Jessica Mottau – Partner, TMT, Allens (Sydney)
Why did you decide to pursue a career in law?
I always wanted to! I'm not 100% sure where it started. My mum is a lawyer, and I thought her work sounded quite interesting (or maybe she just subtly brainwashed me at the dinner table).
What are the top three words you’d use to describe the culture at Allens?
Collaboration, excellence and integrity.
In your experience, what has been the most significant change for women in the legal field over the last 5 years?
There have been quite a lot of significant developments. We continue to see increasing recognition of the importance of retention and promotion of women, with many organisations (including Allens) committing to 40:40:20 leadership targets (40% women, 40% men and 20% any gender (women, men or non-binary persons)). I think the move away from primary/secondary carer leave to a uniform approach to parental leave has also been very significant.
The greater uptake in men taking extended parental leave helps to ensure women are not disadvantaged as a result of taking extended leave. In my view that has also been a really important and beneficial change for men. The 'Me too' movement has also opened the door for us to have some really tough but important conversations about culture and conduct in the legal profession.
Lastly, I think the widespread adoption of flexible working, and rollout of technology to facilitate that, has the potential to help us alleviate some of the pressures of juggling work with personal commitments. That's not a challenge faced by women alone (we're all dealing with the juggle), but we do know statistically that many women leave private practice between Senior Associate and Partner levels, so anything that improves retention is really important.
How important is it to have other women visible at management level?
It's critical. Lawyers especially love a precedent – it's much easier to comprehend the leadership opportunities that may be available to you if you can see others like you who are already in those positions. I for one never considered partnership a viable option for myself until I started to see female colleagues who were just a few years ahead of me becoming partners. Suddenly it seemed like an option that was open to me.
It's equally important to have other types of diversity visible at management level for the same reason. And it's not just about visibility – having diversity in management helps to ensure that different perspectives are more likely to be considered in decision-making (something we all benefit from).
What difference have you seen to the way of working since COVID?
Although we were working flexibly at Allens prior to the pandemic, COVID accelerated and embedded the adoption of flexible working across our firm and clients. For many of us it has been a game changer, making it a little easier to balance work and personal demands by sometimes working from home, shifting hours, etc.
That said, we're now starting to see a renewed appreciation for the office and enjoyment of face-to-face communication with our team and clients. Going forward, I think we will enjoy the best of both worlds – working sometimes from home and sometimes from the office, depending on what makes sense on any particular day.
What do you think clients value and why? Have you seen this change over recent years?
Clients appreciate legal advisors that can offer value beyond just providing legal advice. That might be by sharing insights on what is happening in the market, spotting regulatory hurdles on the horizon so they can be grappled with before they become issues (or used to gain a competitive advantage), finding commercial solutions to problems, or helping manage projects efficiently.
Providing clear legal advice is obviously a huge part of the job, but the best client relationships develop when we are able to offer more than that and act as a strategic and commercial partner to our clients.
What advice would you give to your younger self just starting out in law?
Cut yourself some slack. No one starts out as a fully formed lawyer (in fact, I'm not sure anyone ever gets there - it's a constant development process). Keep looking for opportunities to get involved in new work and grow your network, and the rest will come naturally. And speak up…there are no silly questions or opinions!