Away from work, Brendan coaches a group of a dozen pro runners and competes in sprints. However, not all of his races have been run at lightning speed.
Brendan gets together with his runners three times a week. He says, “The great thing about my running group is that half of them are adults and half are school-age kids – it is a really interesting mix.”
Since 2001, he has also been the President of the South Australian Athletic League.
Coaching is his way of relaxing away from work and demonstrates at a grassroots level his commitment to the sport. “Seeing kids develop, not just in their athletics careers, but also personally … that’s really rewarding.”
He notes the parallels between legal practice and athletics competition. “Both pursuits might be regarded as fundamentally individual. There are teamwork aspects though and the challenge is to improve performance in both.” However, Brendan believes, for him, the crossover is in taking the skill sets from his sports administration experience– such as strategic planning, business development and marketing – into his legal work.
When asked about the most challenging aspect of his work, he says, “Managing client expectations. The legal process… is much slower than most clients expect.”
“ At the start of any proceeding, the client needs to know what the time frame looks like, how much they’re likely to spend and how much they’ll recover.’”
“There is always something to pay, to give, in return for getting a matter resolved at an early opportunity. Very often it means the client needs to put principles aside… and think what is the best thing to do for their business.”
That said, some of the most satisfying matters in Brendan’s career have been slow-burners.
In 2000, Brendan worked in London on a Public Inquiry into one of the UK’s worst shipping disasters. The Marchioness Inquiry, presided over by Lord Justice Clarke, investigated the circumstances of the collision on the Thames River between the Marchioness (a pleasure boat) and the Bowbelle (a commercial sand dredger). 51 people lost their lives in the collision.
“My role was initially to take all of the witness statements. That developed into being an instructing solicitor to the Inquiry. ”
“The Inquiry went for a year and, because it was so high profile and had 15 different parties, had to be conducted in Westminster Central Hall. It was supposed to be Britain’s first paperless inquiry, but it didn’t quite work out that way: 55,000 documents, across 15 different parties.”
The actual hearing went for six weeks and the findings were damning of all parties involved in the accident and many of those working in its aftermath.
Brendan, at the coalface of the Inquiry, was surprised at the lack of regulation that contributed to the collision. “Over the years, the Marchioness had additions made to it, so the wheelhouse at the front couldn’t see what was coming from behind. With the Bowbelle, its wheelhouse was at the back of the vessel, so it couldn’t see what was in front. It didn’t have proper strategies in place to be able to safely navigate anything that might have been in front of it. Basically, it navigated by the arches on the bridges. My immediate thought was, ‘How come this hasn’t happened before?’”
Unsurprisingly, the Inquiry led to wide-ranging changes in boating safety on the Thames and the introduction of tighter statutory controls on the use of English waterways.
“The captain of the Bowbelle had been drinking before he went to work. The police didn’t breath test him until the following day. The water police ran over one of the survivors and broke her leg. The Port of London didn’t have adequate protocols in place to prevent accidents like this. Different port surveyors were questioned because they allowed both boats to be changed from their original designs and that reduced their ability to safely navigate the river. It all contributed to a monumental disaster.”
Working on the Inquiry was pivotal in Brendan’s career. He says, “Yes, it helped. It was challenging work and certainly outside of the comfort zone.”
More recently, Brendan cites a career highlight as achieving success in a litigation case that went for more than five years.
“We acted for the liquidator of a fruit Co-op who had entered a joint venture. The joint venture was basically to be a packaging company. It didn’t work and the bank called in the loans, which the Co-op paid. When the Co-op sought contribution from their joint venturer, the contribution claim was defended aggressively with all manner of defences and applications.”
Says Brendan, “Normally a liquidator doesn’t have the resources to fight long term litigation. In this matter though, the liquidator was funded and had the support of their committee of inspection to prosecute the proceedings.
The Co-op members ended up receiving 100 cents in the dollar plus interest. “That never happens in a liquidation. It was a dream result.”
During the course of public examinations it emerged that the joint venture partner had no assets.
“They were avoiding any risk. We amended the claim to add a misleading and deceptive conduct allegation and claimed all of the losses suffered by the Co-op, not just the contribution.”
“The most satisfying thing was that the money that came in went out to all of the Co-op members who had been doing it tough.”