Nick Maley highlights the value of a give-and-take mentor-mentee relationship
Nick Maley had a rather unconventional start to his legal career, as he got his feet wet working in NSW’s local courts “while everyone else was studying law.” Eventually, he obtained his legal degree and today, he is a seasoned workplace relations specialist with 25 years of experience under his belt.
As one of Holman Webb’s newest partners, a part of the job Maley loves is how the legal profession is more than just about documents – it’s about people. He is also a strong supporter of mentoring young lawyers in a give-and-take relationship where both parties learn to appreciate new perspectives.
In this interview, Maley talks about Holman Webb’s technological investments to facilitate remote work, winning at the Supreme Court and the challenge of changing firms.
What made you choose a career in law?
It was by chance, really. After leaving school, I started working in the local courts in New South Wales. I worked in courts in Newcastle and Sydney and then worked in the attorney general’s Department while everyone else was studying law.
After working full-time in courts for nine years, and studying, I obtained my degree and moved into private practice.
What do you love most about your job?
Investigating a problem and finding a solution, as well as helping the clients to solve their problems. There is so much more to law than words on a piece of paper; it’s all about people.
What is going on at the firm? Are there any new programs and initiatives that you are particularly interested in?
These are really interesting times now that we are almost a full year into COVID-19. I think what attracts me to Holman Webb is their approach to teamwork, working together, building each other up. They do the same when it comes to clients – the focus in helping the client. The firm has a holistic approach to the business of law – it is striving towards excellent client service while taking care of its people.
Holman Webb is focusing on its people and culture. In May, the firm introduced The Holman Webb Way, a philosophy which is underpinned by the values of excellence, integrity, teamwork, sustainability, building and maintaining relationships. We strive to bring these values to everything we do. What I have really taken from my time here so far is the teamwork and collegiality. The partners are not client hugging; they want everyone to succeed.
These values are shining through and the results are clear. The firm has promoted a high proportion of women to partnership recently, recognising contribution, commitment and skill. There is also an inclusive, diverse and liberal feel to this firm. The culture seems to have the right balance. With COVID-19, the firm is actively helping staff to work remotely and work flexibly. This mindset is reflected in the high staff retention rates.
Holman Webb has introduced and invested in technology to enhance its agility and flexibility, and to protect its clients’ privacy and data. It operates in the cloud and all lawyers and non-lawyers can work remotely, securely, when and where they want. It has introduced financial systems to operate swiftly, in real time, with simpler reporting for staff and clients, and to move away from menial data-processing work. These innovations include the introduction of BigHand Quantum financial systems, DarkTrace AI security systems and Imanage document management systems, all pulled together with the use of Teams and the SharePoint platform to make communication easier. The firm is actively pursuing a program of automation to free lawyers up to do what they should be doing – thinking strategically about solving their clients’ problems, not worrying about data entry in documents.
What has been your proudest accomplishment in the last year or so?
I had a hard-fought trial in the Supreme Court in October and November 2019. It was a fraud case where the defendant actively denied our claims for over four years. His lawyers simply tried to tear down our case, not to look at the substance behind it. As soon as the trial started, it was clear that our evidence was adequate and our case was strong. We persevered and we won.
What I took from this is that no matter how hard the challenges, when you have a solid basis for your position, you need to keep trying and to persevere, and the right result will eventuate.
What should the professional law firms focus more on?
Technical skills and people. It is a matter of translating these technical skills across the team to get the work done. That’s the biggest challenge – bringing those team members along. I think mentoring is so important; I have mentored a number of lawyers over the last few years, and it is so pleasing to see them develop into confident, capable lawyers.
It is so hard as a new lawyer to find your way, particularly in my areas of litigation and dispute resolution. Conflict does not usually give rise to collegiality. Mentoring is about the opportunity for those less experienced to discuss ideas without the fear of criticism or rejection or humiliation. Mentoring is a way to develop technical skills, and also those skills of gaining perspective, the way you approach a problem and working out the best strategy you can bring to resolve it.
Practically, it is about time and commitment. The mentor needs to be open to discussion, and not be there to just give their preferred answer. The mentor needs to have time to give. To be available, physically and psychologically present. It should be so there can be a reaching out to discuss ideas, approaches, without fear of recrimination – talking the problem over, not taking over the problem, and a two-way process, not simply being told what to do. The new lawyer should actively research and bring their own ideas and thoughts to the process, not just wait to be told what to do. And the mentor needs to be patient, and let the new lawyer think though possibilities and generate ideas, rather than be pushed down the mentor’s preferred path.
Ultimately, like most aspects of practice, this comes down to the relationship and goodwill between the mentor and the new lawyer. This can actually also be really good for mentors, who can get a whole new perspective on things – it certainly has been that way for me.
What are the challenges that you expect in your practice?
The biggest challenge to me has been change of firm and the tumult which that brings. To me it’s all about connecting with my clients, showing them the value that I bring and why it is they chose me in the first place. It’s about communication and connection.
What are you looking forward to most in the coming year?
I am looking forward to Holman Webb’s upcoming office move in December, building upon my workplace and commercial litigation practice and connecting and helping as many people as I can.