​Five minutes with… Heath Lewis

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Heath Lewis, partner at King & Wood Mallesons, tells Australasian Lawyer about his passion for fitness and cycling 700km for charity.

What made you decide to become a lawyer?
I always intended doing something with a commerce bent at university (my father wore a suit to work, so figured I should too), and decided I ought to supplement that with a law degree.  Over time, the law stream became more attractive to me, and once I was on the legal career path I simply never deviated.

How long have you worked at King & Wood Mallesons, and what brought you to this position?
Depending on when this interview is published, it will be either [3] or [4] weeks!  I moved from the Perth office of another national firm for a variety of reasons, but mainly because I was attracted by the opportunity to work from a global platform with (and learn from) genuinely market leading talent.  That said, there is little doubt that my current position is a function of many years of support and encouragement from senior practitioners / colleagues, and also from clients, together with a healthy dose of hard work. 

What’s the strangest case you’ve ever worked on/been involved with?
I’m not sure about strange, but it was certainly different for a small town, mid-level lawyer.  I worked with Slaughter and May during the mid-2000s in London, the peak of the private equity boom.  Our PE client was in a highly competitive process for the purchase of a business that was already owned by PE.  We found out on the Sunday night that we were the preferred bidder and had to be in Stockholm to finalise transaction documents asap.  Unfortunately Monday was a national holiday in Sweden which meant there were not enough business class seats available for the deal team, so on Monday morning we found ourselves at an airfield in Kent, straight out of a WW II Battle of Britain movie, boarding a private jet for Stockholm.  At the other end, 3 black town cars meet us on the tarmac where we go through the most efficient customs process of my life, and we’re whisked off to law firm offices in the heart of Stockholm.  48 hours later with very little sleep, the world’s briefest SPA is signed (tertiary PE deals in those days meant you didn’t spend much time negotiating a very limited warranty set…) and we’re off back to London.  I felt like a bit of a rock star, though that quickly wore off!

If you could invite three people for dinner, dead or alive and excluding family and friends, who would they be and why?
Jesus Christ – because it would be quite helpful to know what the deal really is. Michael Lewis – he writes interesting books and seems very clever, so hopefully he’s an interesting dinner guest too.  Keira Knightley – I’d like to test my theory that she’d be great company.

You’re based in Perth – where’s the best place to go for a drink and/or dinner after work?
Anyone who knows me will laugh that I would purport to opine on this topic - I don't get out much!  The wining and dining options in Perth have markedly improved over the last 5 years - I like Print Hall, Andaluz and Helvetica for a drink, and Gordon St Garage or Darlings Supper Club for a meal.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given (work or personal)?
Not sure it's the best, but I have a terrible memory and it just came to mind - my dad used to yell (a lot) from the sidelines of the footy oval while I was growing up –“if you go in hard you won't get hurt!!" - I'm not convinced he had any empirical data to support his exhortation, but it seemed to work, on the footy field and in work …

Do you have any hobbies/interests outside of work?
It was an express condition of my joining KWM that I gave up all outside interests… No, that’s not true … it was implied…  No, that’s not true either.  Outside of work most of my hobbies revolve around sport (Go the Freo Dockers!) or fitness.  In the last category, I try to run and cycle as much as I can, and in fact I’m doing the Hawaiian Ride for Youth, a +700km ride from Albany to Perth in March raising funds for Youth Focus and its programs aimed at preventing / treating youth suicide and depression.  It’s a fantastic event with over 150 riders this year which has raised more than $12m over the past 11 years.

Complete this sentence: If I wasn’t a lawyer, I would be…
A landscape architect / gardener.

What do you think will be single biggest issue facing the M&A space in Australia in 2015?
As a very general proposition, ongoing uncertainty (and volatility) may give boards pause when considering M&A in 2015.  I see that uncertainty emanating from the macro economic situations in China and Europe (and possibly even the US), commodity pricing, interest rate / currency “wars”, an Australian economy transitioning away from resources, ongoing Federal budget issues, etc. 

If you had Tony Abbott’s job for one day, what would you do?
It’s certainly not a PM-specific issue, but I would spend the day giving in-depth, candid interviews, saying what I really felt and being myself (within reason).  And leave tomorrow's Tony Abbott to deal with the inevitable mess the following day! 

What do you love about your job?
Whilst it is the challenge and excitement of deals that gets me out of bed and into the office in the morning, at the end of the day it is the opportunity to work with quality people on often important projects that, for me, delivers job satisfaction.

What would you change about your job right now if you could?
The requirement for quotes and estimates at the front end, the ever-present burden of time sheets on the way through, and invoice discussions at the back end. These are very understandable commercial realities of law firm life (particularly in today’s competitive and cost-conscious market), but sometimes I do dream of a world where we just do our work and get paid for it!