The success of Marsdens Law Group over the past 50 years has been built around two good old fashioned Campbelltown values, hard work and community involvement.
Jim Marsden, the current senior partner of the firm started by his late brother John in 1968, is in no doubt whatsoever about the secret of its success.
“It started with mum and dad,’’ he says in explaining where the Marsdens enthusiasm for community involvement came from.
“As you know they were the proprietors of Lacks Hotel. They had taken it over in 1950, and mum and dad always had two basic values: Good service and community involvement,’’ he says.
“It’s a given when you’ve got a pub that you have good beer, but the difference from the pub over the road is good service and community involvement, which is giving back a bit to the community.
“So John and I didn’t go to school to learn that, we didn’t have a strategic plan to do that, we just had it.
“It was important we were good lawyers – the publican serving good beer – but the point of difference was service and community involvement,’’ Jim says.
The hard work ethic came from having two brothers, both alpha males, trying to beat each other to the office every morning.
Jim worked in a Wollongong firm when he first graduated as a lawyer and didn’t join Marsdens until 1973.
“I was not a partner at first, I was office manager and John wanted me to take over the opening of the Ingleburn office, which I did,’’ he says.
“It went well, then handed it over to Drew Percival, then went on to the Liverpool office when Rod Smith moved to Campbelltown.
“Rod and John had a falling out, and John and I worked together for the first time in the same office when I came back to Campbelltown.’’
And that’s when the morning race to the office got under way in earnest.
“When I came up here there was a bit of competition to see who would get here first; we were starting work at four in the morning, and John would get here at 3.30, so he would beat me and say he had been here for two hours.’’
John hit the ground running the minute he opened his little legal firm on the corner of Queen Street and Dumaresq Street in 1968.
He was the only lawyer, and had a secretary named Terrie Turner.
“I remember her well,’’ says Jim.
“She stayed with John probably for 15 years, and she was great.
“It was just the two of them and they took up a bit of a section between the retail section and the ovens of Warby’s Bakery.
“It was still an open drain out on the road, and that’s where it all started.’’
Which is where the South West Voice is conducting the interview with Jim Marsden, just one floor up.
Jim reminds me that his brother was quite controversial from the very beginning.
“John opposed the licence application by the Catholic Club, which was established in 1968 as well, and that in a way upset the Campbelltown establishment, certainly the Campbelltown Catholic establishment, which included one of the senior blokes on the council, Bruce McDonald, and a few others including the police sergeant Bernie Slattery,’’ Jim says.
“But John was instructed by my father, who was president of the Australian Hotels Association, and it was standard practice that you opposed every licence application.
“He also upset the establishment by taking on cases that others wouldn’t. Assault cases, with allegations the police assaulted the victim, and it wasn’t the done thing that you mentioned that in court.
“John would take it on and made a name for himself, got a couple of good young lawyers working for him, John Fahey [a future NSW Premier] and Rod Smith, who became a partner of John’s for a while.’’
Fifty years on this Campbelltown law firm boasts 13 partners, about 60 lawyers and around 115 support staff.
Marsdens would be inside the top 20 law firms in NSW, and are certainly the biggest outside the Sydney CBD, including regional centres such as Wollongong and Newcastle.
John Marsden was very proud of his town – he would say to anyone and everyone, from the garbo to the premier and prime minister: there are two great cities in the world, Rome and Campbelltown, and on balance Campbelltown is number one.
He passed away a little over 10 years ago, so I ask Jim how he thinks Campbelltown is going these days and would John still be very proud of it.
“I happened to be talking to someone from the Law Society today, an employee of the Law Society, who was there when John was president,’’ he says.
“And he said, how’s business going, mate, and I said really, really good, strong growth his year, and he said, I remember, two great places, Rome and Campbelltown.
“I think that John would absolutely be proud of Campbelltown.
“I think he would be frustrated like I am from time to time at things that are done, but more importantly at things that aren’t done.
“I love Queen Street, but it’s not a street where you walk up now and feel proud of it, to be in the main street of the town.
Finally, how is the firm celebrating the 50 year milestone?
“Main thing we’re doing is back to community, sponsoring a lot more events, in number and in dollar terms,’’ says Jim Marsden.
“We’re working on a celebratory dinner in November and then on an equal level but slightly different, our annual Christmas party in December will be our 50th one.’’
Looking at a crystal ball, he says the next milestone in another 50 years’ time will see Marsdens still headquartered in Campbelltown, although not necessarily.
“I’ve always said you have got to look to the Greater Macarthur. So almost certainly in Campbelltown, definitely somewhere in Macarthur,’’ he says.
“We will be in the top 10 Sydney firms and still based out here, so we will be the biggest outside of Sydney, a firm that has the same values, same culture, that we’ve had for the first 50 years.’’