Award-winning partner says construction law is underrated

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Amanda Davidson, partner and head of construction & infrastructure at Holding Redlich, has been awarded the “Best in Construction” title at this year’s Australasia Women in Business Awards, beating a field of nominees from top tier counterparts.

She spoke to Australasian Lawyer about winning the award, and what it’s like being a female specialising in an area that has traditionally been very male dominated.

Davidson has been practising since 1985, when she started out as an articled clerk in what was then Phillips Fox in Melbourne.

“I was allocated to construction, and at that point I had no idea that there was such thing as construction law,” she laughs.

After that rotation, Davidson went on to complete work in a variety of different groups, but when the firm invited her to stay on with the option to choose any practice she’d like, the answer was easy.

“I chose construction because I thought it was more interesting than the other areas I’d done. I liked it because of the people – the engineers and the architects. And I’ve been doing it ever since and I’ve never got bored,” she says.

Davidson now works throughout the front and back end of construction law, and a bonus of the job is visiting the multitude of fascinating sites and projects.

She recently did a trip to see the Blue Mountain sewage tunnel after allegations that it hadn’t been constructed properly.

“You have to climb down a whole lot of ladders into the tunnel, and it was beautiful because it’s all sandstone of a whole lot of colours,” Davidson says. “There are lots of really interesting site visits, but you have to be a bit outdoorsy in that sense, and a bit brave – like climbing down into the middle of the earth. The sewage one smelt terrible, so you also have to roll your sleeves up: You can’t be too precious.”

Another recent highlight was flying over the Northern Territory in a helicopter with Chinese clients who were interested in buying land as part of the Ord River stage: The view was simply spectacular, she says.

“We could see crocodiles scurrying into the water – it’s experiences like that.”

Davidson is honoured to receive the Best in Construction title, and says it’s a recognition that women can be at the top of the pile in terms of the law.

She says especially within construction and infrastructure law, it’s still quite a male dominated industry.

“There are a lot more well-known men in construction law than women,” she says. “I think it will change and I hope it will. Women are interested in practising in these areas – I think once they realise what it is exactly, then they like it. I think these days especially people coming out of university don’t understand there are all these other areas of law. I think the perception would be that [construction law] is boring, but I think once they get a rotation like I did they’ll realise how interesting it is.”

The most valuable thing about specialising in construction law is seeing the tangible outcomes of your work, like driving past a building you’ve been involved with, says Davidson.

She says another bonus of winning the award is that it gives a mid-tier like Holding Redlich deserved recognition.

“What I noticed when I came to Holding Redlich was that we’re doing the same work with the same clients, yet we can’t get any traction [publicly], and it’s much harder to get profiled as a mid-tier,” she says. “In the big firms it’s as if they’ve got a whole department [for publicity], which is fantastic, but the smaller firms just simply don’t have the resources.”

And when she’s not busy in the world of infrastructure, site visits, and (sometimes) even up to her knees in sewerage, Davidson is the chair of PEARLS, a non-profit organisation that raises money and awareness  about preeclampsia, a common yet little known condition that causes pregnant women to give birth prematurely and can lead to death.

“I had preeclampsia when I was pregnant with my son - he’s now 13. I was lucky that I was treated by a really leading doctor (Professor Annemarie Hennessy), and so we got together and created the foundation,” she says.

Since PEARLS was launched 13 years ago, it has grown in size and reach and is now associated with the Heart Research Institute, Royal Prince Alfred Hospital and Campbelltown Hospital in Sydney and has research collaboration in place with the Mater Hospital in Sydney, Harvard University in the USA as well as hospitals in India.

“We’re one of the only [preeclampsia foundations] in the world, and we’re leading the world in research,” says Davidson.

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