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‘Cookie-cutter’ approach to partnership not relevant anymore

As the legal profession moves past traditional mindsets and into more innovative ways of practice, the skills that firm leaders need have also evolved, according to these BigLaw partners.

user iconJerome Doraisamy 02 March 2023 Big Law
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Nicholas Edwards is head of restructuring and insolvency and a partner at Hamilton Locke, and Jason Symons is head of cyber and insurance and a partner at Mills Oakley. Speaking recently on The Lawyers Weekly Show, produced in partnership with Commonwealth Bank Australia and co-hosted by CBA national director of professional services Daniela Pasini, the pair outlined the changing skill set needed in legal leaders post-pandemic.

In addition to leading by example and implementing new tech, as well as getting out of their comfort zone, legal leaders need to be openly communicating with their teams and striving for an equitable workplace, according to Mr Edwards, who said that for teams to be diverse and inclusive, a “sense of curiosity” is needed.

“People need to be curious about other people, about their backgrounds, about their upbringings, about the considerations they have in their life. Being genuinely interested in their staff and their peers, and I also think a degree of self-reflection. It’s critically important that we understand that the hierarchical structures of yesteryear are no longer there. The old sort of stale white male sort of scenario that we had 20 or 30 years ago is no longer there,” he explained.

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“But there are still certain expectations that people have in relation to people coming from a similar environment or an upbringing or a school or political thinking. And I think we need to acknowledge that that is not the case anymore. And being empathetic and aware of that, I think, is critical.”

On this point, lawyers who aren’t sure they can lead a diverse group of people should question whether they should be in a leadership position at all, Mr Symons emphasised.

“You have to have the ability to treat everyone with equal respect and dignity. And if you can’t, then you better go learn how from those that can. In my opinion, the workplace has a really tricky element to it, and I’ve only learned this over time and thanks to the wonderful mentorship from partners and people in my life where at work, yes, we do have different levels of seniority and the more senior people need to be able to carry out their roles, and at times more junior staff are going to have to be flexible,” he quipped.

“But when it comes to the life side of work, like interacting as human beings and people, whether it’s socialising in the kitchen or going to a client function, as a leader, you’ve got to be able to then just interact as people on an equal plane. And I was very fortunate to work for a couple of partners where it was so nice that when we transitioned from the office to, say, a function, you could just see how they made the effort to make sure that I could chat with clients and them on an equal level. And I learned so much from that, and I try to now do that myself.”

However, law firms often don’t have leadership training programs in place — so lawyers need to develop these skills in different ways, such as through mentorship and extracurriculars.

“Better leadership takes time, hard work and patience, probably two of them at the same point, really. But in terms of how to become a better leader, the couple of things that I still do every day is find the leader, so mentor around you that inspires you to be a leader or a better leader and spend as much time with them as you can,” Mr Symons added.  

“Now they can be at work; they can be at home. It doesn’t really matter. It’d be great if it’s at work, and then learn from them. And the second point is specifically to do with work is to join a committee or some sort of organisation that leads things in your particular industry. I sit on an insurance committee and I have learned so much about leadership through the leadership group of that committee and then taking on responsibilities within that committee.”

In addition to finding a mentor, Mr Edwards found that observing those around him was a big help in fine-tuning his leadership skills.

“Everyone you’ve worked with is either going to be an example or perhaps an anti-example of behaviour. It’s worth reflecting on some of the aspects of those different people you’ve worked with or come across and things that you would like to aspire to be like. And indeed, things you may not want to take on as you grow your practice,” he added.

“You don’t need to be a cookie cutter to be a partner anymore. You don’t need to have gone through a certain school, university, or have built a practice a certain way. I think people are developing it on their own and can do it in their own way.”

“And I’m always reminded of the Oscar Wilde quote: ‘Be yourself, because everyone else is taken’.”

The transcript of this podcast episode was slightly edited for publishing purposes. To listen to the full conversation with Daniela Pasini, Nicholas Edwards and Jason Symons, click below:

Jerome Doraisamy

Jerome Doraisamy

Jerome Doraisamy is the editor of Lawyers Weekly. A former lawyer, he has worked at Momentum Media as a journalist on Lawyers Weekly since February 2018, and has served as editor since March 2022. He is also the host of all five shows under The Lawyers Weekly Podcast Network, and has overseen the brand's audio medium growth from 4,000 downloads per month to over 60,000 downloads per month, making The Lawyers Weekly Show the most popular industry-specific podcast in Australia. Jerome is also the author of The Wellness Doctrines book series, an admitted solicitor in NSW, and a board director of Minds Count.

You can email Jerome at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 

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