Getting to know the network… Chris Wood, Sparke Helmore

Date: Wednesday, March 13th, 2019 by Michaela Hickson.

This week we interviewed Chris Wood, partner at Sparke Helmore, in Australia. We found out what life is like with the network’s newest firm.

  1. How did you get to this point in your career?

I started my career in the law somewhat by accident. Having flirted with being a journalist or a sports teacher, I was in fact working (maybe more like killing time) at the Australian Taxation Office when I started studying law. I moved into private practice as a law clerk and then was lucky enough to spend some time in-house with a large insurance broker learning about the nuts and bolts of the business and being immersed in business of insurance – an invaluable client perspective to get.

  1. What is your job now?

I am the Commercial Insurance Practice Group Leader, responsible for 24 partners who are spread across nine different offices. So quite a lot of my time is spent talking to and travelling between the offices, business development and of course my own client work. I personally specialise in professional indemnity including defence of disciplinary actions and public and product liability claims and risk advice for both local and Lloyd’s based clients.

  1. Can you describe your firm in 50 words?

We are a proudly independent national firm with a strong appetite for growth. We focus on core areas – one of which is insurance, to create the genuine depth of expertise our clients expect. More than half our 850 lawyers work on insurance matters every day.

  1. How did you get involved with GILC?

We met with Jim Sherwood and Alberto Batini who were looking for an ASEAN member firm. Although we are in growth mode and want to broaden our horizons, that will not include having our own overseas operations. So, the ability to plug into a global network, particularly one that focused entirely on such a core area for us, and to contribute to and draw on that reach and expertise seemed like an attractive model. The initial signs are very promising.

  1. What do you find yourself doing in a typical day at the office?

The real answer is that a typical day is very hard to define and any day can have a number of different moving parts. The first is obviously around clients – I work with a team of nine – including two very able special counsel, so there is always an advice to read. There is usually a chunk of time in any month travelling – with offices as far afield Perth, Darwin and Adelaide, time in airports is something of a constant. And then there is the leadership of 24 partners with shared concerns and individual issues to debate and decide on.  I work with my colleague Gillian Davidson who is our nominee to attend GILC board meetings and meet candidate firms in the GILC new member pipeline.

  1. What do you see outside your office window?

The office is in the heart of Sydney but sadly that does not mean I have panoramic views of the harbour – I do have a small water glimpse!  I can see the historic Hyde Park Barracks which used to house the soldiers of the infamous Rum Corps and a bit of the cricket ground.

  1. How does the practice and business of insurance law differ between Australia and the UK?

The key is that Australia is a federation with nine different territories – each of which can be a bit parochial and things need to be done differently in each. There is no doubt that this is a drag on the efficiency of the system. It is probably most comparable to the state system of insurance regulation in the USA. There is a strong sense of consumer rights in the Australian market and insurance business is heavily governed by the Insurance Contracts Act.

The most significant change in prospect for the Australian insurance industry has been the findings of recent Australian Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry.

  1. What do you get up to when you are not at work?

Lots of fresh air and exercise. I am lucky to have homes by the sea in Manly and up in the southern high country – so there many opportunities for surfing at the former and skiing, mountain biking and bush walking with family and friends with the latter.


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