Where were you raised?
In the Upper Hunter—my family has lived in the region for many generations now.
Which areas of law are your specialties?
I lead Sparke Helmore’s Mining & Resources practice out of our Upper Hunter office in Muswellbrook and my focus is on helping mining companies achieve operable, workable and defendable mining approvals platforms. We offer clients specialised services including advocacy, approvals platforms, commercial agreements, compensation arrangements, ecology obligations and offsets, exploration licences and much more. I also the lead the firm’s Hunter Commercial Group, which focuses on meeting the needs of all businesses in the Hunter.
How is mining faring?
The mining industry is buoyant at the moment. There is a lot of investment and production of large volumes of products. The need for energy continues to be a significant challenge, however there is an increasing number of major alternate energy projects occurring, which promise to bring a lot of investment and jobs to the region.
Current conditions for Newcastle business?
Newcastle is undergoing something of a rebirth thanks to the vast investment being made into the city and its 2036 strategy. The city has been through massive change in the last 20 to 30 years and the same can be said of Sparke Helmore. We expect this trend to continue into the next 10 years, so it’s important for us, as a business operating in Newcastle, to focus our core capabilities on adaptability to change as well as evolution. This is a booming region with fantastic opportunities for those who live, work, and visit here.
You’ve recently been appointed chairman of Sparke Helmore after the former chairman and five other partners left to establish a Hunter office for British law firm DWF. Was their departure a shock and does the new firm represent a direct threat?
Partner (and team) mobility in our industry is a just a fact of life and something we are prepared for, and indeed benefit from. The recent departure of six partners was not a shock and something the firm did incredibly well was to carry on, business as usual.
As an integrated, independent Australian partnership, with a 136 year history of strong growth, we are committed to our client-first principles and to serving our clients across the needs of the insurance, government, financial services, technology, mining, construction and property sectors.
Our firm continues to look for opportunities to grow in line with our clients’ needs, as evidenced by our merger with Jarman McKenna in Perth and the imminent arrival of four new partners.
As the new chairman, what plans do you have?
Our 2020 strategy is well underway and sees us operating with a vision to be a market-leading Australian professional services business that our clients choose for outstanding people, legal expertise and our ability to connect. As Chairman, I am responsible for overseeing the delivery of this strategy and leading a culture that is authentic, client-focused, innovative, agile and collaborative (with our clients and internally). We believe our national footprint and current structure is the best model to deliver value and innovation for our clients, smart and sustainable growth for our firm, and to foster a values-driven culture for our people.
The firm’s core Hunter clients?
We have an array of clients from the commercial, property, mining, construction, projects and infrastructure, planning and environment, and local, state and Commonwealth government sectors. Our main clients in the Hunter represent the mining industry, utilities, infrastructure and property and development. The latter being one of the most exciting and busy due to the vast rate of growth and expansion happening in Newcastle. For example, the airport and light rail are significant projects that we’re delighted to be involved in.
The key challenges to the legal sector at present?
The need to continually innovate the way in which we undertake legal services and collaborate with clients to make the delivery of our services more and more efficient and effective. Also, the need to be agile and responsive to changes in client needs and demands, as well as to opportunities for improvement.
What is Sparke doing on the innovation front?
The legal industry has undergone and continues to undergo waves of change. Sparke Helmore is thinking differently about the way we work with our clients by taking on business partner and strategic advisor roles to help solve critical legal and business issues. The firm established an Innovation Committee in 2017, which focuses on developing more sustainable, time and cost-efficient solutions for clients; working with other partners and advisors to unlock value from clients’ businesses, customer bases and relationships; and leveraging networks to remain at the forefront of innovation. We are leveraging technology and knowledge management to re-engineer our service offering so we can lead transformational change within our firm, and for our clients. We drive improvements with client relationships by analysing quantitative data.
We are leveraging technology and knowledge management to re-engineer our service offering.- Andrew White
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