Many feel that law firms are teaching graduates the skills of the past, rather than the skills of the future – do you agree?
Yes and no. That is such a lawyer’s answer!
I don’t think we should cast aside the rigorous way in which we train our graduates – I’m proud of the enhanced apprenticeship system we guide them through and it is something other industries could learn from. That said, we need to think more widely as we prepare our recruits for their careers. The safety-first approach of following precedent can be stifling.
I tell our lawyers to look sideways, not straight ahead. The winners will be those that can marry a deep specialism with broad problem-solving skills. I’m pleased about how HSF does that, although we need to constantly innovate to improve on this. We already have non-lawyers helping to deliver better service to clients and I have no doubt our lawyers will be writing computer code before long.
In what ways will the next generation of lawyers transform law firms?
Law firm leadership can learn from those next generations – and should embrace this opportunity.
The difference will come down to two things: what they work on and how they work. It will impact all of us, for the better.
What they work on relies on lawyers innovating to find the next opportunities. Technology solutions like artificial intelligence are already chipping away at contentious and transactional activity. In its place will be solving clients’ problems and managing risk – so no change there then. However there is an unwritten chapter or two about what work we will do for clients and the next generation lawyers with a greater inherent ability to innovate will help write them.
How they work is clearer to me. The next generation want their autonomy, both to work remotely and find solutions independently. They are much more connected horizontally across the firm. Take our Design Thinking and Legal Technology Group, an informal “ginger group” global virtual network, whose members are mostly under 30 and who share ideas about how they think legal services should develop.
What are your top three pieces of advice for future law firm leaders?
1. Know who you are. Self-awareness is for me the number one leadership trait – and not just in the legal industry. I would also add that you should also know who you are not. This knowledge determines the skills you must develop and the people you must bring onto your team to cover your gaps.
2. Be curious and confident – in that order. The leader often gets told what the people around him think he or she wants to hear. I always ask questions wherever I go – even if it is a brief exchange with a young colleague I might encounter at the coffee stand downstairs. Confidence and firm decision making stem from effective information gathering.
3. Do all you can to make your success sustainable. That means looking after your clients, your team and yourself. Try to improve year on year, perhaps by finding a mentor inside or outside the firm who can act as a guide and cheerleader. And keep looking forward.
What would the title of your autobiography be and why?
“Get Me To Next Tuesday”
Since I became CEO of HSF I’ve been conscious of the need to plot a long-term vision for the firm. That’s all very well, however I’m also convinced your legitimacy to take people 10 years out is contingent on getting them to Tuesday.
Leaders need to be inspirational over the long term and also be able to provide immediate security in terms of performance, careers, resources, support etc. My career has been a 30-year arc so far, but never without keeping next Tuesday in mind.
Name three things on your bucket list
- Learn to play tennis so I can stop being an embarrassment on the court to my family
- Spend time in Silicon Valley – to get better insight into the power of technology
- Visit Sicily – one of my all time favourite places to vacation