Paul McCann is a former top-tier partner who has acted for a score of high-profile clients including Gina Rinehart, British American Tobacco and the Catholic Church in Australia. McCann is Managing Principal at Cornwalls Sydney and was previously the head of litigation for Corrs Chambers Westgarth. McCann shares how he has finally learnt to enjoy the moment, after more than 30 years in the legal profession.
How do you manage work/life balance while working in such a busy practice area as litigation?
If I realise work is frustrating my wife, I put the phone down and hide it somewhere. When I was at Corrs, I would set aside hours in the morning and afternoon for management work. In the time between, I dealt with client work or supervision of matters. I almost invariably left the office by 7pm to go home and be with my family.
What do you see as the biggest challenges for those working in the legal profession?
Work-life balance and mental health are big issues. The profession seems to believe when lawyers turn up on the floor, their whole life is rosy in the garden. Nevertheless, they get on with work and that creates tension. I talk to all the lawyers every day, just to make sure they are okay.
What have you found most rewarding about moving from a top-tier law firm to a boutique partnership?
It’s primarily to do what turns my life on in law. We don’t do “churn litigation” to try and survive. We pick and choose what we do, and that makes working in this office interesting. In a large law firm, conflicts play an enormous part of frustration. If the clearance process is national, that takes time and will generate problems. Here, we can deal with a conflict in half an hour.
What advice do you have for the next generation of lawyers?
The marketplace for law is competitive and it’s not “all beer and skittles”. Law is a marathon, not a sprint and if you want to be good, you must apply yourself. Young lawyers should pick a field they not only like, but one they can become a significant player in in the market. Be on time, dress appropriately and behave yourself at firm social events.
What changes do you want to see in leadership?
There is a serious lack of understanding and engagement. It used to be a problem that partners in law firms would have their doors closed. If they want to succeed, they should have an open-door policy and not convey the impression they’re superior to others. The practice of mandating a set of core hours where lawyers must be in attendance and can only go home once their budgeted units are achieved, is appalling. Finally, if you do have successes, you celebrate them. At the end of the week, we have a social break where we talk about everything other than law.