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Empathy essential in bringing employees back to the workplace

Coming back to work after giving birth was hard for this firm owner — but something that made her realise that more employers need guidance on the empathy and support required to bring someone back to work.

user iconLauren Croft 08 June 2023 SME Law
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Natasha Hannah is the director and principal of in house nous, a Melbourne-based law firm outsourcing in-house lawyers. Speaking recently on The Boutique Lawyer Show, she reflected on doing things a little differently and starting her firm at just the right time.

Ms Hannah and her business partner started in house nous to “do things a little differently” — and only offer fixed fee or retainer pricing.

“We just felt that the private practice, the firms that we worked for previously, didn’t quite fit the mould, and we wanted to practise in a way that aligned a little bit more with our values and how we like to service our clients,” she said.


“And then both having had experience in-house, we also thought; well, let’s leverage that experience of working in-house and find a sweet spot between the two, of private practice and in-house, and offer that service to our clients. So, it’s effectively outsourced in-house that we offer in both commercial and employment law, but we do the whole gamut of things.”

Being an outsourced general counsel means reaping the benefits of private practice and in-house at the same time, outlined Ms Hannah.

“There are, like in private practice, pros and cons in working in-house. And I think why this has now gathered a bit of a trend in terms of the outsourced, in-house model is that people, our lawyers, are realising, like us, that you can actually leverage the experience of both.

“And if you do have that experience in-house, it’s actually really, really valuable to a business to be able to offer the insights of being both on the inside and on the outside, and leverage your position as a lawyer in that way,” she added.

“For example, sometimes, it’s better to have things on the outside external, subject to privilege that’s removed, and sometimes, it works better to do things on the inside or help shadow draught emails or operationalise advice alongside whoever you’re working with, whether it’s the GC or not, or the founder of the business. It’s definitely on trend, and I think it’s just because it’s a new and more dynamic way of practising law.”

In-house nous was established at the end of 2022, and despite facing a number of challenges, Ms Hannah said launching the firm has been worth it.

“I was on parental leave when we launched the business, but anyway, just throw that into the mix as another hurdle. But no, look, it has been challenging. It’s been exciting, but I would certainly encourage other lawyers who are thinking about starting their own practice to do it. You have that opportunity to have agency around how you practice, and that is really, really important, I think,” she explained.

“There are challenges day to day. There are ups and downs, but we have a really good support network. We actually are really close with some other like-minded practices, smaller-size firms, and they share a lot of helpful information with us. So, there are plenty of us out there, and I certainly encourage others to do it. Don’t be daunted by it.”

Despite being pregnant at the time of launching the firm, Ms Hannah emphasised that the right time is the right time.

“It’s been hard, but I wouldn’t take it back. I think it just felt like it was the time. I was on parental leave, it felt like I couldn’t get back to what I was doing and I had to do something different. So, it felt like the right time, but whether you’re starting a business or not, whether you’re just returning to work after parental leave, it is the most challenging time in your life. I was naive. I was certainly naive to what it would look like coming back to work, and it really hit me, that’s for sure,” she added.

“And so that’s why I’ve become so passionate about, obviously, as an employment lawyer, how I can help leaders and businesses in transitioning employees back to work because there really isn’t a lot of support and guidance out there. There are some basic entitlements, but I really do think there needs to be more, and it’s really a lot about the soft skills and the empathy that you use when you are bringing employees back to the workplace.”

This especially applies to working mothers, who are generally more impacted than men coming back to work after having children.

“I’m talking about predominantly women being the primary caregiver, but it could be either person in the relationship, but predominantly women, the birth mother, who has come from home back into the workforce, that they’re at a disadvantage. And yes, you’re right, they do need that hand up to get back into the workforce. And a lot of that, I think, is the soft skills or the human touch that they need to help employees feel like they’re supported and they’re valued,” Ms Hannah added.

“Things like dealing with constant sickness and absentees and due to daycare, helping someone navigate that where they’re constantly off work, but they probably don’t want to be, they probably are keen to return. They want to do their best work, and they don’t want to feel like they’re letting you down. And that’s a really tough situation to navigate.”

Despite this, Ms Hannah said that the future is looking brighter, as more clients are now demanding a human-centric service and more lawyers and working parents are “breaking the traditional legal mould”.

“I’m really excited to see more and more firms finding their own groove in how they communicate, and what an extra service offering looks like. And for us, it’s about finding that connection and building a long-term relationship. I’ve seen others offer add-on services, where it might be an additional advisory service or tack-on consulting service, and clients are really loving seeing that content,” she added.

“I’m [also] really excited about seeing more and more legal firms lean a little bit more on some of the marketing and business strategies that we see in other industries and leveraging that to really boost up their services and essentially make clients happy.”

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