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Creating a collaborative, collegiate environment for litigation teams

“The biggest role and duty of a leader of a litigation team is looking after our people,” argues Matthew Littlejohn. Part of this includes, he says, scrapping the idea that every worker should come in on a particular day of the week.

user iconJerome Doraisamy 02 April 2024 Corporate Counsel
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In a recent episode of The Corporate Counsel Show, Matthew Littlejohn, an award-winning barrister who now manages the litigation team at the Office of the General Counsel in Victoria, discussed the evolving role of leadership for those in charge of litigation teams and what has been learned from the post-pandemic climate that informs how leadership approaches must continually evolve.

The starting point, he submitted, is to recognise the need for a people-first approach, given the volume of work required in the current climate as well as the ongoing cost-of-living pressures being experienced, particularly by younger professionals.

“The biggest role and duty of a leader of a litigation team is looking after our people,” he proclaimed.


“Being a leader means making sure that your people are healthy and happy and able to do the work, because if you don’t have the people there, the work isn’t going to get done and you’re not going to have the results that you want as a leader, so you have to put the people first.”

Litigation teams still, Littlejohn mused, have some work to do on this front.

“We still see a lot of places addressing wellbeing through the same old morning teas, wellbeing days, offering their EAP providers, for instance. But wellness and team welfare is much more than that these days, and it has to recognise the extrinsic factors, it has to recognise the individual’s circumstances,” he explained.

“It’s not just about making sure one person is okay on an individual level. It’s about creating an environment where your team feels safe, feel[s] comfortable and confident and feel[s] able to bring their best selves to work. And that’s when you’re going to get the best results.”

This is particularly pertinent, Littlejohn pointed out, because of the unpredictable and high-pressure nature of litigation work, which he said necessitates a proactive and holistic focus on wellbeing, ensuring that the team is prepared and supported through intense work phases.

The goal, he detailed, is to foster an environment where team members can rely on each other, enhancing collaboration and reducing the strain on individuals. The shift towards hybrid and remote working models poses additional challenges and opportunities for team leaders.

Littlejohn further stressed the importance of being intentional in fostering camaraderie and collaboration, regardless of physical location. This includes leveraging lessons learned during the pandemic to conduct effective hybrid meetings and engage team members in meaningful ways.

“We are very much past the point where we’re going to have people in the office five days a week for however many hours. And so, you have to be intentional in finding ways to build that camaraderie, find ways that maybe don’t involve coming to the office,” he posited.

“If you’ve got a hybrid team asking them and having a conversation with the team around, what do they want? How do they best enjoy it? What works, what doesn’t? Do they want one day a month in the office altogether, or one day a fortnight and having the conversation rather than trying to just throw things at the wall and see what sticks. Because again, the people are the core of it.”

Moreover, Littlejohn suggested, litigation team leaders need to let go of the idea that everyone in the team needs to be in the office on a particular day of the week so as to foster collaboration.

”I think what we need to scrap is the idea of everyone coming into the office to work on one particular day. No one wants to do that anymore, and it’s not the best use of anyone’s time, especially yours, as a leader,” he listed.

“If you are asking people to come into the office for one day a month or one day a fortnight, where you get all 20, 30, 40 people on the ground into the office, you have to give them something and have that as a day where you are having in-person CPD presentations, a guest speaker come[s] in, organising something social after work for the team to do, and communicate your expectation that when they are in the office, [they do not have to] pump out the exact same amount of work that they’re going to do at home, because they’re not. You have to recognise and value the human interactions that they’re going to have.

“You can’t have eight back-to-back meetings because you’ve got to move physically from place to place, so you’re going to lose time and you have to be okay with that, and you have to communicate to your team that you’re okay with that and you have to give them more value for coming into the office than just sitting at their desk doing the work they could do at home.”

To listen to the full episode with Matthew Littlejohn, click below:

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