McCabes principal: 'You're never too senior to benefit from mentorship'

Karl Maakasa is eager to learn more tech tricks

McCabes principal: 'You're never too senior to benefit from mentorship'

The idea of a career in law was first introduced to Karl Maakasa because he wanted to avoid maths and geography. Since then, he has thrived on this path – earlier this year, he was promoted to principal at McCabes.

Maakasa considers mentoring graduates and junior lawyers to be a highlight of his career in recent years, and believes that lawyers are “never too senior” to receive mentoring as well. He has enjoyed learning new “tech tricks” with guidance from the firm’s knowledge team.

In this May interview, Maakasa discusses why “small changes achieve better balance”, three tips he’d like to give lawyers, and which character from The Crucible he’d defend in court.

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What made you choose a career in law, and what's your favourite part of the job?

I was asked at Year 10 Careers' Day, "if there were two VCE subjects you could avoid doing, what would they be?" I responded, "maths and geography", and I was advised to consider law. The more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea, and I have no regrets.

My favourite part of the job is the people focussed nature of insurance/personal injury law, and working with colleagues, clients, and stakeholders from all walks of life.

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

There is a nice vibe at the firm as we continue to grow and invest in our people. It was great to see many of our talented lawyers being promoted to associate, senior associate and special counsel over the last 12 months and celebrating their success at the firm's EOFY and Christmas parties.

In addition to promoting our talented lawyers, McCabes has invested heavily in our graduate rotation program, and the last couple of years has seen the biggest intake of graduates to date. Mentoring and working with many of our graduates and junior lawyers has been a highlight of the last couple of years for me.

What tech-related initiatives adopted by the organisation, if any, are you most excited about?

McCabes has a top-notch knowledge team that is constantly finding innovative and creative ways for the firm to deliver legal services. The team has experts who have private practice, in-house and government experience. They understand how lawyers operate and most importantly, our clients' service standards and their legal, regulatory, and operational drivers.

I'm excited to learn more tech tricks from the team over the coming year, particularly with Outlook.

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

My promotion to principal. It is the product of hard work, forging great working relationships over many years, and the start of an exciting new chapter.

What’s the biggest lesson you learned in the past year?

Small changes achieve better balance. Over the last year, I have dedicated time to learn a few new tech tricks, arranged walking-meetings, reviewed more matters with colleagues in person, over coffee, and allocated small pockets of uninterrupted time, for complex/ urgent tasks to minimise the “switch cost” effect.

 What advice can you give fellow lawyers about it?

Three tips:

  • set career goals and proactively track your progress; if unsure, seek clarification and the information you need
  • you're never too senior to benefit from mentorship. In my experience lawyers are generous with their time; can relate to where you're at; and provide invaluable tips and perspective
  • you sometimes need to take a break, such as a long weekend, to stay on track

What should the profession focus more on?

We have come a long way with mental health awareness, diversity, and inclusion. The focus should now be on overcoming barriers to progress and the use of qualitative data directed at the lived experience of members, to better inform/understand statistics on gender and demographics. 

What are the challenges you expect in your practice, and in the business of law in general, going forward?

  • working with the right technology (from a cost, productivity and risk perspective) particularly given growing prevalence of cyber, privacy and data related threats, in addition to the evolving legal and regulatory framework, in response
  • attracting/retaining talent
  • balancing the benefits of agile working with a firm's culture and learning/development

What challenges are particularly pressing in the country’s legal industry?

  • economic uncertainty
  • greater diversity in leadership roles
  • cyber risks/threats

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

Settling into my role as principal; welcoming new team members and continuing to mentor and work with our graduates and junior lawyers to build on the strong relationships with clients and key stakeholders.

If you had to defend a fictional antagonist/villain in court, who would you pick, and why?

Abigail "Abby" Williams from The Crucible because there would be a chance to voice her narrative and truth which may provide a modern/different perspective in a time where there is a greater awareness of gender bias, and more work to do including on gender-based expectations and prejudices.

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