Law in Focus: In conversation with Laura Young, Partner at HWL Ebsworth

Wilson Pateras work with clients from all walks of life – helping them chart a clear roadmap to achieve their financial goals. Our talented team specialize in accounting and financial advice for lawyers.

To better acquaint lawyers with our focused accounting services and wealth management solutions, Wilson Pateras are proud to present our ‘Law in Focus’ blog series. This series aims to showcase several senior legal clients we’re proud to represent, answering key accounting compliance questions surrounding the process of becoming partner in a law practice.

In each blog, Wilson Pateras’ Principal, Mark Forte sits in conversation with senior partners at prestigious Melbourne law firms to discuss their career trajectories. In this blog Laura Young, Partner at HWL Ebsworth Lawyers, shares her insights with Mark from the heart of Melbourne’s bustling CBD.

Mark Forte:  Laura, at what point did you know that you wanted to work in the law?

Laura Young:  That’s a good question – I would say I fell into it! I wanted to be a journalist but didn’t get into the RMIT course I wanted. I achieved the score to get into law school, and I thought that was a good professional foundation. I loved the practice of law and soon enough found myself in a commercial firm. I started at what is now Herbert Smith Freehills.

Mark Forte:  When you achieved that great score and chose to pursue law, did you have any expectations of your career?

Laura Young:  Not really, to be honest. We don’t have any lawyers in the family or amongst our family friends. I did a double degree in arts law. I thought if I didn’t enjoy law I could either transfer out or go with the arts. The reality was that I didn’t really enjoy the arts degree and I did enjoy the law degree! I found the arts to be very broad and I really enjoyed the specifics and technical aspects of the law degree.

Mark Forte:  Excellent. Talking about expectations, can you share any common misconceptions people have about lawyers?

Laura Young:  I think there’s a misconception that being a lawyer is entirely about being a technical specialist. Technical expertise is obviously crucial, but  law is also about developing and building relationships. It’s probably much like your practice as well, Mark. You need to understand the practice of accounting, but it’s about developing and nurturing close relationships and creating trust with clients. It’s really that client-lawyer relationship that’s most critical. That’s probably the main misconception about my profession.

Mark Forte:  What’s challenging about the category of law you specialise in, and what’s pleasurable about it?

Laura Young:  I’m a partner in the commercial department. The areas I specialise in are commercial contracting, corporate governance, mergers and acquisitions and competition and consumer law. The fantastic thing about being a commercial lawyer is the breadth of work every day – everything that comes across your desk is almost always bespoke, nothing is the same!

Mark Forte:  And how long have you been with HWL Ebsworth?

Laura Young:  Seven and a half years.

Mark Forte:  Is that a long tenure for your industry?

Laura Young:  I think so. I’m quite a loyal person and I don’t plan on moving. I only moved from my first firm because the partners that I worked with were moving! I was very committed to working with them and when they decided to move, I knew that I would absolutely go with them. We have quite a lot of long-termers here, which is such a good sign.

Mark Forte:  Can you tell us a bit about your career trajectory? Is it similar to those of your colleagues or have you forged a unique career path?

Laura Young:  I think it’s been a fairly standard journey, in the sense that you work your way through the process. You start your traineeship before progressing to  become a Solicitor, a Senior Associate,  and then a Special Counsel before you progress to partnership. That has been standard. I’ve had some great opportunities along the way which have helped me achieve partnership earlier than I might have otherwise. I did have a deviation however! I qualified as a lawyer at Freehills and then I spent eight months as an investment banker. I moved to Goldman Sachs and was an analyst in the Equity Capital Markets group. There I ultimately decided that the law was for me.

Mark Forte:   When you began your career in the law, did you have any goals or plans to achieve certain financial goals?

Laura Young:  Not really. I think you just slot in and progress. You do want to feel like you’re respected for your contribution, and that you are acknowledged for your contribution financially. I didn’t have financial goals per say but I think I always wanted to be a Partner.

Mark Forte:  That’s a goal achieved then! At what point did you decide to use accountants and business advisors? Why did you feel that you needed that expertise at that point?

Laura Young:  I identified that I required expert accounting advice when I was looking to move into partnership. Mark, we caught up before I became a Partner.

Mark Forte:  We did!

Laura Young:  At that stage, the firm had indicated that I would be moving into the Partner role and Mark and I met. We talked about what that would look like financially. As Partner you’re no longer an employee, so accounting, financial and tax matters are dealt with quite differently. I wanted the expert advice of Wilson Pateras. You came highly recommended.

Mark Forte:  Why is it so critical, at the point of partnership, to liaise with an accountant who specialises in the legal category?

Laura Young:  It’s important on a number of fronts. You’re going from a salaried wage employee to someone who’s got a share in partnership profits. As a salaried wage employee, tax has been taken out for you. As a partner in a law firm, you’re receiving pre-tax dollars that you must take responsibility for. We need to be aware of how much money needs to be set aside for tax, and what’s the best way to use those pre-tax dollars now. So that you don’t run into trouble!

Mark Forte:   How long have you been a Partner?

Laura Young:  I became Partner in February 2017. A year and a half, almost.

Mark Forte:  Are you now focused on any financial goals, property investment, retirement, or time away from work? What’s on the cards?

Laura Young:  Our strategy is currently around property investment. We have two properties at the moment and we would be interested in building our portfolio if we can. We have a daughter and we’re going to have a second daughter shortly. We want to make sure that we’ve got sufficient funds in place to support them, through good education and family holidays and all those things we would like to do. That’s probably the medium-term goal at the moment.

Mark Forte:  Brilliant. At this stage, do you undertake tax planning on a regular basis?

Laura Young:  Yes. When you and I got together, with another of your colleagues Sebastian – that was tax planning! We brainstormed, and we clearly mapped out on the whiteboard how we could distribute funds.

Mark Forte:   Did you find that beneficial?

Laura Young:  Oh, absolutely! That was hugely, hugely beneficial. You cannot overstate how valuable it is to get that sort of specific advice. What is the best way to structure your distributions? What tax savings can I make?

Mark Forte:  Winner! In a ‘new law’ environment, what are the greatest challenges lawyers are facing?

Laura Young:   If you ask any Partner in any law firm, they’ll probably say that new online law concepts are a bad idea – because they take away a lot of the bespoke advice. As lawyers we truly believe this advice is critical to providing a good service to our clients. My understanding of these online facilities is that you can buy generic templates and mocked-up legal documents such as constitutions. There’s nothing personal about that service. They don’t consider individual circumstances. The online model may be having an impact on the industry more broadly, however, we don’t notice these issues as much because our firm is so relationship-driven.

Mark Forte:  Thanks Laura, they were fabulous answers!

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