firm's wicketkeeper.' My recollection was then the interview went south after that point. The lesson there is, I should have prepared, realised, I don't know how I could have researched the fact that my interviewer was the firm's wicketkeeper, but I'd like to say that the only reason I didn't get a summer clerkship at Allens was because I stuffed up the answer to that particular question. Then I came in via a graduate interview, and I'll never forget the graduate interview either because I had the flu and I was in a really shocking state, really blocked up and I was cranky. I turned up to this interview and I was interviewed by three male partners, two of whom were smoking cigars, and with the flu, I walked into this smoke-filled room, I was not feeling well, I was in a bad mood and I was cranky, and the questions, I just gave them short shrift, every one of them, I really wanted to get out of there. I remember walking out and thinking No way, whatever; just, I wanted to go home. That afternoon I got a telegram – that dates me –and it was a telegram saying that interview went terrifically well and very pleased to make me an offer, and for many, many years after that, my mum had taped that telegram to the fridge.
Roseanna Bricknell Isn't that lovely. It's funny your interviews are so memorable, Ian, because, actually, I will never forget my second interview at Allens, which was with you.
Ian McGill I have no recollection of that, Rose.
Roseanna Bricknell Thanks. I'm really not sure what to take from that but I do remember walking out of the interview and thinking Oh no, I didn't cover this and I really should've said this, and Gosh, there was just a lot of things that didn't go right there, and walking out onto the train on the way home going, I really liked Allens, it's all over. Luckily, ended up here, so, thanks, it obviously wasn't so bad. The reason I bring that up (a) is because you never know how it's going to go, but (b) you've both been pretty heavily involved in the recruitment process this year and over time, and I was wondering if you wanted to share any stories about what you're most excited about, about the firm and its future, and how the process has been for you on the other side of the table.
Simun Soljo I think it's really exciting interviewing and meeting new candidates and people who will join us as summer clerks and then, hopefully, as lawyers, because you just see the amazing things that lots of young people are doing at university, outside of university. I'm always amazed by how much people can pack into their weeks. Often they're working as well as being involved in university societies, they're volunteering, they're travelling, they're writing, they're podcasting, people are doing so much and it's really amazing, and so I think when I'm involved in the recruitment process, I think the firm has a really bright future because there are going to be amazing, talented young people who will want to join us and work with us and become great lawyers, and so it fills me with optimism, unlike our political situation.
Ian McGill Yes, unlike that; sorry, I just wanted to make a correction, I do remember interviewing Rose, I was teasing.
Roseanna Bricknell Late save, Ian.
Ian McGill I love interviewing because, and I've done it for a number of years, so for me it's an opportunity for me to reflect on my own firm because I have to reflect on it and present it authentically to people who want to know about it. That's always a privilege to be able to do that but it's also a privilege to be a part of the renewal of your firm because I always think that the person I interview could be somebody who is going to have a successful career anywhere at all. You know that old expression, you should be nice to people on the way up because they'll be nice to you when you're on the way down. I always think that you could be interviewing the future managing partner of Allens and this person could have your career in their hands.
Roseanna Bricknell Maybe it would be good to remember when you did their second-round interviewing.
Ian McGill Especially if their name is Rose. That privilege of being able to present your firm to the community of graduates but also to listen to them and ask them about what they're looking for and what they're thinking about, and I always ask them what their perceptions are of us because I'm really interested to know what particularly law students are thinking about the law firms. I always try to reassure them that whatever they hear about the law firms at law school is probably not accurate and that the best way to get information about what really goes on at all the firms is to talk to friends of yours who are actually working there, who are sort of on the inside, because I think there's a lot of inaccurate gossip that goes on.
Roseanna Bricknell Or listen to Allens Confidential.
Ian McGill Allens Confidential is a great source.
Geneva Sekula To confirm, there are less cigars now in the interview process.
Ian McGill Oh yeah.
Roseanna Bricknell I think it's getting time to wrap it up, not unlike, possibly, one of those clerkship interviews where all of a sudden you're, like, Oh, that was quite a nice conversation, is it really time for that to be finished, what a shame; that's how I feel a bit, but we do have one final question that we'd like to ask you, which is, if you could give yourself at the beginning of your career or someone who is applying now a piece of advice, any advice you wish you knew, what would it be?
Ian McGill Okay, well, I think the advice I would give is to almost deliberately put yourself outside your comfort zone when you join any firm, and the reason for that is to just stretch yourself and to join societies or firm committees, to go looking for work that you're interested in, just put yourself outside your comfort zone and stretch yourself, and I think that that would be a great way to start a career because you're doing so in an environment of incredible support. People are never going to criticise you if you're out there trying to stretch, that would be my advice.
Simun Soljo I agree with that, and I think the attitude to come with is one of curiosity and wanting to learn and learn about what people do, to meet people, to explore. I think it's great if you've got a favourite subject or if you think you want to be a litigator or the next great M&A lawyer but the summer clerkship, especially, is a great opportunity to try other things and to try new things and to be really open to trying other areas of law because you never know what you're going to enjoy, and a lot of lawyers in the firm have ended up in areas that they never thought about before, or that didn't exist in your case, Ian.
Ian McGill What, the internet.
Simun Soljo Technology, yeah.
Ian McGill That's absolutely true. I often thought Why did I get into TMT, and part of it was luck, in a way, but part of it was also I deliberately, once I'd had exposure to it, I then built my career around it, by, for example, resigning from the firm to go to the University of Virginia and doing a course in communications law and, in other words, really focusing my effort in that area and then coming back and building deeper in that area, going from broadcasting to telecommunications and then to the internet, it's sort of a natural progression, I'm constantly stretched.
Roseanna Bricknell Have to see what comes next.
Ian McGill What does come after the internet.
Geneva Sekula Thank you, both, so much for having a chat with us today, I think we've had some really interesting insights into the firm and it was great to hear a bit more about your careers, so thank you so much.
Ian McGill Such a pleasure.
Simun Soljo You're welcome, a pleasure.
Ian McGill You guys are really podcasters with a bullet.
Geneva Sekula Get into the difficult questions.
Simun Soljo Watch out, Richard Fidler, I say.
Roseanna Bricknell That's right, he's number three now.
Geneva Sekula So, that brings us to the end of another wonderful episode of Allens Confidential, I hope you enjoyed listening to it as much as we enjoyed recording it and having a chat with some of the wonderful people we work with.