‘Fate was looking after me’: Maurice Blackburn division head on falling into a law career

Kim Shaw has loved making a difference in the lives of working Australians in 30 years with the firm

‘Fate was looking after me’: Maurice Blackburn division head on falling into a law career
Kim Shaw

Kim Shaw “fell into” a legal career, but it has since proven to be “the very best career choice” she could have made, she says. Since she joined social justice-specialist firm Maurice Blackburn in 1991, she has enjoyed being able to make a difference in the lives of the firm’s clients, working Australians who found their lives upended by unexpected illness or injury.

As head of the firm’s personal legal services division, Shaw oversees Maurice Blackburn’s superannuation and insurance and wills and estates practice groups. She has a strong desire to see the legal profession adapt with respect to legal services delivery and how lawyers charge for services.

In this 2020 interview, Shaw discusses the firm’s digitalisation efforts, the importance of being persistent, maintaining justice through adaptation and staying productive through the COVID-19 pandemic.

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What made you choose a career in law?

Funnily enough, I kind of fell into a career in law. I chose to enrol in law at Monash University back in 1984 because I achieved the marks in what was then the Higher School Certificate. But fate was looking after me because it turned out to be the very best career choice I could have made.

What do you love most about your job?

There are many things I love about my job. I absolutely relish making a difference to our clients, working Australians who have been knocked off centre by an unexpected illness or injury which has turned their world upside down. Everything in their lives is affected – family, social networks, finances, health, the ability to work and the feelings of self-worth that come with all of that. Through the work we do at Maurice Blackburn, we’re able to help our clients rebuild some dignity in their lives by stabilising their finances.

I also love our firm, which is pretty evident in the fact that I am fast approaching my 30-year anniversary with Maurice Blackburn. I’m enormously proud of the work we do across all our practice areas and its impact on Australian society through the positive changes we help bring about. Of course, the support and work we do for unions and other community organisations is incredibly important to me as is the tenacity with which we fight for our clients.

Lastly, I have the particular privilege of working with a team of very committed and likeminded people. My staff are wonderful and passionate about their work while my fellow principals and leaders in the firm are similarly committed to leading Maurice Blackburn to achieve bigger and better things. This was demonstrated most recently with our swift yet steady response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

I am enormously privileged to have commenced my career in law at Maurice Blackburn and proud that it has been my major life work.

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

The firm is always looking at new ways to improve access to justice for many Australians, particularly those who can’t afford it. Right now, no-win no-charge fee arrangements go a long way to doing this – whether it be a compensation case for a personal injury or as part of a class that has been wronged due to corporate misbehaviour.

I am particularly enthusiastic about what we can do to digitise personal legal services and deliver these services in a way that enables many more Australians to get their legal affairs in order. As our clients go through their life journeys, they may enter employment contracts, contracts to buy a house, have children and have things they wish to protect through insurance. We will be there with them providing a digital legal service that is affordable and easily accessible. We will break down many of the traditional legal service deliveries in order to do this – it’s long overdue.

What has been your proudest accomplishment in the last year or so? What’s the biggest lesson you learned in the past year and what advice can you give fellow lawyers about it?

What a difficult question! My proudest accomplishment is seeing how amazingly well my division at Maurice Blackburn has hardly missed a beat in the transfer to working from home and managing all the disruption that went with that. My staff have maintained great service for our clients and continued to engage new clients all while sustaining our productivity and business drivers. If my leadership has contributed in some small way to that, then that is indeed my proudest effort this year.

My biggest lesson for the year is persistence. If there is one thing I can impart to fellow lawyers, it is persistence. With a difficult case or with a challenging situation that is impacting the performance of the team. It goes a long way to just keep chipping away.

What should the profession and law firms focus more on?

I strongly believe our profession really needs to change the way it operates. We have to face up to the way that the delivery of legal services will change over the coming decade and beyond, particularly around the digitisation of services. Consumers of our legal services rightly expect this, and the profession must adapt. Already we are seeing alternative legal providers such as conveyancers and others entering our markets. There is an increasing expectation of fixed-fee charging in corporate and consumer legal services rather than time-based fees. We should all be focusing our energies in the legal industry – be it from firms through to courts and lawmakers – to enable more affordable access to our services. 

What has been the biggest challenge you and your practice has faced amid the pandemic?

The biggest challenge we face during the pandemic is ensuring that the external parties we regularly deal with, such as courts, government authorities and other organisations such as insurers, are similarly adapting to the new environment so that the wheels of justice continue to turn efficiently. Also, that Australia’s lawmakers don’t use the pandemic as a reason to make knee-jerk changes that may have a lasting and detrimental impact on Australians – the Early Access to Superannuation policy is a case in point.

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

Watching my team continue to do the great work that they do provides enormous inspiration to me.  Their efforts, the care and compassion they show our clients is a wonder to behold and I am privileged to lead them. I am also looking forward to continuing our efforts to work towards the digitisation of some of our personal legal services.

Lastly, I am looking forward to seeing what we can retain from working from home in response to the pandemic; to keep what we have learnt through this momentous change, figure out how best to adapt to COVID-19-safe workplaces and engage with our clients so we can continue to serve them at the highest level.

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