From debating to lawyering

by 29 Aug 2016
Five minutes with Stephen Mullins, general manager NZ and managing counsel at lexvoco.

What made you decide to become a lawyer?
My strengths at school were English, languages, public speaking and debating, so law seemed an obvious choice. I thought graduating as a lawyer was great because it made it obvious what I was going to do for work – though it wasn’t until a lot later that I came to appreciate the generalist skills that legal practice gives you.

How long have you worked at lexvoco and what brought you to this position?
I began working with lexvoco in April 2016 with a background in private practice, in-house and general management. I initially joined lexvoco in Australia but shortly after starting work I was engaged to establish the business in New Zealand. We could see the need in New Zealand for specialist support for in-house teams and flexible working solutions for lawyers, and that has been confirmed by the great reception we’ve had here.

What’s the strangest case you’ve ever worked on/been involved with?
Not so much a strange case, but a strange situation that sticks in my mind happened when I was working in Glasgow as a junior corporate lawyer. I hadn’t closed a transaction before and two deals I was working on were scheduled for closing on the same day. I wasn’t worried about that until the partner I worked for told me he was going to be on leave that day. He thankfully arranged for another partner to be on hand to help, and both were in our offices, but I spent a long day running between the two closings, trying to get both finalised. They both got over the line somehow, and I haven’t heard anything more about them, so I figure no news is good news.

If you could invite three people for dinner, dead or alive and excluding family and friends, who would they be and why?
Burt Munro (the famous Indian Scout motorbike racer – has to be a fascinating guy), Malcolm Gladwell (loved his book The Tipping Point), and George Mallory (to hear his story of attempting Everest in the early days).

You’re based in Auckland – where’s the best place to go for a drink and/or dinner after work?
A local favourite is Little Jimmys, at Greenwoods Corner. Great food, surroundings and service.

What’s the best piece of advice (work or personal) you’ve ever been given?
Separate the people from the problem, and deal with each of them on their merits by being hard on the problem, but soft on the person. With some exceptions, this enables conflict to be a positive driver of change.

Do you have any hobbies/interests outside of work?
I’m a member of Auckland Evangelical Church, which is based at St Lukes, and I like to spend time with my wonderful wife Anna and our two fantastic daughters. Cycling (road), running and skiing are how I keep (sort of) fit.

Complete this sentence: If I wasn’t a lawyer, I would be…
A mediator. I spent about 18 months practising as a mediator and its capacity to help people move forward from a position of being completely entrenched in conflict is pretty amazing.

What do you think will be single biggest issue facing the legal space in New Zealand in 2016/2017?
How to remain relevant, necessary and cost-effective in a time when knowledge formerly available only to lawyers is becoming more widely accessible. Clients are increasingly  scrutinising value for money, and technology is being developed that does a lot of ‘legal’ work cheaper and faster.

If you had John Key’s job for one day, what would you do?
My eldest daughter reckons we should have a four-day working/school week, which I think is a great idea. Not sure if a day in even John Key’s shoes would be enough to swing that though...

What do you love about your job?
I love being in a position to offer other lawyers options that help them do what they need to do but were not otherwise available to them, or that they weren’t aware of. Also, hearing from a client that we’ve helped them is really satisfying.

What would you change about your job right now if you could?
The times when I’ve wanted to change things about my job have tended to come when I’ve been in a role that involves doing the same thing everyday. I’m lucky in that my current role is a mix of general management, business development, law, and consultancy work, so nothing to change right now.