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The internal and external challenges impacting transaction teams

Two HSF partners have highlighted the biggest headwinds they’re having to grapple with, both internally and externally, and how this has altered the way in which they approach leadership.

user iconEmma Musgrave 07 November 2023 Big Law
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Herbert Smith Freehills Melbourne-based partner Jason Jordan and Sydney-based partner Philip Hart joined host Jerome Doraisamy on a recent episode of The Lawyers Weekly Show to discuss what makes a successful transaction team in today’s market.

Mr Jordan and Mr Hart’s M&A and ECM teams, respectively, were named finalists at the Australian Law Awards in August, with the former taking out the top gong for Transaction Team of the Year at the end of the night.

Chatting with Mr Doraisamy, Mr Jordan and Mr Hart unpacked what have been the biggest challenges and trends they’ve seen in the 12 months to the awards.


“One of the biggest challenges, I think, particularly coming out of the pandemic, is how we provide our lawyers with flexible working options, but at the same time ensure that we have a very collegiate inclusive environment for our lawyers to work in, particularly where they feel supported,” Mr Hart said.

“We’ve taken [the approach of] what we call Agile 60, which is saying to our teams, ‘Look, you really should be in the office three days a week. There are benefits from us all getting together and spending time together’ and yet providing our teams with flexibility to work from home as well.”

Mr Hart said that while the pandemic proved the teams could work comfortably from remote locations and still ensure great client service was maintained, there are greater learning opportunities that are available in an office environment, particularly for junior lawyers.

“I think from the junior lawyer’s perspective, having that opportunity to sit in a partner’s office or sit in a room where we all take a call together and then at the end of the call we can chat through the issues [is valuable]. Those learning opportunities are things that really should be cherished and enhanced, and we really do need to still provide that to our lawyers, and I think that that’s how they become better lawyers themselves,” he explained.

“If I think about my own personal perspective, having had the opportunity not only to work here in Australia but [also] in the UK, I’ve seen many different working styles from different partners. And having had that opportunity to sit and work and listen to them, you can take on some great sort of skills from them, and you might find other things where you say, ‘Right, well, that’s maybe not something that I want to adopt myself’.”

Similarly to the internal challenges, Mr Hart said there’s been a suite of external challenges impacting transaction teams over the past year.

“We’re in a high-interest rate, high-inflation environment, and our clients are dealing with that in their businesses. And our clients are also managing an ever-increasing range of stakeholders, from employees to customers to regulators to broader communities,” he said.

“Transactional work is always a dynamic space to be working in, and that’s very much the case at the moment. There’s increased regulation. Only [recently] there was a competition task force that was announced, and that includes considering proposals from the ACCC for quite significant merger reforms. There are national security concerns, cyber risks, ESG considerations, focus on energy transition, AI opportunities and efficiencies but also from a risk perspective – just to name a few.

“What I’d also say is despite a lot of the headlines around uncertainty in the market and activity, M&A deals in the last financial year have broadly returned to pre-pandemic levels … there has been quite a lot of activity around.”

These internal and external challenges have forced leadership teams to adapt, according to Mr Jordan.

“One of the keys has been to try and bring to the forefront the expertise and experience of a range of people. So, we’ve got cyber experts, we’ve got experts on AI, we’ve got people who are dedicated on the energy transition,” he explained.

“So, one of the key aspects, I think, is to make sure, as a transactional lawyer, you have a good grasp of what some of those issues are and then to see what the opportunities are or risks might be for a client and then to be able to bring in the relevant experts to ensure that what we’re giving our clients is the best experience and the best advice.”

This has also meant one needs to ensure they’re taking a commercial lens to clients, Mr Jordan said, noting how the necessity of this approach has only been heightened further with clients demanding more from their transaction lawyers.

“When I started as a graduate, one of the first presentations I went to was a presentation on commerciality and what that means. And I think certain firms and certain partners have built a reputation around being commercial and being that sort of trusted adviser, and I think the most effective lawyers have probably always demonstrated that trait,” Mr Jordan said.

“But I do think the expectations from a client perspective have probably increased in terms of what they’re after and also what the business teams that they’re working with are after from them as well.

“So, I think the expectations have increased, but I think those that have been really successful and effective have probably been approaching it in that way for quite some time.”

NB: This transcript has been edited slightly for publishing purposes. You can listen to the full episode here:

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