Monique Azzopardi also warns firms of the growing threat of cyber-crime
Monique Azzopardi has been part of some significant milestones in her career as a tech and privacy lawyer. She has helped the NSW Department of Customer Service to launch a new, streamlined framework that is today a mandatory contract suite for NSW government agencies, and she has also made an impact on a client’s life through the provision of her pro bono services.
This Clayton Utz senior associate is keeping her finger on the pulse of what’s new in her field – at present, it’s the intersection between technology and construction – “infra-tech.” And as the legal profession increasingly transitions to cyberspace, she is also keeping an eye on the commensurate boost in threats to cybersecurity.
In this interview, Azzopardi talks about mentoring and being mentored at the same time, getting to know different practice areas and thank-you cards from clients that remind her of the value of pro bono work.
What made you choose a career in law, and what's your favourite part of the job?
Initially, I was drawn to the advocacy aspects of the law, which probably stemmed from my high school debating competition days. I also wanted to pursue a career that I could use to help others, that would keep me challenged and that was not static. A legal career definitely ticked all of those boxes.
My favourite part of the job is connected to one of the factors that led me to become a lawyer: helping my clients. It makes all the hard work worthwhile when you assist clients to find solutions to legal problems that they are facing and attain for them a good outcome as part of your engagement.
What is the most memorable case you've taken on/been involved in?
There have been a number of very memorable cases over the years. It's hard to narrow it down to one. However, most recently, it has been collaborating with the NSW Department of Customer Service with respect to the Procure IT transformation project to develop a refreshed and more streamlined, flexible and simplified contract suite: the MICTA/ICTA Contracting Framework. This newly established contractual framework is geared to ICT procurements that are high value or high risk.
As I regularly worked with its predecessor, it was great to have the opportunity to assist the client to design and develop this new contractual framework, which from 1 September became a mandated contract suite for use by NSW government agencies.
I enjoyed the teamwork and comradery of working with the client's legal and business teams and with my Clayton Utz colleagues for over 12 months on this important matter. Helping the client to achieve its objectives was an added bonus.
What is going on at the firm? Are there any new programs and initiatives that you’re particularly interested in?
There's quite a lot going on at the firm. I'm currently participating as both a mentor and mentee in the Clayton Utz mentoring program. I have been blessed with a truly wonderful mentor, a partner within the firm. He has provided me with invaluable advice and support and has been a helpful sounding board over recent months.
As part of this program, I am also mentoring a couple of junior lawyers at Clayton Utz, which I am finding very rewarding. I think that it is so important to take the time to “give back” to the profession, to nourish younger lawyers and to pass on the wisdom and learnings to the next generation. The program has also been an excellent opportunity to get to know more about the work that different practice groups from across the firm are doing.
In terms of new initiatives, the firm and different practice groups initiated new ways to remain connected and to bring some joy during the pandemic; for example, my team participated in virtual games and trivia sessions. Clayton Utz also offered a range of online events, ranging from virtual cooking classes to photographic challenges.
What has been your proudest accomplishment in the last year or so? Or what’s the biggest lesson you learned in the past year and what advice can you give fellow lawyers about it?
I'm proud of the recent work I've done in the pro bono space, and I'm grateful to work at a firm that values this important work. One pro bono matter stands out in particular: we managed to secure a very good settlement result for the client with respect to a legal problem that she had been dealing with for over 12 months and which was causing the client stress and appeared to be impacting a number of facets of her life. When I read the beautiful words in her thank you card, it served as an important reminder of the value of doing pro bono work and how the work of lawyers can literally change the trajectory of a client's life for the better.
What should the profession and law firms focus more on?
Although the profession has made good in-roads in this area over recent years, I think that the mental health and well-being of the profession should remain an ongoing focal area. There can be high stakes involved in the work that we do as lawyers and, as a cohort, lawyers often work very hard and long hours. On a long-term basis, this can take its toll. It is so important for lawyers to take some time to rest, reflect and recharge their batteries.
Equally, it is important that, as lawyers, we watch out for our colleagues. I'm really proud to be at a firm that invests in mental health and well-being and has a dedicated national mental health manager.
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?
Speaking of the law in general, I expect that cybersecurity risks will become an increasingly challenging area for law firms and other businesses more generally. As someone who works in technology and privacy law, I am cognisant of the risks in this area, which can come in various forms (including through a seemingly normal but actually nefarious email link). Law firms hold a significant amount of confidential and sensitive information and, as a result, they will remain a target for cyber-crime.
These risks have become heightened in recent years due to the increased move to remote ways of working. Thankfully, there are some easy and simple things that lawyers can do to help combat this issue, including by becoming familiar with their firm's security policies and procedures and being attuned to cybersecurity risks, including suspicious emails.
What are you looking forward to the most in the coming year?
Given the long lockdown that Sydney endured this year, I'm very much looking forward to returning to a greater degree of normality and being able to travel again to see my interstate family and friends. On the work front, I am looking forward to continuing to explore the emerging intersection between technology and construction. I'm finding “infra-tech” a fascinating area, and I've thoroughly enjoyed working with colleagues from other Clayton Utz practice groups on some recent transactions in this area.