Martin Irwin, partner at Baker & McKenzie tells Australasian Lawyer about a bizarre matter he worked on in Cambodia.
What made you decide to become a lawyer?
I have wanted to be a lawyer for as long as I can remember. From primary school I loved history and what I initially responded to with the law was the power of the intellectual tradition that went back centuries but was still organic and being built upon.
How long have you worked at Baker & McKenzie and what brought you to this position?
I have been at Baker & McKenzie since the start of 2014. I spent most of my career at Allens, including stints in Singapore and Hong Kong, with four years as a partner at Herbert Geer.
I made the move to Bakers as a great deal of my work is with foreign investors in the infrastructure space and I felt that with Baker's international network and experience acting for similar investors in the same space, the level of service that I could provide would be greatly enhanced. I was right!
What’s the strangest case you’ve ever worked on/been involved with?
When I was based in Singapore I spent a lot of time in Cambodia playing an essentially intermediary role between the Government and one of the oil majors in relation to a tax issue.
We had spent some months negotiating and thought we were getting close. Out of the blue the relevant Minister announced he was to attend the negotiations. He came in about 20 minutes with TV crew in tow and the representative of the oil major was required to do a press conference with the Minister where he was obliged to give a very public affirmation of their commitment to their investment in Cambodia.
This was obviously the cue to begin proper negotiations as we completely threw out what had been done previously and a new, much more focused Government negotiating team took over. It was a great lesson in how Government works in Asia.
I also received Nigerian style scam letters from the email account of one of the people involved in the transaction for years afterwards.
If you could invite three people for dinner, dead or alive and excluding family and friends, who would they be and why?
Serge Gainsbourg – it’s hard to imagine any dinner with Serge would be anything other than completely memorable.
Salman Rushdie, my favourite novelist. Storytelling, wit and erudition; a perfect dinner party guest (if he couldn't make it, happy for him to be replaced by his friend, Christopher Hitchens).
Gail Kelly: I am not sure how Gail would get on with the other two guests, but she is a business person I greatly respect for managing to combine sustained success while maintaining a family and a sense of humanity. I particularly admired how her personal values could be seen so clearly in the way she managed even an extremely large, incredibly complex and stereotypically masculine business such as Westpac.
You’re based in Melbourne – where’s the best place to go for a drink and/or dinner after work?
Rice, Paper, Scissors - really love the Asian tapas with great wine and cocktails. For later nights it is hard to go past Siglo.
Robot is also a long time sentimental favourite.
What’s the best piece of advice (work or personal) you’ve ever been given?
To have a sense of perspective and to live a whole life. We can all sometimes get lost in the challenge of trying to be the best we can professionally. Finding this balance can be immensely difficult at times but to me it is incredibly important to stay connected to both the people in our lives but also the world beyond work.
Do you have any hobbies/interests outside of work?
Most of my time outside of work is focused on my wife Louise and the family (not to suggest that my family is a 'hobby'!).
I have always loved reading and read as widely as possible. As noted above Salman Rushdie is my favourite fiction writer. On the bench for my dinner party would definitely be William Dalrymple, the great travel writer/historian of West and South Asia.
Probably my greatest passion is music. I am a classic band geek and unapologetic music snob (see Serge Gainsbourg above).
I am also greatly indebted to my family for inculcating me to the Shakespearean tragedy that is supporting Collingwood.
Complete this sentence: If I wasn’t a lawyer, I would be…
insufferably argumentative ALL the time.
What do you think will be single biggest issue facing the legal space in Australia in 2015?
All the current data suggest a structural contraction of the demand legal services. Far and away the biggest challenge, not just in 2015 but for the foreseeable future, will be for firms to develop strategies to deal with this, a task made more difficult in an uncertain business environment and a rapidly changing legal market.
If you had Tony Abbott’s job for one day, what would you do?
I would be on the phone to each of the Premiers to agree the list of priority, economically sensible infrastructure projects with a plan to fund each of them.
As a captains pick - a national Collingwood day holiday on the anniversary of Eddie McGuire's birthday.
What do you love about your job?
The opportunity to work with smart people to solve problems and manage issues for smart clients doing complex projects.
What would you change about your job right now if you could?