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K&L Gates head on the last decade’s biggest changes and challenges

Lawyers Weekly spoke with Nick Nichola, managing partner in Australia of K&L Gates, where he discussed the headline hurdles and evolutions faced by the legal profession over the past 10 years. 

user iconJess Feyder 11 April 2023 Big Law
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“There is a view from outside law firms that the practice of law and the management of law firms [do] not change much, but the past decade has seen enormous change in the legal profession and the way commercial law firms operate,” Mr Nichola outlined.

He outlined that, for global firms coming out of the global financial crisis in 2007 and 2008, the landscape of the Australian legal profession changed with a run of mergers and combinations, which saw international firms look to get a foothold in the Australian market. 

“Our decision to merge Middletons with K&L Gates in 2013 was borne out of an understanding that the economy was increasingly interlinked globally and that Australia was playing an increasingly influential role economically on the world stage,” he said. 


Mr Nichola noted that the expectations of clients have also changed over the past decade. 

“Clients want law firms to be business partners, not just providers of legal services,” he noted. 

“They need us to be proactive, to avert crises, rather than wait for them to happen. They want us to understand their business strategy and how we can support them in achieving their goals.” 

“They also want greater value for their legal spend, so offering just legal advice is not going to cut it,” he outlined. “It is about partnering with clients in areas such as innovation, pro bono, knowledge sharing, and career development.”

The expectations of employees have also changed over the last decade, noted Mr Nichola.

“For lawyers, it is not just about the path to partnership,” he said. “It is about structured career development, opportunities to be involved in areas such as pro bono and innovation, and to work on secondment to clients, interstate and overseas.”

“Much of our focus over the past decade has been on building programs to empower our lawyers to take control of their career and for them to take their career in a direction that will both satisfy them and also meet the business needs of the firm.”

Mr Nichola continued: “Of course, one of the biggest changes of the last decade was our approach to the way we work — a change which was turbocharged by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

“What we saw — and this was replicated across many other firms — was the rapid adoption of technologies to enable mobile working, the rise of virtual meetings, the move to working remotely and the flexing of work hours around our personal lives.”

Mr Nichola also noted that there had been a significant and positive shift in the way firms support parents and families.

“For example, we have seen many law firms increase parental leave provisions,” he said.

“I was proud to lead a reassessment of our parental program two years ago, which led to the provision of 26 weeks parental leave for our people.”