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Prioritise purpose over profit, says BigLaw managing partner

Hamilton Locke managing partner Nick Humphrey is uninterested in what he calls the “very short-term perspective” of thinking that a BigLaw firm’s purpose is ultimately to generate profit for partners. What is needed, he argues, is a desire to have a more holistic impact on all staff and stakeholders.

user iconJerome Doraisamy 11 April 2023 Big Law
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Incentivising holistic growth

In the post-pandemic market, law firms of all stripes — but particularly those at the big end of town — have been rethinking how best to support and accommodate the idiosyncratic needs of their staff members.

There has, perhaps, been a no better demonstration of this than with the generous expansions of firms’ paid parental leave policies, which Lawyers Weekly have detailed extensively, here.


With more and more legal professionals opting for hybrid working arrangements, and professional development evolving with the shifting landscape, firm leaders can and must think outside the box when it comes to not only the growth of their staff but also their broader engagement and motivation to perform for their employers.

In conversation with Lawyers Weekly, Hamilton Locke managing partner Nick Humphrey discussed his firm’s da Vinci Development program, which is to participate in an initiative that is challenging and pushes those staff members out of their comfort zone.

It aims, the firm noted, to motivate staff members to try something new, improve or learn new skills (both soft and hard skills), enhance lifestyle and expand self-awareness.

Employees are charged with the task of completing at least 12 hours annually to a particular activity, and the firm subsidises the pursuit of activity.

On successful completion of the development activity, the firm said, participants receive an additional five days of paid leave (pro rata for part-time employees).

Scaling Mount Everest, among other initiatives

The program is “unique” among BigLaw firms, Mr Humphrey suggested — noting that such a supposition “is a pretty bold statement”.

The firm spent $1 million last year, he noted, on development initiatives such as this and also its Adventure Club and leadership academy, called Locke’s. In return, it has achieved “super high engagement levels and super low churn”, he said.

“We actually invest time, money, resources, [and] energy into these programs, and I think it works,” he proclaimed.

For Mr Humphrey, people come before profit, and the firm’s purpose (as it pertains to people’s experience) is to ensure that its staff are growing, both personally and professionally.

As part of his own involvement in the firm’s da Vinci Development initiative, Hamilton Locke partner Trent Thorne is set to summit Mount Everest and the world’s fourth-highest mountain Lhotse, in May.

“I’ve never been to Nepal, and I am looking forward to trekking into base camp and getting underway with the whole process,” he noted.

Firm senior associate Maggie Chang recently attended a week-long silent meditation retreat.

Mr Humphrey recalled: “She said it was quite a remarkable experience in that she got away from the fretting for technology, the wondering what’s happening, the constantly being busy. She reconnected in a way that meant she was extremely grateful for what she had, and also her job.”

He himself is getting qualified as a Krav Maga instructor, which he said provides the benefits of being present, in the moment and having time out for one’s self. Another firm partner, who is autistic, is currently taking singing lessons, which provides her with therapeutic benefits.

The program started a few years back, Mr Humphrey said, but only now is the firm starting to get the data of the real benefits, because — as he stressed — it’s about “giving people permission to have balance”.

Creative thinking about managerial responsibilities

In the post-pandemic professional services landscape, Mr Humphrey reflected, “the market is so dynamic”, and as such, staff are expecting the scope of professional development opportunities to evolve alongside the day-to-day cultural experience within the workplace.

Unless the lived experience of individuals is bolstered, he warned, staff will “see through” even the best of intentions from employers.

“It never ends — it’s a constant journey of improvement and making things better and experimenting and trying new stuff out. But what’s good is when you’ve got trust, people know that if you experiment, it doesn’t work, they’ll try something else, and they also get permission to come up with new ideas,” he noted.

Making such overtures, however, can help facilitate institutional loyalty and, ultimately, client service delivery by way of incentivising personal and professional growth, Mr Humphrey agreed when asked.

“I think if you ask most managing partners, they’d say their purpose is to make profit, or profit per partner, or profit per equity partner, or profit per equity partner per annum, right? Which is a very short-term perspective,” he suggested.

“For us, our purpose is around our stakeholders and what’s the impact we have on our stakeholders: the individual, the team, the firm and the industry, the client, the world.”

“I know it sounds a bit grandeur, but if we can have an impact on our people so that they’re growing personally and professionally, and they’re thriving because our culture as a firm is really strong and nurturing and energetic and collaborative, then our clients will get the best possible service.”

From there, Mr Humphrey went on, firms can help the profession move away “from being bureaucratic, aggressive cultures, bullying, harassment, or even neutral cultures”.

It’s a personal mission for him: “I realised that my personal purpose was to help other people to grow, personally and professionally, through leadership and adventure. And, then I thought, well, how cool would that be if your whole business shared that purpose with you?”

“Adventure helps you to get a sense of control if you are doing so, and being outdoors is good for the soul. Everyone knows that. It sounds like a big investment in time and energy, but the results are really important, and the clients are loving it as well.” 

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