If you want an experienced lawyer, Jim Main is your man. Having clocked over 40 years in practice, the 75-year-old business law specialist and chartered tax advisor is an established advisor to clients in the Wagga Wagga region and beyond. His firm, JMA Legal Business Lawyers, has offices all along the road to Gundagai – in Sydney, Cootamundra, Junee and Tumut. Each month, the father of three and grandfather of seven travels to Sydney for work. When he’s not on the road, he’s based at his property in Cootamundra.
Main says that while he has cut his working days back to three per week, they are long and intensive. Oftentimes they will spill over, stretching three days into four. But having put in the long yards to build a reputation as a trusted legal practitioner, Main has started to experience the downside of being a senior figure in the legal profession. Some people – or, more specifically, clients – have started writing him off because of his age.
About five years ago, Main addressed the question of succession for his business by introducing a flat management structure and bringing on board five other shareholders. He is now one of six directors of the firm (five of whom are lawyers), which he says has worked out well. One of the core in-house roles Main serves is to deliver training in tax and commercial law each week. Many of the strategic decisions he makes are in the interests of the firm and its 20-strong staff, so it’s still business as usual when the main man isn’t around. But what do you do if you love the law and want to stay involved after 70?
Main, who is a long-time contributor to LSJ’s Legal Updates section, says you just have to hold your ground. He has developed a system to share matters with colleague Michaela Schmidt: she takes care of documentation and Main focuses on the design of the legal solution. It’s the perfect arrangement to ensure clients feel they’re getting a complete service, and for a junior practitioner to benefit from mentorship by an experienced hand.
Main tells MELISSA COADE that his legal nous gets better by the day and he’ll only stop working once he’s asked to stop coming into work in his pyjamas. In the meantime, he says he will brush off the ageism and continue adding value where he can.
“I was brought up to be a farmer but decided I couldn’t do it, so I had to go back to school. I happened to have lunch with a friend who said, ‘Why don’t you try law?’ Because I had left school at the end of Year 10, I had to matriculate. I then did law through the Solicitor’s Admission Board by correspondence. I also talked to a local solicitor my family had used for a long time and he offered me a job. So I went to work for him and now a large part of what I do is complex farm succession work.
We have had a drift of clients locally, partly because at they look at me and say, ‘You’re getting too old.’ They refuse to look at these fantastic young lawyers I’ve got in the firm.