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Partner Spotlight – Veno Panicker

Partner Spotlight - Veno

This is part of our Partner Spotlight series, profiling each of our partners, their background, expertise and insights. Stay tuned for our upcoming partner profiles. 

Career highlights

I lead the Construction and Infrastructure capability of the firm with a focus on renewables, real estate and civil projects in Australia. This has been my primary area of practice for almost 20 years. We support head contractors and developers across the major projects life cycle. Whilst my practice is predominantly on the ‘back end’ assisting with project delivery, early dispute resolution strategies, arbitration and litigation – we also assist with a significant amount of transactional project documentation from tender through contracting.

Throughout my career, there has been a couple of ‘front end’ and ‘back end’ matters that I would consider to be my career highlights.

On the front end, I’ve enjoyed working on a broad range of projects. I was the lead partner on defence contracts relating to the Tindall Air Force Base in the NT, acted for Billbergia Group on what will be the tallest hotel and retail tower in North Sydney and acted for Cubic Group in an ECI project contract for a tower at Elizabeth Quays in WA. The latter was a highlight – as it involved a $200m project with a contract of less than 20 pages.

In terms of litigation, I’ve been fortunate to work on matters in the Supreme Courts of NSW, Victoria and Queensland, the NSW Court of Appeal, the Federal Court and the High Court of Australia. My most rewarding negotiated outcome was acting for Emerson Electric in respect to disputes across 10 sites in Australia against NBN Co. The matter involved over 2000 claims, literally hundreds of volumes of claim submissions and months of back and forth in pre-litigation and through the security of payment claims exceeding $45m. Ultimately, the matter was resolved by executive negotiations (including lawyers of course!) over three days.

Another highlight was working through several disputes across two of the first major solar projects in Australia for First Solar at Nyngan and Broken Hill. It was my first exposure to the renewables space and has become a major part of my practice since.


Proudest career moment

I’m proud of the strong relationships I’ve been able to forge in the construction industry. I’ve been proud to work for and continue to work with exceptional practitioners and mentors. I have been equally as proud to see former team members go on to the bar, academia and success overseas. Many of my closest friends are people I’ve met through the law – including initially as adversaries. I’m also very proud to be the first Construction and Infrastructure partner to join the firm– I’ll be even prouder when we get our second and third!


Journey to becoming a lawyer

I started practice at Minter Ellison in Adelaide as a first year lawyer in 2002. After a few years of commercial litigation and professional indemnity work, I moved into construction litigation in 2006 during a period when the security of payment legislation was in its early stages in New South Wales. Construction and infrastructure have always been at the forefront of the Australian economy and it has and continues to be a privilege to work and develop relationships with clients and colleagues in the industry.

I enjoy many aspects of practising as a lawyer. Firstly, I enjoy being on the tools (no pun intended as a construction lawyer). From the intellectual rigour of preparing an argument to developing strategies and engaging in often difficult negotiations, I enjoy the ‘cut and thrust’ of the contentious side of the practice. In contrast, it feels like using another part of your brain when involved in negotiating project agreements and bringing parties together.

Secondly, I like the variety of industries I am involved in and the different situations contractors find themselves in – which keeps things interesting and engaging.

Thirdly, I have the privilege of working with leading silks and exceptional technical experts across a variety of primarily engineering disciplines as part of any disputes. The comradery from working through difficult periods and matters with clients and solicitors (including the other side) is also difficult to undervalue.


Da Vinci Development Program  

I was delighted to participate in Hamilton Locke’s annual Da Vinci program last year, our personal development program where all employees can opt in to participate in an activity to enhance their physical and mental well-being. I started with the firm just over a year ago and for my first Da Vinci program activity, I undertook a program of vinyasa yoga. I’ve always enjoyed many sports including, cricket (I’m tragic, I named my younger son Sachin after the little master) and Muay Thai – so I saw yoga as a very different challenge well outside my usual training.

Yoga required a lot more core strength and coordination than I had anticipated – and the first couple of months were very awkward. By the end of the program, I looked forward to the hour a week of ‘flow’ yoga – largely dynamic stretching, providing a complete break from any other distractions. To my surprise, I found it helped my posture and left me exhausted but more relaxed and focussed.

Since completing the Da Vinci program, I switched to a new dojo for Muay Thai which has yoga as part of its training regime.  


Why I joined Hamilton Locke

I have worked at firms of all sizes throughout my career, from national and international to working at a boutique firm of two partners for six years prior to joining Hamilton Locke. When I moved back into ‘Big Law’, I chose Hamilton Locke because of its people and its genuine collaborative culture at the heart of the firm. The firm cultivates a positive and team focussed environment and has made my first year at the firm fly – despite the challenges presented by the second wave of COVID-19. There is an esprit de corps evident across all staff. The culture is infectious and this culture has been a big part of the firm’s rapid growth.


Tips for aspiring lawyers seeking partnership

Specialise in an area you’re passionate about. It’s not enough to know the law, you need a niche or industry where you have a genuine interest– as clients need both.

Always hire the best and brightest – the best candidates are ones that you think will surpass you in the future – any mindset less than this is counterproductive.

It’s a journey – the path is not linear, enjoy each step and celebrate your success and the success of others.


The Halo Group mentality

I was excited to join Hamilton Locke but being part of the Halo Group is the icing on the cake. To be a successful challenger brand like Hamilton Locke, the support of Halo Groups allied business and the specialist, complementary services provided by Source, the Fold, Emerson and MacMillan, is critical. Halo Group enables me to provide our clients with a more holistic and commercial suite of services tailored to their needs. Access to our allied businesses within our stable means that we have a natural inclination and ability to get a deeper understanding of a client’s needs. When our clients work across different entities within the Halo Group, this is driven by a ‘horses for courses’ approach that results in working with the right person for any given matter. My observation has been that the culture within each company within the group has that same underlying drive and collaborative energy, resulting in strong synergies across the group.


Top reading and movie recommendations

I think all lawyers should read Getting to Yes (Fisher and Ury) and Using Emotions as you Negotiate (Fisher and Shapiro).

In terms of fiction, I would recommend the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant by Stephen Donaldson. If looking for something less dense, I’ve been listening to an audiobook of Stephen Fry reading Harry Potter that has also been fun with the kids.