Allens Confidential podcast
The Allens career deal
In this episode, new partners Felicity McMahon and Tristan Iredell discuss their journeys to partnership, the Allens Career Deal, and how a collegial culture can help a home feel like a workplace during lockdown (even if you're sitting on a dining chair in your childhood bedroom).
They answer the question 'So, what, exactly, is the Allens Career Deal?', showing how it can guide and support people to set themselves up for success, and do everything from working overseas to starting a podcast; and examine how working remotely has led to increased connection.
What did we talk about?
- Performance coaching
- The influence of working globally
- The collaborative culture at Allens
This episode is part of our 2020 series.
Listen to the episode
Geneva Sekula Hello and welcome to another sensational episode of Allens Confidential. As always I'm Geneva, your host, and I'm joined by my fabulous co‑host, Caitlin. Today we are very lucky to be joined by two Partners Elect, Tristan Iredell and Felicity McMahon. Tristan works now in the Projects and Development group over in the Perth office and Felicity is Sydney‑based in our Competition team. Today we are going be talking career progression and mentorship, and thinking about the Allens career deal and what that actually means. Welcome, both, and thank you so much for joining us.
Felicity McMahon Thanks, Geneva, for your enthusiastic welcome, it's great to be here.
Geneva Sekula I guess what we like to do to kick the podcast off is to ask our guests what podcasts you've been listening to lately. So, Felicity, did you want to kick that off?
Felicity McMahon I am a podcast lover so I listen to lots and lots of podcasts, particularly when I'm walking around and doing some exercise. I like The Daily from the New York Times, The Economist, The Spectator, Freakonomics, The Boss Files, Ways to Change the World. I'm a relatively new mum, so I have my dose of baby and motherhood podcasts like The Longest Shortest Time, but I guess a couple of my favourites at the moment are Revision, which is sort of an in‑depth background view of things that have happened in the past or happening now and gives you an overview of that, and I really love Desert Island Discs, which is an old favourite, a classic from the UK but one of my favourites.
Geneva Sekula Probably a better question would have been are there any podcasts that you don't listen to currently.
Felicity McMahon That's right, yes.
Tristan Iredell I have to admit that I am a bit of a dinosaur in this regard. I've subscribed to The Economist for the longest time and enjoy going to my mailbox and getting out the magazines and reading them but I have been online for their podcasts as well, which is very good, so we might make a modern person of me yet. I do listen to … I'm a bit of a Leigh Sales tragic so I have been listening to her and Annabel Crabb's podcast, which is quite a bit of fun. I'm not their target audience but that's quite enjoyable. At least these have inspired me to get a bit more involved.
Caitlin Burke Do you know I've never actually listened to the podcast but I am part of the Facebook group for Chat 10 and it's, like, the most wholesome corner of the internet, there's, like, beautiful baking stories and, like, kindness, it's so lovely.
Tristan Iredell Yeah, I like to do a bit of baking, so there's some good recipes, they're really quite, yeah, they're quite on top of this.
Felicity McMahon Oh, I love, I'm on that Facebook group too, that's one of my podcasts. I love the 'which tile shall I choose for my kitchen'.
Geneva Sekula Someone yesterday was asking about personality‑type recommendations and I was like, ah, this the website I like where you get assigned a number. Anyway, it's very nice.
Caitlin Burke Hopefully Chat 10 is your gateway drug, Tristan, into the world of podcasts for evermore now.
Tristan Iredell Yeah, maybe, maybe. And The Economist was good as well, so I've doing been a bit more of that. Felicity inspired me in some of our preparation conversations, so I'm not quite at her level, there's a lot more in that list than I recall from last time, so I've got a bit of a way to go.
Felicity McMahon Yeah, that's right.
Geneva Sekula I always do that aspirational thing where I'm like, ah, yes, that sounds like a wonderful podcast, so I subscribe to it and my phone downloads 50 different episodes, and then my phone tells me it's out of space so I just go and offload all of the podcasts. But one day I will actually listen to the educational ones that I download.
Felicity McMahon I have to say I take a similar approach, Geneva, but I'm also I feel like I'm in an open relationship with all my subscriptions and that I don’t have to be sort of, I don't have to commit to them or, you know, watch, listen to every one. I'm pretty quick to end a podcast if it's not interesting me and skip to another one.
Geneva Sekula Maybe that's where I'm going wrong, because I feel like if I listen to a podcast I have to listen to every single episode before I can say that that's the podcast that I listen to.
Felicity McMahon No, pick and choose.
Geneva Sekula You guys have given me a lot to think about, to take away.
Felicity McMahon Isn't this the millennial way – like, I'm technically a millennial – and you just take what you want from the world?
Caitlin Burke We better learn about your career journeys, guys, I'm interested in that. Tristan, do you want to start with telling us how you got to where you are?
Tristan Iredell Yeah, absolutely. I've had a little bit of a varied journey, somewhat non‑linear. I started at another firm; I thought I would be an M&A lawyer and started doing that sort of work in my graduate year. A couple of years later the GFC hit in a big way, so I ended up going and doing a bunch of construction litigation work, and really enjoyed that, brought in the front end transactional construction work, and that really started my journey and I ended up as a partner in project development and construction. So there's strange opportunities that come out of the unknown or unforeseen events. I actually moved to Allens in about 2011 to continue that transactional project work and then moved in early 2014 to Singapore. There's a huge amount of work in South East Asia and Singapore is obviously an amazing hub to be based out of, so I brought those construction project development skills and then dabbled in project finance work as well. So I worked all over South East Asia for almost four years. So I've been back at Allens now for about 2½ and sort of heading up the construction project development practice here in Perth. So that's me.
Geneva Sekula Amazing. How was your time overseas? I mean, that sounds like an incredible opportunity.
Tristan Iredell Yeah, it really is. I mean, I'd recommend to anyone, honestly. The different cultures, the different experiences, everyone does things slightly differently. Asia and South East Asia is hugely busy, obviously, and the work is tough, the hours are pretty long, but it's very rewarding and that whole client mix, going out with clients, socially and at work, it's really magnified there. Everyone is a bit of an orphan in Singapore, so you all sort of band together and do a lot together, so it's an amazing experience.
Geneva Sekula And what prompted you to go there? I mean, was it something that fell into your life or was it something that you were actively pushing for?
Tristan Iredell I'd always wanted to go overseas, honestly. I had thought about going to London originally and then, the GFC and other things, I got caught up here and kept working. So it was always something I wanted to do. But Allens, I had been doing a lot of work with Allens overseas. I was doing a lot of work in Indonesia, in India, a project development on cement plants, of all things, and that really kicked off an interest in the work happening in Asia, so I then actively looked into that experience over there.
Geneva Sekula Amazing. And, Felicity, you've spent some time abroad as well. What about your career journey and your path to Allens?
Felicity McMahon Yes, so I actually started my career in London, so I went straight from university to Linklaters, and this was all very much pre the Allens and Linklaters alliance.
Geneva Sekula Trendsetter.
Felicity McMahon Yes, indeed, indeed. And I was just so keen to move out of, I guess, the Hills District that I decided that the only way to do that was to move country. I basically moved from my parents' house to London, so that was great, a great distance to put between us.
Caitlin Burke It would be a baptism of fire from the Hills to London as well.
Felicity McMahon Indeed, indeed. But I always knew I wanted to live and work overseas so I thought, well, why not do it off the bat, and so I went there and I did my training contract, qualified as an English lawyer as well as an Australian lawyer, and then stayed at Linklaters for a little while qualifying into the competition team there. And then I moved to a US law firm called Kirkland & Ellis in London and they were sort of establishing a new competition practice and I was really attracted to sort of helping them be part of building that practice in London. And then I decided to move back to Sydney and came to Allens, and by that point there was an alliance between Allens and Linklaters, which was convenient, because some due diligence could be conducted about me with the partners; fortunately it all came back pretty clean and helpful, so I came back to Allens in 2015 and have been here since then.
Geneva Sekula And had just now a rise to the top.
Felicity McMahon Yes, well, I'm not sure we call it the top quite yet, Geneva. There's still ambition here and still a long way to go, still a long way to go.
Geneva Sekula I guess for our people listening to this podcast, I mean, they are still in the very early stage of their career, and one thing that we always talk about at Allens is the Allens career deal and, to be honest, I actually got quite far through the clerkship process without actually knowing what that meant or understanding it. So maybe someone should just jump in and give us a quick overview of what the Allens career deal actually is and how you've seen that in action in your own careers?
Tristan Iredell Yeah, sure, I'm happy to start. I think the idea of the Allens career deal is what you will share, what you will contribute as a lawyer, as a senior associate and continuing on, and then what Allens will contribute and how we will help support it. So it's really a two‑way process and that actually then touches on what I really like about the deal. It's self‑driven for your own career, it's up to you to engage and seek out opportunities, taking ownership of work, allowing you to step up and really get involved to the extent that you want to. And then Allens will support that. We'll give you the training, the coaching, the mentoring, both formal and informal, flexible working, whatever you need to make sure that your career is a success.
Geneva Sekula And how was that for you? How have you seen that play out for yourself personally?
Tristan Iredell For me it's the taking ownership of work; certainly, coming to Allens and doing largely that dispute construction litigation-type work, wanting to get involved in the transactional work, getting involved and being supported by the people at Allens to get involved and do more of that work, as much as I want to. Travelling overseas to Asia – sure, you can do that if you want, we'll give you the support, but if that's what you're after, go and run that, go and take ownership of that. So you can really guide your career and Allens will support you in the way that you want to do that, I guess.
Geneva Sekula Yeah, it's a bit of a, you know, speak up about what you want and people will try and make that happen for you.
Tristan Iredell Yeah, a little bit but, equally, Allens provides a lot of training – formal/informal – so they'll support you, I believe, and that continues to this day, even where I am now.
Geneva Sekula Yeah, amazing. And, Felicity, how about you, what's your experience with the career deal been like?
Felicity McMahon Yeah, well, I came to Allens pretty sort of, I guess, later in my career, sort of with not much experience of working in Australia. And so it was sort of, there was a process of working with my mentors to work out really how to carve out a practice and start developing a practice that suited and leveraged my existing skills and experience. I think it's very much a two‑way process, what can I contribute to help build our practice and the firm, and in doing so there's sort of a return element of we're helping you build your own practice in doing that as well. I think that a lot of the career deal is very much about trust and it's also about leveraging and thinking about our values. So, being in it together and how can we all contribute to fostering greatness in each other and fostering greatness in the firm, so that you have a career that's good for you and is going to be profitable and rewarding and also contribute to the firm. I think it works quite well. I think we also have two words which do really mark and characterise the Allens culture and those are, sort of, meritocracy and collegiality. We are a very collegiate firm in that there's a lot of sharing of ideas between teams, between levels of different staff and I think to practise that properly, to be collegiate, you have to be a meritocracy, you have to recognise that everybody's ideas are valuable irrespective of what level they are, and I do think that is in essence what describes Allens. We encourage people to make a contribution to business development at an early age. We recognise the contribution that can be made by junior associates and junior lawyers in helping foster a really positive and meaningful relationship with clients, and that's really part of it.
Geneva Sekula Yeah. And just to inject myself into the conversation, which is my favourite thing to do – from a junior perspective that's been my experience as well. Like, when we went to the firm and said hey, we have a podcast that we'd like to do, everyone was so supportive of that, and to me that's the ultimate expression of the career deal. If I can come up to them with something as insane as that and people are happy to listen, then I think that shows that it must be working on some level in a good way.
Felicity McMahon And I think there's other practical examples of that, Geneva – like the Arena events that we host. I'm sure you've talked about those before but those are opportunities for junior lawyers to invite their client contacts to a firm-sponsored event because we recognise that it's really great for you have your own clients. It's also great for the firm, and we want to help you start building your own practice and that's what those events are designed to do.
Geneva Sekula Those events are great fun because if you're in a client meeting, usually there's more senior people there, and when you have an Arena event it's sort of people at the client who are at your level, so there's sort of that, almost, level of supervision; like, the parents aren't there so you just get to have a really fun night where you're hanging out.
Tristan Iredell You shouldn't underestimate the value in that, these are people that will accompany you throughout your career wherever it may end up. They might stay in law firms, if they're colleagues at other law firms, they may end up inhouse, they may progress through – I've run into people in London, New York and Singapore that started together and have ended up in various places, so doing that early, I think, is really beneficial in a number of respects.
Geneva Sekula Yeah, amazing.
Caitlin Burke I look forward to that with bated breath while we count down from social distancing restrictions, to throw myself into that arena, it'd be great. Did you guys always know you wanted to be partner or is that something that came to you gradually? Tristan, if you want to kick things off?
Tristan Iredell Sure, yeah, I think so. I've had a number of other experiences, you obviously always know colleagues and contacts that have done other things. I spent some time on secondment; obviously, I have friends inhouse. But for me it's something I always thought I would aim at. I think it's important to be open but the more I experienced life at a firm, the more I went through, I really enjoyed the broad variety of clients, I enjoyed the work. More importantly I really enjoyed the people, the management aspects as well. So for me, the more involved I got, the more I thought that this really is for me and making it to that partner level was something that I wanted to do.
Caitlin Burke That's great. Felicity, what about you?
Felicity McMahon Yeah, I think my experiences have – a bit like Tristan, really – the experiences I've had as I've gone through and progressed in my career have reinforced my desire to stay in private practice and also become a partner. Like Tristan I also experienced time on secondment to a client early in my career, and I really enjoyed that and it was a fantastic opportunity, particularly as a competition lawyer, and made me realise that, actually, a lot of what I enjoy about what I do is the ability to look at and work in different industries and sectors and with different subject matter, and it's always different. That's what I find really intellectually stimulating and rewarding about being in private practice as opposed to being inhouse. I never really thought about going to government, I don't think that that's something that would really necessarily appeal to me. I toyed with the idea of being in different professions, so I tried being a banker for a while, I tried being an auditor for a while, and I kept coming back to the idea that I liked words and arguments and I liked tackling issues from that perspective, and I think competition law gives me the ability to throw some numbers in as well, so it sort of covers both areas of interest for me. Like Tristan, one of the things that I really like about working at a firm like Allens is that I like working in teams. One of the things I don't like doing is sitting in a room and being forced to think about a problem on my own without contact with other people, it's awful. I like bouncing ideas off people, I like communicating, I love getting into a room with a whiteboard and sitting there with my team and saying 'Right, how are we going to tackle this problem', like, what are the arguments, what are the evidence. We do that a lot at Allens, particularly in the Competition team. I don't think the bar would be right for me, I've never really thought it would be because I just like that human contact pretty regularly.
Tristan Iredell It's a really good point you make about teams and teamwork, and it goes back to the point you made, Felicity, about collegiality, and I feel that I like you have worked at a few different places and I feel that's a good advantage of Allens, actually, collegiality. I rarely sit in a room – I am sitting in my office by myself today –but I rarely sit in an office trying to nut out a problem, there's always someone at all levels that can help and work it out together.
Geneva Sekula I guess now we've just sort of talked about being part of a team and really working with others, and I guess as more senior members of your team, part of that is supporting the more junior lawyers and helping them in their development, and helping them to identify and expand on their practice. Felicity, maybe you want to start but, for both of you, what role do you see yourselves playing in supporting the lawyers and how does that play out day to day?
Felicity McMahon At Allens everybody has a performance coach and we take coaching very seriously at Allens. We have regular check-ins and your performance coach is supposed to, I certainly see it as my role as a performance coach, to help set you up for success, and help you open the doors and grease the wheels, and give you direction and help work out the way you want to develop your career, or get the most out of your experience in a particular rotation. When I have sessions with the people that I coach, we sit down and we work out what are the areas that they want to focus on in terms of subject matter, of industries and sectors to focus on, and we work out things that they can do to gain experience in those areas, and I will keep my ear to the ground to make sure when there are opportunities that come up that I facilitate whoever I'm coaching to have access to those, or I'll put people in contact or I'll help them push forward a new project or an idea, or I'll get them to come to sector meetings – we have lots of sector meetings. In Allens we like to share ideas about a sector across practice groups and we find that really useful, and we like to get junior lawyers involved in those because we find it really helpful. That's what we do, and I try and set up really tangible goals so that we can say at the end of a period of review that we achieved those goals together; well, not together but the lawyer achieved those goals and, hopefully, I can help them achieve those goals. Whether it's writing a publication or facilitating with a pitch or being involved in some sector business development or knowhow development – that's how we start carving out a practice, area of focus and development.
Geneva Sekula Amazing. How about you, Tristan?
Tristan Iredell Yeah, I can only endorse Felicity's comments there, I think. There's a formal role as performance coach, and the formal review basis, but also on an informal basis. Certainly no feedback or development should be a surprise to anybody, so I tend to – I'm a fairly informal person, I tend to bounce between offices, less easy at the moment, but maintaining that contact and working with people informally to maintain, make sure they're doing work in the areas they want. As Felicity says, carving out what area of practice they would like to develop but also getting broader experience – especially in an office like Perth, we do a broad range of work, being a slightly smaller office; so the more informal conversations as well, encouraging people to pursue their career goals, I guess, but also check in on wellbeing and other things. There's a bit of a mix there, I think.
Felicity McMahon One of the things which has been great, I think, about, or a silver lining about, being in a sort of working from home situation due to the coronavirus is that we've made a more concerted effort to check in more regularly because we don't have those sort of incidental interactions in the office. I've actually had weekly check-ins with each of the lawyers that I coach and that's just 15 minutes to talk about how things are going, how they're feeling, what support do they need, are they looking for work, how they felt something has gone or do they have any issues or concerns that they want to raise. It's certainly a really open dialogue and approach, and it's also been great just to get to know people more. Because in the office, you might have those incidents or interactions but you might not have the focus on getting to know each other like you do, the effort you have to make when you are physically separate, so, yeah, it's been great.
Tristan Iredell Yeah, you really see behind the veil a little bit, for better or for worse, into people; personalised isn't the right expression but more about what makes them tick. In fact, some of these more informal interactions, and being very conscious of being connected, I hope and think that we will carry through into the next phase. It's not such a staid formal review process, and we have this discussion now about this; it's more of an interactive or ongoing continuous feedback, and more discussion about how things are going generally, I think. That's a real positive we can take away from this current situation, to be honest.
Felicity McMahon Yeah, and the next step is encouraging more feedback the other way, I think, as well. It's difficult culturally, I think, to get your head around that or just the Anglo-Saxon culture where we're sort of averse to feedback and giving it sometimes, but it would be great to toss some more feedback the other way. That's definitely one of my things to do for the next little while, is to encourage the people I coach to provide me with more feedback.
Geneva Sekula We should get them to listen to the episode and have them critique your podcast queries.
Felicity McMahon Sure, let's start from that; that's a good place to start, Geneva.
Geneva Sekula I think an important thing to note here, and this is just a comment, not a question, but I think that culture of support and feedback and checking in, that really does flow down to when we have summer clerks here and people are interviewing in that process. Something that always struck me about Allens was how genuinely invested people seemed in me and how supportive they were and willing to talk about all sorts of things. I remember emailing my buddy and saying how's the second-round interview different from the first, expecting a couple of sentences of, like, just know your resume, whatever. What I got was this essay with subheadings and bullet points.
Tristan Iredell That's very Allens, isn't it.
Geneva Sekula It was beautifully crafted.
Tristan Iredell Bullet points and subheadings, wow. You raise a really good point, what are we if we're not about our people – that is how we do our work, that is how we make money, that's what we do for clients, so we must, in my personal view, we must be necessarily invested and, having been at a few other places, Allens is putting a lot of effort, I think, and rightly so, into the career deal and how we engage with people, and making sure they have a very fulfilling career as well; that's why I'm back, quite frankly.
Geneva Sekula Caitlin, has that been your experience? Because, obviously, you started for not even three weeks and then you got sent home before you really got to know everyone.
Caitlin Burke Yeah, that's right, I was there for a hot minute. I made an appearance and then went back into my childhood bedroom to start my graduate career, which was a lovely twist. It definitely runs true, even more so now, exactly what you guys have been saying, there's been a massive effort, I think. I don't really know any different, but all I can say is, I'm very comfortable and I feel very supported even sitting here right now while my sister tries to intrude into my bedroom, I still know that I feel like I'm in a workplace, which is kind of a strange thing. Because at first when we were making – it was all changing, there was that transition, it was really hard to come to grips with but, very quickly, I think, that performance coaching and that level of general support laterally across the board, that concerted effort to maintain that virtually, has made all the difference because it just alleviates that sense of isolation, and makes you feel like you actually belong somewhere even though you're sitting on a dining room chair and your single bed is behind you. So, yeah, I've definitely found that out. I have a great performance coach, we catch up every week, and I agree with everything that's been said about kind of, it pushes away a little bit the small talk as well when you know the world is slowly imploding around you, and you kind of have to check in on each other in a deeper way, across the board, not just with your performance coach but with other people, and I think that's definitely been fostered.
Tristan Iredell Although, I have to admit, people know more about me now and my home life than they probably ever wanted to, so there's swings and roundabouts.
Caitlin Burke Also true, people have been subjected to some pretty niche things but it's brought us closer.
Felicity McMahon I've had a couple of video cons where I've had to have a baby on my lap for some reason, because, being at home, it's sometimes difficult to be invisible to your children but that's also a bit of a delightful aspect to it as well.
Geneva Sekula I've got to say, my parents have made a few appearances on video calls too; my dad walks in exclusively when I have the video on but there you go.
Caitlin Burke Yeah, they can sense it.
Tristan Iredell My wife did make the comment, 'Oh so you're a circle-back kind of person are you, that's interesting'.
Geneva Sekula Well, guys, I think this has been a really interesting conversation; I think especially for Caitlin and myself, just to hear your perspectives on your careers and mentorship and development. The one thing we do like to ask people before we wrap up an episode is: if you could go back to yourself on day one of your career and give yourself some advice, what would that be?
Felicity McMahon Yeah, sure, I've got a couple of practical ones. I guess the first one is keep your contacts. So, the contacts that you have now from university, the contacts in your grad cohort, these will be, as Tristan sort of alluded to earlier in the conversation, these will be your peers and even the people that you work with who are above you; they may go on to different places or stay in the firm and that will be your network and, more than anything, you need a network in this modern day and age, and that network will help you in ways that you won't even know about until some point in the future when you come to call on it, or it comes to call on you, as the case may be. I think you should try and be kind and professional; I mean kindness in kindness to yourself, it can be a profession which is tough, it is challenging, and so you need to take time out to be with your family. I think you need to be kind to yourself in terms of knowing that there's a lot of learning to be done, so don't expect to be top of the profession straight away. I think that you should give yourself time to grow into the profession, and, obviously, be professional and courteous and kind to the people you work with, as that's part of the reputation that you're building in your career. Finally, I'd just say, look, I think one of the mottos that I live by is never dismiss an opportunity to learn, whether that's learn from a matter or learn from somebody or learn about somebody or learn something that just, you don't know how it's going to enrich you or how it's going to benefit you, but never dismiss that opportunity to learn something from something that you're doing or about somebody. I think if you approach things with that sort of inquisitive mind, you'll get a lot more out of your career.
Geneva Sekula Amazing, thank you, and how about you, Tristan?
Tristan Iredell I think that's all really excellent advice, actually; maybe I'll proffer something more general, which is relax. And what I mean by just relaxing a bit – I think it's often repeated advice that your career is a marathon and not a sprint. I think a lot of people – I did – you get concerned about fast, linear progression, I want to know everything immediately and progress through, I want all the big deals, I want to go ahead. It sort of touches on Felicity's point a little bit; once I relaxed and realised this is a long-term career, you're in it for the long haul, take the secondment opportunity, look for those opportunities where you find interest, explore different areas of practice, if you need to go and talk to somebody and want to explore something else, we'll support you in that. I went overseas, that was an amazing opportunity. Relaxing into it a little bit and taking opportunities, and not just trying to get to the top as fast as possible, has provided a lot more interest and diversity to my career and it's certainly made it vastly more rewarding, I think, and interesting than if I had just tried to stick to my M&A guns that I thought when I first started, this is going to be my job and I want to be partner as soon as possible. So, relaxing, taking advantage of those opportunities and being flexible has, I mean, I still enjoy my career 12/13 years later.
Caitlin Burke Thanks so much, guys, for sharing your stores with us today. It's been great to learn about how the career deal has played out for you and how you'd like it to play out in the future for juniors; really enjoyed it. Thanks to everyone for listening and we'll see you next time.
Tristan Iredell Pleasure, thanks so much.
Felicity McMahon Thanks, guys.