Alastair “Sandy” Donaldson is a very special presence around the DWFT office. As lead of our Corporate & Commercial and Intellectual Property (IP) practices, with 50 years under his belt and a penchant for helping budding lawyers learn, Sandy is the go-to for clients and associates across a vast range of business areas… including technology, intellectual property, wine, agribusiness, acquisitions, privacy, private health insurance and taxation to name but a few.

To anyone who knows Sandy, it’s no surprise at all that there are numerous professional awards and accolades to his name, including recognition in Best Lawyers Australia and acknowledgement as the “patriarch” of South Australia’s IP market in Doyle’s Guide to the Australian Legal Profession. But what is surprising, is how humble he is by nature and how, in spite of being in such high demand, he finds time to enjoy the little things in life… the little things that truly make him tick.

Sandy and Family

The nippers

A tiny scratch of the surface of Sandy’s life outside work reveals a number of true loves, and top of that list is his grandkids. His lawyer son John has two daughters, his lawyer / scientist daughter Anne has two sons, and all four of the nippers are between four and eight years old - which Sandy describes with dry humour as “pretty interesting ages”.

Sandy quite candidly admits that he and his wife would much prefer all the family be here with them in Adelaide – and we quietly suspect they will always be subtly campaigning to make that happen eventually – but for the present all the grandkids are in Melbourne. So, in true devoted grandparent style, Grandad and Grandma maintain a small unit in Melbourne and spend as much time as possible interstate.

“Us grandparents are in high demand”, beams Sandy. “Having our little Melbourne unit means we are able to have the grandkids with us for sleep-overs, which is lots of fun. We then spend our days doing things like the zoo, museums and science works… which secretly I enjoy as much as them. My daughter and her husband also have a little property at Marysville, a gorgeous town in the Yarra Valley, so we love getting the whole clan together up there whenever we can. We’re very lucky.”

The nips

To say Sandy’s interest in wine and spirits extends beyond the professional realm is, by his own admission, an understatement to say the least. Sandy elaborates: “I have a particular interest in fortified and desert wines, which probably stems from years ago with winemaker friends who were fond of producing them.”

Sandy Wine

Sandy has done a lot of work over the years in the wine industry. He is a regular attendee at the Winestate magazine awards, where DWFT is a proud sponsor of the fortified wine award. “In fact”, smiles Sandy, “it’s a standing joke at Winestate tastings that I head straight for the fortifieds when I come in!”

“As for my passion for malt whiskey, as I always tell everyone, that interest is purely scientific”, Sandy says with yet another smile. “Although I must admit I continue to enjoy my membership of the Gilles Club, a national network of malt whiskey tasting groups, which I joined about 20 years ago. Our group is a small but very interesting collection of characters and, as the South Australian contingent, we pointedly call ours the ‘Gilles Free Settlers Club’, to distinguish ourselves from convict descendants in other states.”

The tech

Sandy is well known around the office for being extremely tech savvy, but he humbly insists that while very interested in technology, he “does not pretend to have any particular expertise”. Although he does confess to being an early adopter of IT, confirming he’s had a computer at home since the clunky days of the Commodore64, and that he bought the very first iPad to be released.

“I think IT is a great enabler. Advances in genetics and Artificial Intelligence are leading to some amazing places. However, I don’t think all technology developments are positive… with so much reliance on IT, social media and connectivity, I’m concerned that information overload often compromises quality of thought and work as a result. And don’t get me started on the flood of emails I now receive, which is a massive bane of my life!”

The people

In Sandy’s line of work, being a people-person is arguably a prerequisite, and there’s no mistaking his love of the job in that respect. He’s a gifted problem solver, and a gifted explainer of solutions to personalities from all walks of life in ways they find easy to understand. He also clearly enjoys working with other people, particularly young lawyers who are eager to learn.

There are plenty of entertaining stories about colourful personalities Sandy has met along the way. He chuckles particularly hard describing a client he represented for many years. “He was often described as a ‘likable rogue’, although some of the creditors behind his failed companies may not have agreed with the ‘likable’ bit”, Sandy muses. “He was, however, a great enthusiast who tried many things, and I particularly remember his delight when he took over an ice making business, at the fact that people would actually ‘pay for some frozen water’”.

Sandy and Wife

The pipe dream

When asked what he’d do for a living if he could choose any profession, anywhere in the world, Sandy says resolutely, “I like being a lawyer in Australia”, which is a comfort for his clients to hear, many of whom openly admit they wouldn’t know what to do without him. Indeed, one of his longest standing clients suggests he could be a “cat herder”, in recognition of his incredible ability to effectively organise a multitude of mutually-exclusive moving parts, that to most people would prove impossible.

But what if he didn’t have to work, perhaps following a big lottery win? “I have no idea”, confesses Sandy. “Possibly an involvement in some creative, constructive or productive enterprise, using technology to make things which are ground-breaking and ecologically friendly. Alternatively, maybe I could just play my guitar and read and write poetry.”

Well, until that day arrives, Sandy’s colleagues and clients hope he stays right where he is.

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Sandy Donaldson

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