While the PVA glue on your creative Marque Lawyers clerkship application was still drying, Managing Partner Michael Bradley chatted with Survive Law about his reputation as a maverick, breaking the traditional law firm mold and why he asked hopeful summer clerks to get creative.
Michael Bradley regularly makes headlines in the legal world for his unconventional approach to running a law firm. He famously gave staff $400 to buy a pair of shoes when he was the managing partner of Gadens Lawyers. Yet Bradley doesn’t see himself as a maverick. He attributes Marque Lawyers’ reputation to the conservative nature of the legal profession: “It’s not difficult to stand out. There’s nothing radical about us but we look radical simply because we’re a little bit different.”
Despite this, Bradley’s career path is hardly unconventional. After completing a Bachelor of Economics, Bachelor of Laws degree, he found himself drawn to a career in the law: “I just don’t think there’s another job that provides the same level of diverse challenge.” Upon commencing his graduate position at Gadens Lawyers, Michael remembers, “I turned up in January and they said ‘Oh, your supervising partner has just gone away for a month.’ … I used to wander the corridors begging other partners for work until my partner came back from holiday.”
Bradley believes the graduate experience has changed very little since then: “It’s terrifying, intimidating and you spend about three months feeling like a complete idiot before you actually start to get things right.”
In his 19 years at Gadens Lawyers, Michael progressed from a graduate solicitor to ultimately become its managing partner. He says, “It was a good firm. It was relatively relaxed and social, and I was able really at all stages to pretty much do what I wanted to do in terms of developing my career.”
Bradley recalls two highlights in particular from his time at Gadens. The first was acting for actress Penelope Cruz in a defamation matter involving New Idea, which he says, “settled quite quickly, which was very disappointing.” Another highlight was his involvement in a High Court win withSony v Stevens, a test case on copyright and computer game technology. He describes the experience as “very cool.”
And what about the shoe thing? “It occurred to me that everyone should have at least one expensive pair of shoes,” he said and explained that it was for the firm’s traditional end of financial year staff bonus. It was generally well received, with some staff spending their $400 on ski boots or flippers. “A lot of the guys were really struggling with how they were going to spend $400, and a lot of the females were wondering what they were going to do with one shoe,” he joked.
After almost two decades at Gadens, Michael left in 2008, and with several colleagues went on to create Marque Lawyers. The experience of some of the typical frustrations of law firm life informed the founding partners’ decision that they wanted to do it differently. This difference includes the move away with the standard time costing model of billing, which Michael says “rewards inefficiency.” He believes that “It’s not a very spiritually enriching or rewarding life. I mean it’s financially rewarding but that’s not enough.”
When it comes to being managing partner of a law firm, Michael says the best perk is autonomy: “There’s nothing more enjoyable or rewarding than to drive your own destiny. That’s quite cool.” He says he appreciates that his role allows him to “execute ideas without constraint and try things out, experiment, and choose who I work with -that’s a major luxury.”
Away from the law, Michael is passionate about the theatre. He serves as Chairman of the Griffin Theatre Company, and describes the theatre world as “a completely different universe.” Marque Lawyers provides pro bono advice to the theatre company and will soon be sharing some of its office space with the group as it rehearses for an upcoming production. Bradley says of the theatre: “Everyone in that industry is doing it for a love of the art, which is very pure. It’s very different to the law or commerce where it’s all about money, so it’s inspiring.”
When asked what he would do if he wasn’t a lawyer, Bradley describes writing as his “secret joy,” and says he would like to be a writer “if it was possible to make a living out of it. But as far as I can see the only way to make money out of writing is by writing rubbish, so I’m not really keen on that.”
Bradley’s creative interest is apparent in this year’s summer clerkship application process. Potential clerks were asked to apply in a “creative art form.” Michael says they’ve been flooded with a diverse range of applications, including YouTube videos, songs, sculpture, artwork, a comic book and t-shirts. He says the process has been “quite fun so far,” and adds that a benefit of the creative art requirement is that it conveys personality in a way that doesn’t come through in a standard application or form letter. He says his only disappointment is that “we haven’t had as much food as we were hoping for. We did get a banana cake the other day, which disappeared very quickly.”
While Marque Lawyers’ original approach to recruitment is well known to hopeful summer clerks, it does have a serious intent. Michael says the process serves a weeding out function: “we want people who apply to us to have actually given it conscious thought rather than just ticking a box on a list of firm names and sending off the standard CV.”
Bradley says of hiring staff: “You can spend a lot of time agonising over academic results and psychometric testing and career plans and so forth. But you can’t replicate passion and enthusiasm, and you can’t fake it.” His advice to hopeful Marque summer clerks is, “if you do an interview here, pretend to be excited.”
Looking to the future for Marque Lawyers, Michael believes “there are quite a lot of other frontiers to explore in terms of what a law firm is, how it operates, what it means to work in a law firm.” His focus is on diversity, flexibility and the use of technology. “It’s just a question of applying imagination to the problem and not being bound by the way things have always been done. That’s an interesting challenge for the future, and all businesses are going to face it whether they like it or not,” he says.
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