'Law is about relationships,' Dentons partner says

For Donald Robertson, the law should inspire unity rather than division

'Law is about relationships,' Dentons partner says
Donald Robertson

Donald Robertson believes that relationships are at the centre of the practice of law. Maintaining justice in the different relationships he cultivates as a lawyer – both contractual connections and everyday interactions – is to him “a deeply satisfying pursuit.”

As part of Dentons’ IP and tech team in Sydney, Robertson utilises his knowledge of both the law and economics in his practice as a competition and economic regulation partner. Over a storied career, he has developed a passion not only for market regulation, but also for evidence-based reasoning.

In this June interview, Robertson talks going global, what drew him to Dentons, the “new era” of technology and writing a school essay on the Prices Justification Tribunal.

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

I started to be interested in the law whilst studying commerce in junior high school. I recall doing an essay on the then yet-to-be-passed legislation on the Prices Justification Tribunal (a precursor to much of what is in our competition law). In university, I studied both economics and law.

I find myself still practising in that area of crossover and love it. Law satisfies my interest in history, philosophy, economics and legal doctrine. Law is about relationships, whether by contract or in the day-to-day interactions we all have. The practice of law is about maintaining justice in those relationships – a deeply satisfying pursuit.

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

I have done many cases over a number of decades, including cases flowing from the financial collapse in the 1980s, with many memorable characters. But in the end, the case (or series of cases) I have undertaken in the area of regulation of payment systems has given me a lifetime interest in the regulation of markets and, in this case especially, in the role of money and how the law regulates that aspect of the market economy.

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

The thing that attracted me to this firm is its incredible global connections. I have always been interested in the global dimensions of law and commerce. The announcement of the launch of Dentons Global Advisors with founding member Albright Stonebridge Group is the epitome of what I have been looking for in my practice – global and strategic.

The announcement of the initiative describes the new firm as an “elite multidisciplinary advisory firm that provides integrated strategic counsel and support for clients facing complex opportunities and challenges spanning commercial, reputational, financial, regulatory and governance dimensions.” I could not put it better.

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

Keep focused on the law. Even though COVID-19 presses us to be closed and local, the only way out to a healthy profession is to be open and global.

What should the profession and law firms focus more on?

The profession should continually focus on high standards and insist on evidence-based reasoning. The tendency which we see in many parts of the world to gravitate to conspiracy theories and divisive arguments should be anathema to lawyers. If law is about relationships, it should seek to bring people together, not divide them. Unity can only be achieved by basing our advocacy on a firm foundation of truth.

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?

The new era of technology and so-called “intellectual property capitalism” challenges our thinking in all sorts of ways. The challenge for lawyers, regulators, politicians and others will be to understand how the world is changing, but also how to keep the foundational values alive.

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

All of these challenges.

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