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Leadership lessons: How to adapt and see your teams thrive

Two BigLaw partners have unpacked how to become better leaders in an ever-changing practice area, particularly in the face of shifting client demands and the prevalence of remote work.

user iconEmma Musgrave 02 January 2024 Big Law
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Speaking on a recent episode of The Lawyers Weekly Show, Herbert Smith Freehills partners Jason Jordan and Philip Hart discussed how their approach to leadership has had to change in order to meet greater client expectations.

Mr Hart, who leads HSF’s Sydney-based ECM team, stressed the importance of clear communication in the current remote work environment, flagging that leaders need to invest the time to connect with their teams through phone calls or virtual meetings to effectively convey valuable knowledge.

“Partners need to actively pick up the phone to the team members and actually help them. Because if we take the time now and we impart the knowledge now, then we’re helping ourselves in the future effectively,” he said.


Mr Hart also underscored the role of teaching in leadership, emphasising that sharing insights and expertise with junior team members is a crucial aspect of a leader’s responsibility.

“One of the biggest roles that we as leaders need to play is teaching those junior members of our team. And we’ll help them to become better lawyers by doing that,” he said.

Meanwhile, Mr Jordan, who leads HSF’s Melbourne-based M&A team, spoke to the importance of being vulnerable with your team members. He encouraged listeners to showcase aspects of their lives that extend beyond work, noting that in his personal experience, vulnerability has fostered stronger relationships.

“Don’t wait for a tap on the shoulder or a change in title to show your leadership traits. I used to be keen to separate work from other aspects of my life. If I left early to pick up my kids, I would be worried that it might appear that I wasn’t committed, for example,” Mr Jordan said.

“It wasn’t until I received a bunch of formal feedback from members of the team, where aspects of my life and focus on building a sustainable career were consistently highlighted, that I realised how important it was for others to see those aspects. And I think that they shouldn’t be hidden.

“That vulnerability that came through was one of the positives that came out of the pandemic, and the relationships we’ve been able to build with our clients and our team was a real positive.”

Looking ahead, both Mr Jordan and Mr Hart reiterated the importance of continuous communication within a dispersed team, with the latter stressing the need for regular discussions within the team. This, he said, includes sharing insights about upcoming deals, law reform and industry development.

“The big one for me that I know that everybody in the legal industry is talking about is the use of AI and technology,” Mr Hart said.

“To me, the challenge with AI and technology is how do we effectively use it to assist with the efficiency of transactions and assisting with the delivery of top-class service to our clients. It’s not a case of technology necessarily replacing our lawyers and our teams because relationships and what we do is a relationship game, and that is from the most junior member of our team up to the most senior member of our team.

“But where technology offers great opportunities but also great challenges is how we make use of that to deliver a better service to our clients and a more efficient service to our clients. I think how we do that is a huge challenge over the near term.”

Mr Jordan echoed a similar sentiment, noting that it’s vital teams are properly educated on what success means for different clients. He pointed out that success extends beyond financial objectives and may involve managing risks, protecting the client’s reputation and considering the impact on stakeholders.

The key, he flagged, is investing time in understanding the client’s unique needs and delivering value accordingly.

“Invest that time with the client to really understand what those [success factors] are and to ensure you can add value,” he said.

Being a “standard setter” is essential to achieving this added value and as a leader of a team, more broadly, Mr Hart continued.

“You really set the direction from the top, so I think you need to be true to your beliefs, what you want out of the team, and I think you need to be very clear with your team what that’s about,” he said.

“You want to show the members of your team how you expect them to behave and how you expect them to interact with your clients and with other members of the team.”

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

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