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Skills needed to be a good leader post-pandemic

Coming out of the pandemic, juggling hybrid working and new tech developments, these partners have said that to become better leaders, lawyers need to step outside of their comfort zone.

user iconLauren Croft 15 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 revealed the critical leadership skills that partners need in the post-pandemic market.

As a leader of a practice area within Hamilton Locke, Mr Edwards said there are a number of skills needed to be a good partner, as well as a good leader.


“[These are] focused around communication, relationship building, the ability to make a decision and stick with it. And I think resilience is a big one as well. Particularly over the last couple of years, we’ve seen a few iterations in the market that some of us didn’t expect,” he said.  

“For example, in the insolvency space, it certainly wasn’t as busy as we anticipated. I think you need to have a degree of resilience about sticking to your guns and moving forward.”

Mr Symons agreed — and added that for him in particular, focusing on inspiring his team during stressful times has had a variety of positive effects.

“I think being able to connect with your team, the hard and the stressful things we might be doing day-to-day with that greater purpose that we’re building towards, whether it’s within your own direct practice or it might be at the firm level. I think that’s absolutely essential as we come out of the pandemic to be able to inspire those future leaders of the firm to do greater things when maybe they’re feeling a bit overwhelmed or not quite clear about what the future holds,” he explained.

“And I think then that sort of branches out into the leaders, the how, the question of, well, how do I inspire my team to do greater things? And that then might vary greatly across teams, leaders, [and] firms, depending on whether you have a team full of maybe Gen Z’s and Millennials, or maybe you’ve got some Gen X’s like me and even some Boomers. You’re going to have to not apply a cookie-cutter approach, but really be flexible in how you inspire that team.”

To inspire those different generations of team members, communicating with them across numerous platforms is key post-pandemic.

“If they’re at home more or if they’re in the office more and you are at home more, you need to be able to be agile in your approach and also across person to person. Yes, we talk about the team a lot, but teams are obviously made up of a number of individuals who are all different people, all are aspiring to be greater lawyers, better people, things like that,” Mr Symons added.

“And now it is a real challenge today to be able to connect with each individual person where they’re at, how you need to communicate and look, it’s something that I daily think about and try to improve upon through growing as a leader and a partner and just a person.”

This, Mr Edwards added, involves getting out of one’s comfort zone, as well as leading by example and “doing what you say and saying what you mean”.

“One of the things that we recently did, in fact, as a team, we sat down for a pub lunch to start the year as most people do, to catch up as a cohort. And we put in place a whole bunch of little mantras that we were going to focus on for 2023, so we all understood what the expectations were at a micro level at the team.

“Things like forget the mistake, remember the lesson, complain up not out, which is obviously a critical one because it tries to dissipate gossip, and then also to celebrate everyone’s successes. And I think if you look to do that and to bring everyone in and give everyone a common purpose, I think that’s where you cut across whether people are working from home or have a hybrid relationship,” he outlined.  

“Ultimately, not to sound too commercial about it, but we’re in a service industry, and we’re there to service our clients and provide good advice and sort of get an outcome. If everyone knows that and sort of works as a team, I think that can kind of cut across a lot of the miscommunication and issues that people have.”

In terms of stepping outside their comfort zones, Ms Pasini noted that emerging technologies post-pandemic have also resulted in a number of emerging skills.

“It was only, I think, a year or so ago that we saw that about 56 per cent of law firms across Australia were adopting new technologies to support their growth strategies,” she said.

To this end, Mr Symons confirmed that emerging tech is definitely an area that accelerated “exponentially” coming out of the pandemic.

“Suddenly, we had to adopt tech real fast or it wasn’t going to go well. And now, out of that, we’ve suddenly learnt that, wow, we can work really well together when we aren’t necessarily physically together, even though I do love that part of the job with clients and stuff. We can do it from home, in different countries, really well, but we’ve got to be able to do it using technology that’s of the highest quality. Otherwise, people just don’t use it. That’s been my experience,” he added.

“What I see as being an emerging tech in a very general sense is collaborative workspaces that work well, that are efficient, that are clean, and then enable us to interact with our clients and each other in a way that isn’t sort of requiring 27 draughts being shared each way but instead working in real time on a document or an advice or working through a tricky performance review where collaboratively you can do better and see better outcomes through the benefit of technology that we’ve learnt probably the hard way over the last couple of years.”

Similarly, Mr Edwards said that this exacerbation was a really good thing — and meant that lawyers had to adapt very quickly, bringing forward changes that may have taken decades.

“What’s critical in terms of thinking about it from a leadership perspective and growing the practice is balancing the ability for technology to allow people to do things remotely with understanding the importance of actual face-to-face time and the collaboration aspects of that. Now one of the things about being a lawyer obviously is ensuring that you pass down your skills.

“Now, they can be passed down through technology, but there are some skills where it’s a bit harder to do so. And I think as partners and as leaders in our respective firms, I think you need to be cognisant of the fact that some of the soft skills and some of the collaboration points you probably need people a bit more face-to-face,” he added.

“My view is that any business can fail, so you just need to understand the ways to restructure and address them. But I think the technological risk is very much a live one, and it’s something that’s spoken about in the boardroom all the time because the impact that it can have on an underlying business in terms of its financial performance, particularly a listed business, is pretty horrific if they get it wrong.”

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

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