Name: Matthew Gingell
Organisation: Oxygen House Group
Role: General Counsel
Trained at: Foot Anstey
Year qualified: 2007
What’s your most vivid memory from being a trainee?
The lasting friends I made.
What is the wisest thing anyone ever said to you (and who said it)?
I find the wisest things are often said by fictional characters. Perhaps because fictional characters are not burdened by living real lives. For me, three of the wisest that have stuck a chord are:
- “With great power comes great responsibility” Uncle Ben, Spiderman. As lawyers we wield significant power through our advice, drafting and our spend. While we are not superheroes, I for one, feel that responsibility to do more with that power.
- “It isn’t what we say or think that defines us, but what we do”. An unknown source but some say from Jane Austen (or is it Alfred the butler from Batman). We are not making the most of the fantastic training we receive as lawyers if we just speculate or commentate from the side-lines. We must take the lead and create outcomes for society, not just ourselves.
- “Things are only impossible until they’re not.” – Captain Jean-Luc Picard, Star Trek. So true in so many ways. The profession collaborating on the Chancery Lane Project seemed impossible, until it wasn’t.
Who (for better or worse) has been the most influential person in your career? Why?
I am lucky to have trained and worked with some truly inspirational legal and commercial colleagues, all of whom have influenced my career and to whom I am indebted. But the most influential has been my family.
Firstly, my wife who has encouraged and supported every career move I have made. We have taken the risks and opportunities together. That unconditional love and support has carried me into interviews and new roles with a confidence and commitment to succeed.
Second, my kids for keeping me grounded and giving my career purpose. I best explain this with a bedtime story. One evening I was reading a book with my daughter, titled ‘You Choose’, which allows you to explore what you might like to do in life. One of the sections is about jobs and I naively asked: Do you want to be a lawyer like Daddy? To which Mary answered in the inimitable way only kids can: What do they do?
Thinking on my feet, I replied with a garbled answer about lawyers helping people. To which Mary asks: does Daddy help people? Not wanting to lie to your children, I answered with something about helping put contracts together and doing deals and she just glazes over. You then have that sinking feeling that if I cannot explain what I do to a 5-year-old then commercial lawyers are not relevant to most people and arguably society sees us having no value. I have no trouble explaining what a teacher, a gardener, a builder does, but not a commercial lawyer.
Having mulled on this for a few days I had an epiphany that as lawyers we have the means and opportunity to do more. That as lawyers we can contribute with real purpose using our spend, our pens and our profession. This drives me to create positive impact from my career in a way that is aligned to our business. I love the legal profession, but it is much maligned, and I want my kids to grow up aspiring to be lawyers – not just because it is a rewarding career but because of the value we bring to society.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to get to where you are/do the job you do?
Find a purpose aligned to the day to day. Something that goes beyond pro bono and embodies your work as a lawyer. It can be anything with which you and your practice resonate: Climate, diversity, access to justice, poverty, hunger, the list goes on. When you find a purpose, you will engage more, feel a sense of fulfilment, and sustain an energy and enthusiasm beyond what you thought was possible for the legal profession. Put simply it will not feel like work. This is liberating and invigorating and enables you to challenge the status quo in a positive and constructive way.
Remember the barriers you have overcome to succeed. There will be more than you think. Write them down, reflect on them and use them to build your confidence.
Collaborate, collaborate, collaborate. As lawyers it is not in our nature to collaborate, but nature needs us to. It is the only way we can solve the systemic issues of the day.
What’s your best friend from law school doing now?
We lost touch so I looked him up on LinkedIn. It looks like he is a lawyer in the civil service.