Michael Findlay Marshall

On 29 February Michael Marshall of Thomson Geer Lawyers passed away after an illness of several months.

Michael completed degrees in arts/law in 1990 at the University of Queensland and commenced articles of clerkship at Cannan & Petersen in 1991, being initially articled to then senior partner Neil Dutney.

Michael was admitted in 1993 and worked in a small Brisbane CBD firm, gaining exposure to the small but growing field of planning and environment law. Left largely to his own devices (although assisted by skilled counsel), Michael conducted several significant Planning and Environment Court appeals in relation to tourist projects on the Noosa North Shore.

These actions included the first successful legal challenge in Queensland under the recently commenced Judicial Review Act 1991, which overturned a council’s attempts to amend its planning scheme whilst the appeals were on foot.

In 1994 Michael commenced employment with Primrose Couper Cronin Rudkin at Southport with a view to further developing his interest and skills in the planning and environment field. He worked under senior partner Brian Cronin on a series of development projects of all descriptions over the next few years, including the Helensvale Town Centre, Coomera Town Centre, Nifsan, as well as numerous smaller commercial and residential uses.

Michael also conducted a well-publicised but ultimately fruitless attempt to protect the Gold Coast’s premier live music venue, The Playroom at Currumbin, from closure by the State Government, which had conceived of
its imaginative re-use as a car park.

In 1996, Brian Cronin was called to the Bar, leaving Michael to continue to run the planning and environment team at Primrose Couper. This was a positive move for Michael as it taught him to be self-reliant at an early stage in his career. It also taught him that, in order to have a successful career in the law, he needed to develop the skills and self-confidence to successfully promote his skills and abilities and to develop his own client base.

In 1997 Michael was made a partner at Primrose Couper. He enjoyed his years on the Gold Coast and explored its many charms in company with his friends, including a group of doctors from the Southport Hospital, with much surfing and good times had by all.

However, Michael was hungry to grow his practice to a greater level, which meant a move back to Brisbane, to gain a broader foothold in South-East Queensland. The Gold Coast legal profession had yet to shed its not entirely undeserved reputation as a repository of unorthodox and eccentric practitioners.

Furthermore, the social opportunities available on the Gold Coast at this time ran the spectrum from arid and depressing at one end, to downright dangerous at the other. It was time to return to Brisbane.

In 1999, Michael commenced work as an employed solicitor at what was then Phillips Fox. It might seem strange to some that Michael, being a partner at a large regional firm, would take a significant backward step to the role of solicitor. However, Michael was pleased to simply have the opportunity presented by the platform of a larger firm in a larger environment to develop his practice at an accelerated rate, and was confident in his ability to do so.

The early years at Phillips Fox were busy indeed. In addition to undertaking continuous business development activities on the Gold Coast, Sunshine Coast and Brisbane, Michael also became involved in the Urban Development Institute of Australia (Environment Committee) and completed a master’s degree in environmental law. Michael became a partner at Phillips Fox in 2004.

In the following years, Michael built a large and successful planning and environment team which represented many successful property developers as well as a large number of local authorities. He was strongly supported in this regard by long-time lieutenant and friend Rayne Nelms (now a partner at Thomson Geer).

In 2011, Michael and his team left DLA Phillips Fox to form part of the new
Brisbane office for Thomsons Lawyers (now Thomson Geer).

Michael is remembered as a lawyer of great ability with outstanding negotiation skills. His ebullient personality, combined with his well-known sense of humour, made many a working day more enjoyable for not only his team members but also the fellow practitioners he dealt with.

Michael’s greatest contribution to the profession is undoubtedly the fact that, over a period of 20 years, he gave a start to and trained many of today’s current planning and environment lawyers, a number of whom have gone on to form their own successful practices. He is remembered warmly as an inspirational and empathetic leader by the many who worked with him over the years.

In November 2019, Thomson Geer renamed its main meeting room ‘The Michael Marshall Room’ in recognition of Michael’s service to the firm.

Michael is survived by his wife, Cathy, and three children.

This story was originally published in Proctor April 2020.

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