Gilchrist Connell special counsel proves his detractors wrong

Malcolm Wood has become a specialist in high-end litigations and corporate transactions—even though people told him it was impossible

Gilchrist Connell special counsel proves his detractors wrong
Malcolm Wood

When Malcolm Wood was a child, his father brought to his attention a group of robed barristers on the street and expressed his hope that Wood would someday be in the same profession.

The young boy thought that his father wanted him to dress like a wizard for a living.

Now that Wood has a much better understanding of the legal profession, however, he’s become a different kind of wizard—a specialist in high-end litigations and high-value corporate transactions. He was recently promoted to special counsel at Gilchrist Connell—an achievement that comes despite detractors telling him that this was impossible throughout a significant chunk of his career.

In this interview, Wood talks about his dedication to physical fitness, being inspired by his clients, virtually bonding with colleagues during the COVID-19 pandemic and how lawyers need to keep the best interests of clients at heart.

What made you choose a career in law?

Growing up in a Chinese family, I was really only given two choices of profession since I was about 5 years old: namely, either doctor or lawyer. As it happens, when I was in year 3, I was sitting in the back of my dad’s bomby, old and faded red Toyota Corona, when we happened to be driving past the law courts building in Sydney. At that time, my dad and I saw a number of barristers crossing the road in their robes, and my dad said to me that it was his sincere desire that I should one day do what the people crossing the road did for a living.

I thought it strange that he wanted me to dress like a wizard for a living, but thankfully, my understanding of the practice of law developed over time, and I eventually elected to become a lawyer. Mum wanted me to be a paediatrician.

Nowadays, I stay in law because I genuinely like the practice of law associated with corporate transactions and complex high-value litigation. There is something incredibly satisfying about putting something together which has the prospect of making money for another person or defining their rights, or resolving something complicated that was an intractable dispute.  

What do you love most about your job?

Having the benefit of specialising in litigation and corporate transactional work means that I get to meet some very successful and inspirational business people. The drive, ambition and stories of some of the people that I have the privilege of meeting can be very inspirational.

Moreover, my colleagues are fantastic and supportive, and Gilchrist Connell is a genuinely fresh and forward-thinking firm. For example, the firm is well-aware of my love of the gym, and allowed me to convert the break-out area in the Sydney office into a make-shift gym with about 300kg in weights during the COVID-19 gym closures.

What is going on at the firm? Are there any new programs and initiatives that you’re particularly interested in?

FY2020 has been a big year for Gilchrist Connell. There were 21 new hires, two-thirds of which were female. We also brought on two new partners and expanded our service offering to include corporate/commercial transactional work. 

At the same time, we coincidentally undertook a number of major IT upgrades, which held us in good stead during the work from home protocols that have been a feature of the pandemic. The pandemic/work from home protocols also meant that we effectively went from operating 5 traditional offices to 137 home offices across Australia on top of those 5 traditional offices.  

There have also been considered initiatives to create a genuinely positive work environment that are greater than mere lip service to the concept. The renovation of the Sydney office in December 2019 was undertaken with team bonding, brain-storming, and even down-time in mind, whilst during the height of the work from home protocols, all staff were encouraged to use the upgraded IT to keep in contact with each other in order to maintain team cohesion and a certain level of esprit de corps.

And, all of that is in addition to increasing revenue and growth!  

What has been your proudest accomplishment in the last year or so?

I always wanted to work with high-value corporate transactions and also litigate complex high value claims, and be specialised in both. For much of my career (especially the earlier parts of my career), I was told that this was not possible. One person even told me that my desire was a consequence of a lack of direction.

The promotion shows to me that my desire and efforts to work in both high-end litigation and transactional fields was a successful goal and endeavour, and I am chuffed about it.

What should the profession and law firms focus more on?

The practice of law is part of a select few professions that are consistently held in high regard by the public (notwithstanding all of the lawyer jokes), but in my experience, this can cause lawyers to value their own opinions above the needs of their own clients. There is also the reverse in that some lawyers are too willing to agree with their clients with disastrous consequences.

Lawyers need to listen and be attentive to the needs of their clients. With equal measure, lawyers need to be fearless in the provision of appropriate advice. Gilchrist Connell’s tagline/motto really says it all: “Listen. Engage. Solve.”

What has been the biggest challenge you and your practice has faced amid the pandemic?

Gilchrist Connell has been fortunate in that notwithstanding the pandemic, the firm has still experienced growth in revenue and expanded.

However, the consequent need to interact virtually for extended periods of time does pose challenges for team bonding, cohesion and communication. To this end, Gilchrist Connell has made available a number of work communication platforms for work and play, and encouraged regular team bonding sessions throughout the week between partners and staff.

What are you looking forward to the most in the coming year?

Getting back to a gym—gotta get those professional gains with the physical gains!

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