Holding Redlich partner enjoys ‘translating’ for clients as a lawyer

Thomas Kwok is also a believer in the value of a positive work culture

Holding Redlich partner enjoys ‘translating’ for clients as a lawyer
Thomas Kwok

Words and language have always been important to Thomas Kwok, and it has given him a unique perspective in his role as one of Holding Redlich’s newest partners. The Sydney-based planning, environment and sustainability star considers lawyers to be “translators” in one sense, and his favourite part of the job is clarifying complex processes for clients.

Having been in the field for over 15 years, Kwok’s appointment to Holding Redlich has bolstered the firm’s burgeoning NSW property, planning and development practice. He brings to the table considerable in-house experience gained from his time as a senior executive lawyer for the NSW government and as the Western Parkland City Authority’s GC.

For Kwok, a positive work culture is key not just to an enjoyable workplace environment, but to productivity as well. In this interview, he talks the importance of imparting business skills to lawyers “at all levels,” receiving a surprising judgment at the Court of Appeal and contributing to the recovery of the economy as a lawyer.

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

The love of language and the power of words. I loved learning languages, and in one sense, the job of the lawyer is the job of a translator. My favourite part of the job is “translating” a complex analytical process into short, understandable, actionable conclusions.

What is the most memorable case you've taken on/been involved in?

Acting in a Court of Appeal case where the judges called a break mid-way through submissions and returned to deliver an ex tempore judgment dismissing the appeal. We were acting for one of the respondents who was of course very happy, although we had to do a double take before believing and then explaining what had happened!

What is going on at the firm?

The firm is building on the growth that it experienced even during COVID-19 in 2020. The strength of firms like Holding Redlich is the ability to adapt to changing circumstances and to be very targeted in our approach to client service delivery. So in one sense, what is going on at the firm is a continuation of its tradition of taking a personal stake in our clients’ success as they face challenges in uncertain economic times.

What’s the biggest lesson you learned in the past year and what advice can you give fellow lawyers about it?

A positive work culture is essential both to a happy workplace and to productivity. My advice is to contribute actively to a positive work culture, at whatever stage of career you are at. In particular, respect and make time for those in service support roles, those at the start of their careers or those facing some sort of difficulty.

What should the profession and law firms focus more on?

In the law firm context, I think the profession should focus on inculcating business skills in lawyers at all levels, and not just as an afterthought in the later years of being a senior associate. Relationship building through networking and representing the firm as a brand in the marketplace are all aspects of legal practice which can be undertaken even at the earliest stages of a legal career.

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?

Focussing on planning law, the perennial challenge (and opportunity) is to understand the issues which face developers in a holistic way. While addressing the specific planning law question at hand, the wider economic and legal contexts – e.g., finance, taxation, the sales and leasing market, construction – are of key contextual importance, and there is great efficiency where end-to-end solutions can be provided for a client across all these areas.

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

I am looking forward, particularly as a lawyer in the development space, to contributing to the recovery of our state and national economies through the exercise of my profession, whether for private developers or for local and state governments.

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