Alison McNamara encourages law firms to bring out the best in their teams by making each day fun
Alison McNamara always knew that she wanted to go into law. As a young girl, she had a propensity for arguing relentlessly, and her strong performance as a law student later on confirmed her career path.
Over the years, her love of the law has only deepened, and McNamara has been able to nurture her passion for social justice and fighting for the rights of her clients. Today, she leads Chamberlains’ compensation and estate litigation team in Canberra and serves as a director, but she points out that even though lawyers have a serious job, they “can be fun too.”
In this interview, McNamara talks her expectations from Chamberlains’ recent merger with Howes Kaye Halpin, what the question “Are you OK?” can mean to stressed lawyers and the importance of a working environment that makes each workday enjoyable.
What made you choose a career in law?
I knew from a young age that I wanted to be a lawyer. I was forever driving my parents crazy with my relentless arguing, and they would often say in exasperation that I needed be a lawyer. My best subjects were Legal Studies and English, so luckily I had some skills that seemed to match my personality to steer me into the perfect career.
What do you love most about your job?
How much time do we have? I love the law; the adrenalin of running a hearing, the strategy, negotiations and working with very clever counsel and workmates is challenging and fun. But being able to combine this with my passion for social justice and fighting for my clients’ rights is what makes it a perfect mix for me. I become very attached to my clients and achieving results for them which are life-changing is really rewarding.
What is going on at the firm? Are there any new programs and initiatives that you’re particularly interested in?
We are still settling after the merger with HKH and we are excited about the prospect of what we can achieve together for our clients under a joint Chamberlains flag. Both firms are very much driven by an incredible team committed to achieving excellent results. I believe our clients will benefit by combining forces, with our expertise at HKH, particularly in the property and personal injury divisions, complementing the existing full-service offerings at Chamberlains.
Besides the merger, we have just launched two new projects in an effort to streamline and digitalise our client’s experiences. One is Chamberlains.Subscribe, a retainer package where clients who need occurring legal advice receive a price competitive solution with quicker turnarounds and allocated experts assisting them.
The other project is Chamberlains.Wills, which is an online platform where clients can create a will from the comfort of their home whilst still feeling secure, knowing their will is backed by a law firm.
What has been your proudest accomplishment in the last year or so?
2020 has been a tough year for everyone, but I’m really proud and excited that we get to end it on a high with our merger with Chamberlains. Our firm had reached peak demand and was ready to expand and Chamberlains is the perfect fit for us. We are lucky to have a board of directors who are like family and we have amazing staff who have embraced the change. It makes me so proud to have navigated through the process and to end up with such a dynamic and talented team.
What should the profession and law firms focus more on?
There have been some inroads into the importance of mental health and wellbeing in the profession which is a welcome shift from the past. We work in such a high-stress, demanding profession and it’s important to shed light on this issue. Lawyers typically do a great job consuming ourselves with our clients’ issues and the next deadline, but we often forget to take a minute and look after ourselves and our peers. Asking the simple question “Are you OK?” can mean a lot more to a stressed lawyer than you might ever realise.
Law firms should be encouraged to break the rules and recognise contributions other than the 6 minute units of their staff. Valuing the wellbeing of our staff at every level should be a priority. But above everything else, make the workplace fun. We have a serious job, but lawyers can be fun too; encourage a team environment, social events, implement office awards, team games, quirky experiences and bring out the best in your team.
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?
Breaking through the restraints of traditional practices while keeping the heart of the profession, that is, serving our clients, is a challenge for the industry. We must be continually innovative to adapt to the needs of our clients and provide products and technologies which keep up with the pace of our clients.
If this year has shown us anything it’s that our profession is capable of adapting and being progressive. Flexible working, online solutions, legal subscriptions, automated products and collaborative solutions, to name a few, are not to be feared by the industry, but embraced.
What are you looking forward to the most in the coming year?
I’m really looking forward to consolidating our newly merged practice. We’ve got such a good team and big plans for the year, I can’t wait to get into it. There’s a lot of exciting things happening at Chamberlains and it starts with our relationship with each and every client.
Plus, who wouldn’t love coming in to work to a team who genuinely make each day fun?