Interview: Matthew Hollings

Meet Matthew Hollings. Matthew is the President of the QLS Future Leaders Committee (FLC), and is Head of Business Development at a specialist eDiscovery services consultancy, Sky Discovery.

We spoke to Matthew about the FLC, leaving litigation for a non-traditional legal career, the future of the profession, and being a dad. Read the full interview below.

Matthew Hollings

Matthew Hollings

Tell me a little bit about yourself

I’m the Head of Business Development for a specialist eDiscovery services consultancy called Sky Discovery. I’ve been working in the eDiscovery space for about 8 years in various business development roles. I’m responsible for educating and engaging current and potential client partners on how eDiscovery can assist them with their disputes, regulatory and investigation matters. I am a recovering or escapee lawyer, depending on which way you look at it – but still hold my practising certificate, just in case.

Prior to moving into eDiscovery, I was a practising litigator for three years, working in-house at a big financial institution, as well as at a large national law firm. Prior to that, I was a Townsville kid. I went to high school and university up there and moved down to Brisbane in 2012 for a graduate role, following a summer clerkship the year prior.

Why did you decide to study law?

I enjoyed legal studies and thought a law degree would be a natural extension. As I know now, it was completely different to studying law at university, which was different again to the practise of law in the real world. Not that any of that was a bad thing. All those experiences have contributed to where I am now. I also saw law as a versatile degree, with many people I knew having forged successful careers in the corporate world that had law degrees. I had assumed that the degree helped them get to that point.

What made you leave law after being a litigator?

Look, I wasn’t really enjoying it. It wasn’t what I expected it to be. The nature of litigation means your day is largely at the mercy of stakeholders outside of your control. You could be as best prepared as you like, then all of a sudden you’re working late.

I also didn’t really enjoy the type of litigation I was doing, being focused entirely on insolvency and debt recovery. It just wasn’t what I saw myself building a career in, long term. I initially wanted to experience another another practise area or firm environment, but on that search I came across this business development role with a legal process outsourcing company. The woman that was hiring for the role was like “I can’t believe a lawyer has applied!”. So I went and had a chat, and she said “You’re our client. You understand the issues that we’re trying to solve. You’re the perfect one to be educating our current and potential clients on how we can help.”

The more I learned about the legal technology space, the more I realised that no one had shared any of this with me. I saw that I could use my past experience to fill that gap and make a real impact in the profession.

What’s your day to day at work look like, if you have a typical day?

It’s not super typical, but I do try to have a little bit of structure. I try to segment elements of my day or my week or my month into completing particular tasks. The first part of the month might be doing board reporting about activities and outcomes achieved in the previous month. Typically that identifies a series of follow-up actions – engaging clients on upcoming projects, check in on current clients on existing matters, running CPD sessions on technical and practical aspects of eDiscovery. By the time you go down that rabbit warren the month is over and it's time to start again!

It’s a pretty dynamic environment. eDiscovery, as a legal technology subset, has been around for such a long time, but still so many people don’t really know that it exists, or how it could apply to them and assist them. A huge part of my role is proactive outreach.

How do you feel about the legal profession and are there any changes you’d like to see?

We work with over 150 organisations on eDiscovery projects. I see first-hand a broad cross section of the challenges the profession is going through, particularly in the litigation and regulatory investigation space. It can be brutal – tight time frames and lots of work.

There’s certainly a lot of talk about a focus on technology and innovation through development of process helping with this challenge. But it’s about acting on that talk. A lot of the people tasked with executing those actions are already so busy and struggle to find time to drive meaningful change. Those leading legal teams need to empower their people to take the time to be curious, to explore what changes might be necessary, and then implement them.

The management of that change is a whole different process again. There needs to be solid investment from firms at all levels. There should also be a good level of oversight and strategic direction. Someone should be responsible for keeping their eye on the prize and thinking about ‘how can we do things better? How can we better support our staff?’.

It’s tough. It’s such an old profession with so many aspects steeped in tradition, and people don’t like to change things even if they are ultimately not helpful.

I think you’re right, but I also think for the profession to be so old and still present indicates that there has been changes made. The problem now is that the rate of change required is accelerating. The profession needs to ensure that it keeps pace and, if possible, starts to get ahead of that curve.

If that doesn’t happen then you’re going to see a further increase in attrition. People are not going to be able to continue to operate in this space. Like I said, that is going to need solid investment on the firms’ behalf. Otherwise, if it’s just left to people who are already at capacity, change is either not going to get done, or not done well, and ultimately fail.

It’s a brave commitment, but absolutely one that’s necessary, and the firms that are doing it are succeeding. They’re attracting good talent and time will tell as to whether they retain it. I imagine that will have a lot to do with whether they continue to strive for improvement. It’s not a quantum leap and then stop sort of process. It’s something that needs to be committed to over time.

Tell me about being in the Future Leaders Committee (FLC) and the kind of things you do in that role

I am the President of the FLC. I took over from Minnie Hannaford who was the inaugural President of the Future Leaders Committee. I work with our cohort of 10 FLC members who participate in working groups tasked engaging with the QLS and ensuring it best serves and supports its young and early career lawyers.

There are things like The Hub, which is a fantastic centralisation of young and early career lawyer resources in a specific avenue that they can find with relative ease.

There’s a working group that’s engaging with QLS’ education team, helping to build a syllabus and ensuring that there’s a focus on educating that membership group with high value, engaging content that sees them be better lawyers overall.

We’re also focusing on the social element of things. We’re looking to host more FLC-oriented events for young and early career lawyers that see them connecting and engaging with similar members within the profession.

The remaining two working groups are for The Callover podcast, which I’m sure most of the young and early career lawyers have seen. That’s been tremendous in terms of the guests that the team have been able to get on. I can only see that growing in popularity and listeners over the coming months.

The last bit is a longer term investment on our behalf, and that’s working towards formulating a survey so we can better understand the issues impacting young and early career lawyers, with a view to using that empirical data to identify areas to drive change and innovation. Our hope is that we can use that data to empower FLCs long after we’re gone, to target the things that matter most to the most people, and generate real, tangible actions to solve those problems.

What would you recommend for early career lawyers who would like to join the FLC?

Throw your hat in the ring. It’s a great opportunity for you to connect with other FLC members throughout the state. In our current serving group we have several members from regional Queensland, government lawyers, as well as those that work in the not-for-profit sector. There’s a diversity to the group that I think is really important in terms of being representative of such a large cohort’s interests. If you want to be a part of the future of this profession, then you should take an active role in trying to shape it, and you can do that by participating in the FLC.

Equally you can do that in terms of informing your FLC what you want to see, what’s giving you the sh*ts, what do you like, what do you want to see more of. That direct feedback is just as important. Being a member of the FLC is certainly one of the more powerful ways of shaping the future of the profession, but just being active in your own legal community can be equally as effective.

What do you do in your downtime?

I have a 16-month-old baby so downtime is a concept that is presently not too familiar to me, but you do have to find time here and there. We spend a lot of time with our family. My parents and in-laws both live in Brisbane, so we love a long lunch or dinner with them. I try to play a little bit of sport, a round of golf now and then. To the extent that I have any spare time after that, I’ll play the odd computer game, but that’s last on the priority list.

I can imagine. What’s your proudest moment or accomplishment?

Being a dad! It is pretty fantastic to raise a little human being and to watch them grow and change and develop. He’s super active and has got an awesome little personality, so I’m really excited about seeing what person he becomes. Maybe he’ll be a lawyer like his dad, but more likely he will be doing a job that’s probably not even invented yet.

Prior to Milo being born, my proudest moment is making a shift in my career at a time when moving from being a practising lawyer to a business development manager was perceived as career suicide. Any change takes a bit of bravery and a bit of backing yourself, and I’m proud that I’ve done that because I love where I’m at now. I am definitely happier than I would have been had I continued on the path I was on.

What is your favourite food?

I don’t have any! I love all food, and I love cooking, I do the majority of it in our house. On weeknights we keep it simple and safe but on the weekends it’s something new and exciting!

Any general advice or parting words?

I think people should be optimistic about a career in law, provided you redefine what success looks like. The industry is going through a lot of change, so there’s no easy route, but there is more than just one route now. Be curious and keep your eyes open for opportunities that might present themselves, and be brave and back yourself.

I was concerned that once I left the traditional path and definition of success, then there was no coming back. However what I’ve come to realise is that I’m still very much a part of the legal industry. If I wasn’t, I probably wouldn’t be on the FLC. I can go back whenever I want, and these skills that I’m building now are skills that will help me to further my career. The legal profession is already far wider than it was eight years ago, and it’s only going to continue to grow.

Matthew has written two very informative articles for The Hub: What is a successful lawyer? and Managing competing deadlines.