Alumni Interview with Ashurst
What did you want to be when you were 10 years old?
When I was growing up in Brisbane, all I wanted to do was play rugby for Australia and be a Hollywood studio executive. Although I fulfilled one of those childhood dreams, I’m still crushed because the Wallabies never called.
What are you doing now instead?
I’m currently Global Co-leader of the Digital Transformation Practice at Norton Rose Fulbright.
I also have a few other interests. I am fascinated by the intersection of law and technology and that led to co-founding Lawpath, an online legal site with 400,000+ users, and co-inventing the world’s first AI-enabled privacy chatbot, Parker.
I’m also an Adjunct Professor at Bond University, where I have been researching high performance in professional services. Based on that work, Bond University has now launched the Breakthrough Lawyer Program.
In the not-for-profit space, I am a non-executive director of the Garvan Research Foundation, the Sydney Film Festival and the Vodaphone Foundation. I also served on the Board of ASX-listed software company Integrated Research for six years.
As a keynote speaker and podcaster, I regularly get to share my passion for technology, future trends and innovation. I’ve also written two best-selling Kindle books on those topics: Big Data, Big Responsibilities and Digital Disruption in Australia.
Tell us about the Breakthrough Lawyer Program?
The Breakthrough Lawyer Program is an online eight-week course that I teach at Bond University. It’s the first course of its kind in the world and is designed to help lawyers become better legal leaders and innovators within their organisations. The Breakthrough Lawyer Program also helps solve a very significant issue for the profession, which is that a lot of lawyers don’t like their jobs.
The four-step program helps participants understand the future of law and lawyers, put a plan in place for their future, identify their unique legal brand and create a low-cost, high-impact innovation project. The program also features sessions with 20 leaders in their field, including Ashurst Global Chief Executive Officer Paul Jenkins, Mike Cannon-Brookes (the Co-founder of tech giant Atlassian), the global GCs of PayPal, Mars Wrigley, Zurich Insurance and the US Securities and Exchange Commission, and pitch specialist Rawson Marshall Thurber – the writer and director of numerous movies, including Dodgeball, We’re the Millers and Red Notice.
The first 30-strong cohort completed the course this year and their feedback has been exceptional. One participant even said the program had changed her career … and her life. Next year, the course will be available in Australia, the US, the UK, Canada and New Zealand.
Why are you passionate about the program?
I want to help lawyers who feel a bit stuck in their careers to start to enjoy what they do by reframing how they think about it and by giving them a plan.
By helping lawyers think through their 20-year plan, embrace a complex, tech-driven future and change their mindset, the program enables them to take control of their careers, establish their unique legal brand, and thrive. Plus they go back to their organisation with an achievable innovation project – which has proven to be a very successful part of the program. Plus we have a good laugh along the way.
My goal is to make a positive impact on one million lawyers and to create a global community through the program. I’m confident we will get there. When I started Lawpath I said we would help a million small businesses get cost-effective legal advice. People scoffed at that, but we are now almost halfway to reaching that goal. It is important to dream big.
What is your top tip for lawyers wanting to stay across innovation developments?
Be curious. If you are interested and engaged in what is happening in your area of expertise, it will be easier to carve out your reputation in that space. For example, I started out in M&A and worked with many excellent M&A lawyers. What gave me an edge was that I also had an active interest in innovation and technology, which allowed me to specialise in technology M&A.
You can also boost your personal brand by using social media well, including by developing relationships with clients and other helpful contacts through LinkedIn and engaging with them in a meaningful way.
What career journey have you taken to get here?
I had a great start to my legal career at Ashurst in Sydney (then Blake Dawson). During that time I was seconded to Tokyo where, with the blessing of the local partners, I opened The Tokyo Comedy Store and worked as a lawyer by day and a stand-up comedian by night. The success of the comedy club (which I later sold and which is still operating today) led to an opportunity to create a television show. The producers were convinced I would be the “Seinfeld of Japan”, but sadly, it wasn’t a hit.
The upside of that experience was that I had a body of work that won me a place at the prestigious University of Southern California Film School. After I graduated, I landed a job as a Creative Executive at Warner Bros. Studios, working on shows like The West Wing. I had finally got the dream job I had always wanted, but it just didn’t work for me. Many people have asked me why I would leave that life and return to law, but I can honestly say my worst day as a lawyer was better than my best day as a movie executive.
I then had a stint as Chief Operating Officer of a dotcom that we listed on the Australian stock exchange before it succumbed to the tech crash in 2001. As my equity in the dotcom went south, my interest in legal practice (and feeding our kids) rekindled at roughly the same rate. I sat back and reflected on what would make me content – a concept I focus on rather than happiness. It then became an easy decision to return to Sydney, the law, innovation and entrepreneurship – which is what I have been doing for the past 22 years.
What’s your most memorable moment from your time at Ashurst?
Friday night drinks! To me those nights captured the firm’s welcoming atmosphere and camaraderie. At the time I was doing stand-up comedy, so I was a bit of an odd fit for a major law firm. But I found a home and lifelong friends at Ashurst. I was also lucky enough to have two amazing mentors, Ron Harmer and Richard Fisher, who gave me outstanding legal training and really cared about me and my professional development (and who loved a laugh).
What’s something few people know about you?
While I was working at Warner Bros. I had a side-hustle project producing and acting in an independent movie. Somehow, I managed to convince Woody Allen to star in it. Three months after Searching for Allison Porchnik was released, I got an Oscar – Oscar Alexander Abrahams, my son.
For the original article, follow the link: In Profile – Nick Abrahams (ashurst.com)