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Meet David Burrough: City Smart, Bush Wise

7 min read
08 June 2019

Key Takeaways

  • David Burrough, the lawyer to the accommodation industry developed the motel lease contract still used today and talks about developing his accommodation-specific legal expertise.
  • Why the accommodation sector needs lawyers who understand it
  • Reflection on the future of the industry

A regular meet up in a running group led to the start of an extraordinary career for David Burrough, a co-founder of Hillhouse Legal Partners, known affectionately as the lawyer to the accommodation industry.

When Burrough, a keen runner and commercial lawyer, joined a local running group in the early 1990s, he met Resort Brokers founding director Ian Crooks and his career trajectory quickly changed.

Intrigued by Crook’s business model and the idea of banks’ lending money for long-term leases of tourism assets, Burrough realised there was a desperate need for lawyers who specialised in this field and quickly carved out a niche for himself.

Burrough, shares his thoughts on his interesting career and the future of the accommodation industry in an interview with Resort Brokers Informer magazine, published in September 2018 on pages 34-37. Continue reading below for his story.


David Burrough: City Smart, Bush Wise

From the city to the bush, in boardrooms and back offices, David Burrough is known as the lawyer to the accommodation industry. More than that, he’s known for his deep understanding of accommodation businesses, and genuine connection with the people who run them.

Admitted to practice in 1981, David has worked almost exclusively in tourism and hospitality law. It began, as it did for many commercial law aspirants in the 1980s, with chasing the big investment dollars flowing out of Southeast Asia into Australian tourism assets.

“Much to my family’s chagrin, travel to Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong was almost a way of life,” he recalls. “In one year, I think I went to Singapore nine times.” But, to this unpretentious Brisbane lawyer, a high- flying lifestyle didn’t strike him as all that important.

It was actually a chance meeting with Resort Brokers founding director, Ian Crooks, that would ultimately set David on the professional course he’d find inspiring and satisfying for decades to come.

“We met as members of a running group, and got on well,” he said. “We quizzed each other about what each did, and found we had a lot in common, dealing in tourism-related property.

“It led me to understand the system of motel leasing Ian had invented, which I found legally fascinating. I was intrigued and impressed that he’d come up with this concept of leasing a tourism asset long-term, to the extent that a bank would take security over that lease. It was absolutely a new thing.

“The reason was that the goodwill of the business is geographic. It can’t go anywhere. It’s tied to that site. Legally, this is very interesting. I started to look at those leases, and I’ve been interested ever since.”

As it happened, there was really only one lawyer in Australia then who specialised in the field, David l’Estrange, who’d written that first motel lease. By now, with leasehold transactions on the rise, there was a crying need for more industry-specific legal expertise.

“In the early 1990s, the HMAA (Hotel Motel & Accommodation Association, now AAA) was referring lease disputes to me,” David recalls. “I realised what was out there wasn’t really good enough anymore. When you read a lease back then, you couldn’t really tell who was responsible for what.”

So he set about developing better agreements. The motel lease he crafted is now one of the most widely-used in the industry.

But it wasn’t solely a professional interest that drove David to dedicate his career to the sector. It was also the pull of regional Australia.

“I was Brisbane born and bred, but I had friends from the bush and always felt a connection. We used to go on holidays out west rather than to the beach very often.”

His love of the bush also inspired David to become involved with the Royal Flying Doctor Service, the iconic Australian organisation with which he served on the Board of Directors for 17 years. That role and his increasing work advising on all legal issues for hotels, motels and caravan parks were not incompatible.

“We’d have board meetings all over Australia, and I continued to travel out west frequently with my family. I could see clients and stay with them, talk to them, which was really nice for me. The operators, in remote places in particular, just love talking to someone about their business,” he says.

“I find it a great thing to have an enthusiastic client wanting to talk to you about their business. They’re such genuine, hard-working people. And for me, coming from a frantic city life, I really enjoy it.”

Of course, not all David’s work takes him bush. His expertise is applied to transactions across the full spectrum, from complex international hotel acquisitions to rural and regional tourist facilities. But it’s the small business people who seem to strike the loudest chord.

“You need to understand how they feel about their business, their life goals, what their exit strategy is, to tailor the advice. You can only do that by having an interest in those people,” he says with obvious conviction.

This is how David measures his success. Not by his own, but by that of others.

“The most memorable thing for me is acting for people who started out in the accommodation industry with nothing, knowing nothing about it. After 20 years, they are really successful, and own multiple properties.

“That’s the best achievement. Not the biggest deal – that doesn’t really tickle my fancy much – but watching people grow and be good at the industry is a great thing.”

David’s legal career has been successful by any measure.

With Ian Hillhouse in 1987, he co-founded the firm that became Hillhouse Burrough McKeown.

Now Hillhouse Legal Partners, the practice takes a ‘simply strategic’ approach across a wide range of corporate and private legal specialities, with expertise in everything from the aged care, health and medical industries, to technology, agribusiness, mining and, of course, property, hotels, accommodation and resorts.

As at June 30 this year, the founding partners sold their equity to the next generation of partners. Now a Consultant and less burdened by day-to-day management, David sounds more enthusiastic than ever about planned further expansion in the accommodation sector.

Enter David Adolphe, who you might say is his understudy. Although, David Burrough humbly describes him as “way smarter than me”. As Special Counsel, this new face of legal expertise for the accommodation industry has been working closely with David as his mentor for more than 18 months.

“He is a Queensland Law Society accredited Specialist in Business Law, which is very rare and difficult to achieve,” he says. “He is very clever, has taken a real shine to the accommodation business, and is tremendously keen to expand the practice further across Australia.”

So does that mean an opportunity for this long-time industry advocate to ease the pace a little?

“I’d certainly like to devote more time to family and travel,” David admits. The two will no doubt go hand in hand.

He and his wife have three talented adult children – eldest daughter in Brisbane with three young children, a son who moved to Berlin as a successful musician and stayed to start a family, and youngest daughter a talented Melbourne-based artist who’s beginning to gain serious attention for her oil paintings.

His has been a rich and rewarding career. And, if asked to nominate the key to success, David sums it up in one word, ‘service’ – true for his own business and that of his accommodation industry clients.

One lasting memory, though a source of some amusement, perfectly illustrates the point.

“It was on one of our trips out west. There were three families that used to trek out every Easter. We stopped at quite a nice looking motel. I remember going in with my youngest daughter, then about six, and the guy behind the counter breathed scotch fumes all over us,” he tells.

“There was a restaurant, but said he’d shut it because he couldn’t afford to pay the chef. He handed me a bread and butter plate piled high with white bread and said ‘there’s your breakfast’, waved in the general direction of our room, and that was the last we saw of him.

“As an illustration of what not to be in a motelier, it was perfect,” David laughs.

“I went back about three years later (knowing the motel had sold). A man was behind the desk, and he says ‘hi, great to see you both.’ He gave my daughter a can of lemonade and me a cold XXXX Gold. He said the restaurant was open for us, before taking us to our rooms and showing us how everything worked.

“When we were leaving next morning – I think there were eight children – he gave all the kids a bag of lollies for the trip on the way out. Of course we told everyone, and no one we know ever stayed anywhere else in that town. That’s the difference.”

You can be sure there are plenty of accommodation operators who tell similar stories of exemplary service about David Burrough, about how he makes a difference. Once a client, you wouldn’t want to go anywhere else.

The information in this blog is intended only to provide a general overview and has not been prepared with a view to any particular situation or set of circumstances. It is not intended to be comprehensive nor does it constitute legal advice. While we attempt to ensure the information is current and accurate we do not guarantee its currency and accuracy. You should seek legal or other professional advice before acting or relying on any of the information in this blog as it may not be appropriate for your individual circumstances.

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