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Values, not the ‘relentless pursuit’ of billables, produce optimal outcomes

According to this chair of partners, short-term thinking on what will produce the best results will ultimately benefit no one, least of all a law firm.

user iconJerome Doraisamy 14 June 2022 SME Law
Values, not the ‘relentless pursuit’ of billables, produce optimal outcomes
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Naomi Tancred – who was recently appointed as chair of partners at Hicksons Lawyers – has “always believed” that placing greater emphasis on a shared set of values ultimately produces better outcomes for everyone within a law firm.

When there is a “relentless pursuit” of billable hours, and when legal professionals put the pursuit of billables above all else, “they make mistakes, damage relationships with their clients, colleagues, family and friends, eventually hurting themselves and their organisation”.

“It’s a short-term focus that benefits no one,” she submitted.


In conversation with Lawyers Weekly, Ms Tancred offered guidance to individual lawyers, noting that they should never compromise on their values, keep their goals “firmly in sight”, work hard and be patient.

“Like any career path in professional services, consistency is key and time can be our greatest valuator. One thing the pandemic has taught us is that we need to be human. Don’t be afraid to demonstrate care for those around you or to ask for more flexibility in how you work,” she advised.

Moreover, she went on, it is important to be clear about the sort of lawyer that one wants to be, the clients one wants to work with, and the type of organisation in which one wishes to work.

“Once you know those things, selecting the right career pathway becomes easier,” she said. 

“I’m fortunate to work with some incredible clients. In my experience, clients want to work with genuine people; people with whom they can relate, who are interesting and who sincerely care about achieving better outcomes for them,” Ms Tancred said.

“Sure, they expect excellent work and timely delivery, but that’s a given. It’s how you work with them and who you are that differentiates you.”

Reflecting on her own journey to occupying the chair of partners role at Hicksons, Ms Tancred said the challenges she has faced, and continue to face, are not dissimilar to those confronting all professionals who seek to balance work, family and personal interests.

“Having a clear set of values and goals, being prepared to back myself, and to stay the course have always enabled me to make decisions with which I am comfortable and therefore overcome many of the challenges that confront busy professionals,” she said.

When asked what advice she would offer to emerging lawyers who aspire to the role that she now holds, she said that it ultimately comes down to two things.

“The first is having role models within the business that you can look up to, whether that be male or female. It may seem cliché, but having a role model and mentor who is living the life you want, and who you can look up to and learn from, is essential to achieving your own career and life goals,” she detailed.

“The second is to seek out a team and culture that aligns with your values and will support you in the realisation of your goals. The relentless pursuit of billable hours ultimately leads to burnout. Once that happens, you and everyone around you suffers, including your family, your clients, your colleagues, and friends.”

For Ms Tancred, it was finding a firm that aligned with her values and life goals, and one that emphasised its commitment to its clients and its people.

“This means being respectful of an individual’s circumstances. That commitment manifests itself in different ways at different times,” she noted.

“On a practical level, it can mean being flexible and understanding of an individual’s particular needs and being supportive of their goals. This culture and these values are only truly possible if they come from the top. We’re fortunate to have a team that are all on the same page.”

Looking ahead, Ms Tancred said that it is an “incredibly exciting time” to be at Hicksons.

“We are pursuing a growth strategy that is opening new opportunities for existing partners and employees, while also attracting talent that enables us to expand our expertise into new and emerging legal areas,” she outlined.

“As Hicksons’ chair of partners, my role is to support the partnership and play a pivotal role in the strategic direction of the firm. Specifically, what that involves is continuing to nurture a culture that both retains and attracts the best talent in the industry, enabling us to better service the growing needs of our existing clients, while pursuing opportunities for expansion into new sectors.”

Part and parcel of this is having a “small set of timeless guiding principles that cannot be compromised”, Ms Tancred said, those being excellence, integrity, respect, and responsibility.

“These values represent the shared moral and ethical beliefs which underpin and guide our interactions with each other, our clients, our stakeholders, and our world at large. As chair of partners, I take a great deal of responsibility in ensuring these values are embedded in the fabric of the firm’s culture,” she said.

“The personal benefits of being a values-led firm is that our people are happier and more engaged in the work they do. We’re all steering towards a shared goal and working to create a positive environment where we can all do our best work and produce the best possible outcomes for clients.”

Recently, Lawyers Weekly spoke with the firm about how it aims to break down biases at every level.

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