Sefton Warner is championing for diversity and inclusion in the workplace
One of Sefton Warner’s most valued skills is the ability to adapt to constant change – his shift to the transitional practice is a testament to that. Warner went into this career path thinking he’d end up as a litigator, but as soon as he sensed something better, he was quick to make the necessary steps to pivot in that direction.
The circumstances are no different now that Warner is a partner at Maddocks. His particular interest in diversity and inclusion comes with its own challenges – but it’s nothing Warner can’t handle when managing the construction and projects team. To him, being in the profession means being in “an army of articulate advocates for change,” and what better way to grow that army than to champion more inclusivity?
In this interview, Warner talks about seeing his work come to life, the challenges of being a construction lawyer, and what interpersonal relationships can do in negotiations.
What made you choose a career in law, and what's your favourite part of the job?
At law school, I thought I wanted to be a litigator, but after sampling multiple practice areas on rotation I found that I enjoyed transactional legal work far more. As a construction lawyer, I often enjoy looking across the Melbourne skyline to see the projects that I’ve worked on throughout my career so far and think back to the unique risks and opportunities of each project site.
What’s going on at the organisation? Are there any programs and initiatives that you’re particularly interested in?
Outside of my legal focus and my clients, diversity and inclusion in the workplace is of particular interest for me. I’m one of Maddocks’ champions in this space. We’re incredibly proud of the work that we are continuing to do at Maddocks across various initiatives to support greater diversity and inclusion. Earlier this year, we hosted March for Inclusion, which was a month of programs combining the different milestones and celebrations on diversity and advocacy, as well as bringing together our employee resource groups including Pride, CALD, Maddocks Women and Reconciliation. It was a great opportunity to learn more from one another’s experience throughout the month.
What tech-related initiatives adopted by the organisation, if any, are you most excited about?
We are beginning to use document automation a lot more which is assisting us in preparing larger volumes of transaction documents for our clients. As we look to expand our use of these tools, we need to be aware of how the different automation programs across the industry can best work together to more easily support our clients with site based project teams.
What has been your proudest accomplishment in the last year or so? Or what’s the biggest lesson you learned in the past year and what advice can you give fellow lawyers about it?
Adapting to constant change. While there are lots of great lawyers out there who thrive in a constant crisis, some of us like to have a plan (at least a broad one), so with all of the recent changes in work patterns and the pressure that COVID has placed on global supply chains and the successful delivery of projects, there was room to find a good balance between being an organised person and being more responsive to changing circumstances.
What should the profession focus more on?
Diversity and inclusion. We have achieved a lot of change since I was a junior lawyer in the early 2000s but it would be good to see further progress in this space. As a profession, we are an army of articulate advocates for change, and I would like to see this extended with the profession continuing to serve its clients while at the same time advocating for a more diverse and inclusive workforce across multiple pillars.
What are the challenges you expect in your practice, and in the business of law in general, going forward? What challenges are particularly pressing in the country’s legal industry?
As a construction lawyer, the challenges that speak to me are how to ensure building projects are delivered on time and on budget, with a fair margin payable to the contractor, which in turn maintains a sustainable construction sector. In the short term, the greatest challenges for the construction industry are a range of constraints on the supply of materials, including cost escalation and the pressures on the global supply chain. These constraints are well documented in light of the recent events both domestically and overseas. In the medium term, I would like to see reforms fast tracked to nationalise trade occupational licensing for the construction sector. This would increase movement of capable individuals and experienced companies across state borders, open up the sector to more competition and help to ease labour shortages. At present there are different preconditions across most states and territories for a range of different licences, which is a barrier to entry by new participants.
What are you looking forward to the most in the coming year?
The resurgence of face-to-face meetings where parties can resolve the pressing issue of the day in real time. Technology has obviously been incredibly helpful for national projects, particularly during the recent lockdowns, but my perspective is that negotiations between parties on a construction project should establish the interpersonal relationships necessary for the successful delivery of the project. The depth of relationships required are best formed in person during the tender stage or at the start of the negotiation phase of a project.
If you were given an opportunity to spend a day with anyone (living or dead), who would it be and why?
I am a huge musical theatre fan, so I’m going to choose the composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim who very recently passed. I wouldn’t want to spend the day talking about the law, but rather to absorb all of his wisdom, wit and humour as is possible.