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On the Couch
20 August, 2009  
Rebecca Davies

Former Freehills partner and senior commercial litigator Rebecca Davies visits Justinian’s couch and unburdens herself about … fantasies … fears … regrets … obsessions … Australia … and the law


imageAfter working at ANU law school, as an associate to a High Court judge and a brief stint with Michael Kirby at the Australian Law Reform Commission, Rebecca Davies joined Freehills as an articled clerk, with Kim Santow as her master solicitor.

Just under three years after her admission she became the third female partner at a major Australian law firm. The first two also were from Freehills.

Davies practiced as a litigator and a commercial lawyer working in both the Sydney and Melbourne offices of the firm, managing a range of high profile cases and projects.

She was a member of the firm’s board and chair of the Women at Freehills steering committee.

She has now retired as a partner of the firm, although remains a consultant.

Her new career is as a non-executive director and coach to senior executives.

Describe yourself in three words.
Red Pocket Rocket.

What are you currently reading?
Anne Summer’s “The Lost Mother”, Hilary Mantel’s “Wolf Hall” and listening to Barack Obama reading “The Audacity of Hope” on my iPod.

What’s your favourite film?
I remember as a teenager “Oh, What A lovely War” had a big impact on me. These day I enjoy escapist stuff, Woody Allen films (the early ones!) which whet my appetite for new places and films that make my spirit soar.

Whom or what do you fantasise about?
I sometimes wonder what it would be like to be in charge of a country. Imagine being Barack Obama, for instance. How do people like that cut through all the obstacles they face and keep focussed on what they want to achieve?

What stimulants do you recommend?
Interesting people with new ideas, administered regularly!

What is your most recognised talent?
In the business/legal sphere, having energy, enthusiasm and stamina. Otherwise, singing is my favourite activity outside work.

What is your greatest fear?
That something prevents my children being happy and achieving their potential.

What words or phrases do you overuse?
Let’s stop analysing and make a decision.”

What is your greatest regret?
Not many really – but I would have liked to have seen more woman partners in senior line management roles (CEO, managing partner or practice group head) in the major law firms. At Freehills we did improve things for our women lawyers in my time as a partner, but that’s one we haven’t cracked yet.

Whom do you envy and why?
It’s not a particularly useful thing to envy others, except if it spurs us to action. Maybe I envy those who can make major changes that improve life for others. I’d like to reframe envy as inspiration!

What is your most disturbing personal obsession?
Checking Facebook in case there’s something I’ve missed.

What’s your most glamorous feature?
My fabulous glasses.

If you were a foodstuff, what would you be?
A soft centred toffee.

What human quality do you most distrust?
Our tendency to talk one way and act another and not see the disconnect … I guess our ability to kid ourselves.

What would you change about Australia?
I would like to see us maximise the potential of all our human talent – regardless of gender, racial or social background. And using all that talent, I reckon we could then take a real leadership role internationally. If we focussed more on collaboration than competition, we’d all be winners.

Whom or what do you consider overrated?
Most celebrities – including business celebrities. I’d really like to see us celebrating excellence across a wider range of endeavours. I worry about the scientists, the creative people, the teachers who don’t get the credit and support they deserve.

What’s the first thing you do in the morning?
Listen to the news on the radio, check emails and make lunch for the kids.

How would you like to die?
Quickly.

What would your epitaph say?
Wife, mother, friend.

What comes into your mind when you shut your eyes and think of the word “law”?
Leather bound law reports. It might seem idealistic, but I see them as a symbol of the work of so many over centuries to protect the weak and vulnerable and order our society to the benefit of all.