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The importance of building relationships as a boutique leader

Being a leader within a boutique law firm comes with managing employee expectations and building relationships within one’s team, but also managing relationships with other professionals across the board, one partner has confirmed.

user iconLauren Croft 01 June 2023 SME Law
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These are skills that Norton Law Group partner Gabriella Pomare has found especially relevant when taking over a firm — and then being a leader and a mentor to a number of junior staff.

Speaking on a recent episode of The Boutique Lawyer Show, Ms Pomare spoke about what she’s learnt from being a legal leader at Norton Law Group, which was originally founded by her father Franco, and now has six lawyers and three offices in Sydney.

“When I finished uni, I didn’t know that leadership was for me, but as I’ve continued to be in the firm, I’ve really enjoyed mentoring the younger lawyers as they’ve come through. I also like the business development side of things,” she said.


“I’ve got lots of ideas when it comes to marketing, growing the firm, managing, so I take both roles. I’m big on practice, but at the same time, I’m big on becoming bigger and better and as best as we can be as a firm.”

In terms of successfully marketing the firm, Ms Pomare said that “relevance is really important” — and that this also plays into her leadership of Norton Law Group.

“In this day and age especially, places like LinkedIn, even Instagram and Facebook, depending [on] how you use them, are really important not only for relationships that you’re building with other colleagues but also with your own clients and referrals and building up that network,” she explained.

“I think leadership comes down to running the practice and where you see your juniors going. For me, it’s really empowering them and giving them the knowledge to move forward, to grow. It’s not simply saying, ‘I’m the boss, there’s a pecking order. You do tasks, and I check them,’ but it’s saying, ‘How can I teach you? What career progression do you have? How can I mentor you?’

“And showing younger lawyers especially, that it’s not just about getting billable hours up, it’s continuing to learn, researching, being active on places like social media, going out, networking, having drinks, meetings, and building up that referral base. For me, it’s collaborative practice in every sense of it. It’s making sure that my staff, together with me, are involved in all aspects of practice management.”

While ticking all these boxes “can be more difficult” amid flexible and hybrid working arrangements, Ms Pomare has found that it all comes down to time management.

“A lot of my work gets done at night. When I’m at the office, it’s running through tasks and speaking with my staff about what they’re up to, what they might need assistance with, helping them with their continuing learning and then also finding time to go out to chat with referrals, to meet new people,” she added.

“Scheduling time for things like LinkedIn or other social media. Work from home has made that easier. I suppose during COVID, we learnt how to use time outside of the office a lot better, so it’s really just about managing that and continuing it.”

Managing relationships is a key element of being a good leader — and something that Ms Pomare gradually got better at on her track to leadership.

“From a younger age and even in more junior roles at the firm, I knew that relationships were important. The only way of growing a practice, growing clientele, forming greater relationships with referrers meant that I had to go out there and be someone other than just an employee, and that’s probably how I got myself to partnership as well,” she outlined.

“It’s not just because Dad’s the boss, which a lot of people might think, but it’s me taking advantage of the approach of going out there, being someone, finding out what other people are doing, how can we help each other? I learned a lot more when I did this collaborative practice course a couple of years ago, when I realised the importance of relationships with other professionals.

“And once I realised the idea that we can all work together and we need to all work together to sort of resolve matters and find resolution for clients, I made it one of the utmost important things for me to keep building relationships, and I try and instil that in my junior staff as well. It’s not just about the clients and the work, but continuing the relationships.”

And moving forward, Ms Pomare emphasised that managing these relationships would remain of the utmost importance, as the legal profession currently faces a variety of prospective changes.

“I think the legal sphere is adapting and modernising every day. And it’s all about relationships. It’s who you know, it’s who you get to know, and it’s putting yourself out there. And that is things like technology and software, that’s going out and having your old-fashioned cup of coffee,” she added.

“It’s using social media; it’s connecting with different people because it is the only way of growing. You can’t do it on your own. There’s no such thing as a fantastic lawyer and that’s it. You need to be open to relationships, open to speaking to people and open to change.”

The transcript of this podcast episode was slightly edited for publishing purposes. To listen to the full conversation with Gabriella Pomare, click below:

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