NATALIE Bryce has taken a central role in many landmark Australian transactions including the privatisation of Medibank Private and the sale of Forestry Plantations Queensland. She has recently added a significant feat to her career accolades and made partner at Herbert Smith Freehills. Brisbane Legal spoke to Bryce about working on projects of national significance, movements in the healthcare space, and the importance of close supportive relationships to navigate the legal sector’s trials and tribulations.

What’s your background and how has your career path led you to this position?

I started my career in the public service. I spent my 21st birthday in the Queensland Cabinet Office. I developed some great skills in that job because whatever the issue, we had to explain it in two pages or less. I then worked in legal policy at Queensland Health for three years while finishing my law degree before deciding to ‘get a trade’ and become a solicitor. I did my articles at Minter Ellison in Brisbane before joining Freehills in Sydney in 2001. I worked in the Sydney and Melbourne offices before returning home to Brisbane in 2007. I became a partner at Herbert Smith Freehills Brisbane on 1 May 2014.

There has actually been a theme to my career from the very beginning. Although I am also a general corporate and mergers and acquisitions lawyer, I have a specialisation in government and healthcare, including privatisations and outsourcing. I feel lucky to be living in Brisbane and doing such interesting work on projects of national significance. The Brisbane office of Herbert Smith Freehills is dynamic, friendly… and busy.

What’s the most memorable project/s you have worked on?

Big privatisation projects are always memorable. I’ve worked on Forestry Plantations Queensland, Telstra 3, the Scoping Study on Australian Submarine Corporation, on the bid side on Abbott Point Coal Terminal and recently for AGL on the Macquarie Generation acquisition. I enjoy working through the unique issues these projects can raise. And I love working in a team with the smart, dedicated public servants who instruct us on these matters – there is always a real intellectual ‘zing’ within the team.

More generally, I enjoy working on private sector M&A transactions when I am acting for a ‘natural buyer’ of the asset who has growth plans for the asset. It is always very satisfying to be part of a win-win outcome.

What projects have you been working on lately?

As well as privatisations, I have recently been doing quite a lot of work in the healthcare outsourcing space. I enjoy projects like this, because if I do a great job for my client, the end result is better health outcomes for Queenslanders.

On the general M&A side, I’ve recently been working with quite a few small to medium size entrepreneurial Queensland businesses on acquisitions and expansion arrangements.

What are some of the emerging trends in your area of law or the cases you are handling?

Both privatisations and outsourcing are quite big at the moment, as government deals with the need to do more with less. In the healthcare space, I’m interested in how the movement towards national measurement of activity, pricing and quality standards will open up opportunities for more innovative contracting, which drives a better value outcome for the State. The more uniform these measures become, the better the private sector will get at  forecasting and pricing, which will be good for competition.

Are legislative changes currently impacting your operations?

I’ve recently had to get my head around the federal Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act which took effect from 1 July 2014.

What are the greatest joys you get out of your job?

I would nominate seeing junior lawyers learn and grow, and the satisfaction of helping my clients to achieve their goals. I also really enjoy that feeling of ‘thinking in committee’, when you’re pooling all your intellectual effort with your client and their other advisers to come up with the right solution to a problem.

Clear communication is also important to me – I’m always very proud when my team comes up with a short, simple explanation of something complicated (especially if they’ve used a diagram).

What has been your greatest career challenge to date?

Definitely navigating the partner track while having my two boys, Elias and Alex. I’ve been well supported by all the Herbert Smith Freehills Brisbane Partners, but particularly by my amazing supervisor (and now fellow partner) Matt FitzGerald. He really understands the challenge of diversity in the legal profession. And of course my husband Paul has been fantastically patient and supportive.

If you weren’t in the legal profession, in what role or industry could you see yourself in?

I’m not sure exactly, but I would be interested in that sub-set of jobs where you can bring your dog to work with you. 

How do you maintain a work-life balance?

I suspect I am not the most credible source on work-life balance. But I do try to make time to read each of my kids three books every night. We have an amazing nanny and broader family support – you can’t do it all by yourself.

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