Q&A: Tamsin Webster – “It’s important to try hard, but to leave work at work and not dwell on your mistakes.”

[Australasian Law Management Journal,General Management,Marketing & Business Development,People Management(HR),Strategy & Leadership] December 24, 2018

In this Q&A, Maddocks Senior Associate Tamsin Webster comments on her passion for pro bono work; her recognition as Young Lawyer of the Year; and the lessons from senior lawyers that she is now passing on to others.

Congratulations on your recent Young Lawyer of the Year award from the Law Council of Australia for your pro bono work. What does such recognition mean to you?

“Getting the award has been a real honour. It’s amazing to be recognised for something I love doing, and it’s also a great opportunity to encourage other people to do pro bono work and volunteering work. The Law Council deserves real credit for so highly valuing pro bono work and volunteering. It’s also a credit to Maddocks that I’ve been able to do so much pro bono work.”

We understand this passion for social justice and human rights is a family trait.

“My Dad is also a lawyer. He’s a commercial lawyer, but he’s done a lot of work on indigenous and refugee cases, so he instilled in me from a very young age a sense of social justice. My Mum also has a very big heart and is extremely generous. My parents have taught me how lucky I am and that there are lots of people in the world who haven’t been given the same opportunities and that we should do what we can for those people.”

You have long been involved in pro bono and volunteering for people seeking asylum, including coordinating the Refugee Legal program at Maddocks. How did you get started?

“It’s an interesting area and it’s very close to my heart. I’ve been working in this area since university when I studied refugee law and also first started volunteering for Refugee Legal.”

What is your message to other firms on pro bono work?

“I’d really just encourage other lawyers and law firms to get involved in pro bono work and volunteering if they have the opportunity. It’s incredibly rewarding. In the refugee space, you’re dealing with people who are strong and resilient and have faced so much, but they’re also very vulnerable in terms of being in a new country and facing a new legal system and a new language – it’s so rewarding to be able to help them navigate the final legal hurdle to establish a safe life for themselves and their family. There’s the personal satisfaction of doing the pro bono work, but it’s also a great avenue for developing professional skills, especially for young lawyers, including advocacy, drafting statements or getting that client face-to-face contact that they might not have in their everyday job.”

Aside from practising employment law, part of your job at Maddocks is to mentor junior lawyers and contribute to their growth. How long have you been doing this?

“I only became a Senior Associate this year, but in my capacity as an Associate I have been mentoring junior lawyers. I get a lot of satisfaction out of seeing people growing and learning.”

What issues do they typically raise with you?

“Work-life balance is always a difficult issue for lawyers. I’ve been trying to convey through words and actions the importance of self-care. We live in a very demanding, client-driven environment where we need to work hard and pay attention to detail and deliver work in a timely fashion. But just trying to strike a balance between that and looking after yourself and getting sleep and exercise and eating well and having interests outside work is really important.”

How is your own work-life balance?

“Good. I’m training for a half ironman triathlon to be held in New Zealand in February, so I’m doing a lot of exercise. The event involves a 1.9km swim, a 90km bike ride and a half marathon. I think I’m juggling things quite well at the moment. It’s quite intense, but it’s good.”

What other messages do you have for juniors?

“The importance of taking responsibility for your mistakes and really learning from them, but not dwelling on them because everyone makes mistakes. It’s important to try hard, but to leave work at work and not dwell on your mistakes after you’ve learnt from them.”

How about your senior partners – have there been any particular lessons from them that have resonated with you and guided your career and work approach?

“I’ve had fantastic mentors. Of the key lessons I’ve learnt, one of them has been to love what you do. One partner, Ross Jackson, has an infectious enthusiasm for employment law and that spreads throughout the team. Another senior partner, Lindy Richardson, has taught me the value and importance of teamwork. She pitches in when things get busy and she encourages people to work together and you know she’s always got your back. Another senior partner, Catherine Dunlop, has taught me the importance of retaining a sense of humour, which can be difficult in the law when things get stressful. She has a great laugh and always uses it. There’s also Special Counsel Adrian Wong and Senior Associate Michael Nicolazzo, who have mentored me and taught me the value of having a growth mindset and not giving up on people. They strike this amazing balance between encouraging and mentoring people while also holding people to account and challenging them – it is definitely something to aspire to.”

There’s often a lot of discussion with law firms about culture and creating a desirable culture for all lawyers. What’s happening at Maddocks?

“Maddocks has a very good culture of striving for excellence while also being flexible and inclusive. I recently attended a farewell presentation for someone who’d been here 20 years and there are a lot of people in the firm – partners, but also people in the mail room and finance and so forth – who have been here for 15 to 20 years or more, which is one indicator of a good culture.”

What sort of people thrive at Maddocks?

“We’ve got a very inclusive and friendly workplace and the firm does a good job of recruiting down-to-earth people who are really passionate about the work, but who have interests outside the firm as well. We have lots of social events and pro bono opportunities, and various committees to support women, corporate social responsibility, pride and inclusion and diversity, for example. We’ve also got a great CEO in Michelle Dixon who has been encouraging a culture of innovation and within our employment law team we definitely have a culture of collaboration and working together and also celebrating successes in the team.”

When you started at Maddocks almost 10 years ago, terms such as inclusiveness were probably not even on the agenda at law firms.

“Yes, things have definitely changed since I started. The Pride Committee was quite a recent initiative, and innovation has been the hot topic for the past year. That’s also true of flexibility. A lot of our team is working part-time now or we can work from home – the sort of things that weren’t happening 10 years ago. With innovation, there’s a real push to involve people in consultation sessions and we have a web page on the intranet where people can showcase their ideas. Staff can vote on those ideas and the top ideas get tested. So things like that are really great and encourage people to get involved.”

What is next for your career?

“I’m really happy at the moment. I feel like I’ve got a really good balance of employment law, which I love and find interesting, and doing pro bono work. I’ll keep doing what I love doing and see where it takes me.”