Hot List Lawyer: At age 16 he handed Abe Saffron a cheque for “millions”

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The first ever matter “closing” for Baker & McKenzie partner and Australasian Lawyer Hot Lister David Holland was handing a cheque worth “many millions” to notorious night club owner and property developer Abe Saffron at age 16.
While at school Holland had no real idea of what he wanted to do, but it was his teachers who noticed his strengths in English and History and guided him towards the law profession.
“My interest started to take shape when I did work experience at a firm specialising in criminal law. They had recently been part of Lindy Chamberlain’s defence team. My first matter “closing” was going alone to see a then very well-known [and] notorious ‘colourful identity’, Abe Saffron, and handing him a cheque for many millions,” he tells Australasian Lawyer.  “I can still remember how much my hands were shaking as I handed it to him. He offered me a glass of whisky to calm my nerves – despite me being 16 years old and looking even younger!”
Since then, the lawyer has forged a highly successful career as a renowned M&A and securities lawyer.
Readers of any NSW national paper in 2013 would probably have encountered evidence of his work and not even known it.
Head of the international firm’s corporate practice in Australia, Holland advised the NSW Government on the high profile sale to the private sector of some of its electricity assets and businesses valued in excess of A$3bn, as well as advising the state government on the equally controversial proposal by Crown Sydney for a A$1bn resort and gaming facility at Barangaroo.
Holland has also finessed a number of deals for key client APN News and Media, including the sale of its remaining interest in its outdoor advertising business to Quadrant Private Equity for $96m, and the $246.5m acquisition of a 50% stake in Australian Radio Network and its New Zealand subsidiary, which included advising on the $132m fully underwritten accelerated non-renounceable entitlement offer.
His cross-border instructions have included advising the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan as the successful bidder for 70% of Leighton Holdings’ telecommunications portfolio for $885m.
Holland says the secret to his success has been his passion for deals.
“I was one of those geeks who read the Australian Financial Review and invested in the stock market while I was in high school, and I still get a thrill from being so closely involved in the deals on which I am working,” he says. “I spend lots of time in rooms with lots of very smart, successful and impressive people, and I love that. I’m not sure anyone would let me in those rooms if I wasn’t bringing some legal skills with me.”
Currently Australian corporates are facing challenges working out where their growth is going to come from after the GFC and the slow path out of it, says Holland.
He thinks that during that time many companies could have capitalised on Australia’s relative economic strength, stable financial system and high currency, but didn’t.
“Growth doesn’t have to come from M&A activity, but that is often a part of a growth strategy…More than ever before large law firms have to prove the value of what it is we do – both to clients and to staff. Once upon a time this value was never questioned. I think that the value is there, but we have to make the experience of working with us as clients or team members better.”
And when he’s not working on major deals, Holland is dad to two boys, aged 9 and 6, who he jokes give him a good excuse to watch more sports matches than he’d usually be allowed to go to.
He also keeps fit by competing in a marathon every second year, and is involved in a variety of pro-bono projects.
Holland says the legal industry is a great one to be in.
“The people I’ve met, the satisfaction that comes from doing the quality of work that we and our competitors do, the places I’ve been to do it – what’s not to like?”

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