Kennedy‘s global managing partner Suzanne Liversidge speaks to The Lawyer as part of the Business Leadership Series about how for the first time in her career there has been a genuine recognition that ‘we’re all in it together’, and how through those shared experiences new cultural norms have been formed.
How can you influence and inform culture in a remote world?
We’ve always had a strong culture at Kennedys, driven by our core values of being Approachable, Straightforward, Supportive and Distinctive. So, in many respects we were fortunate because we had strong foundations from which to build. I think trying to build a culture in a remote world from scratch would be challenging.
So, with our values firmly rooted, I started referring to a new mantra: Be Kennedys, Be Kind. For me, it’s a recognition that there is no blueprint for living and working through a global pandemic and that individuals will deal with their personal and professional challenges differently. And that’s OK. We have always asked people to simply do their best.
We were transparent with all of our staff from the outset about the importance of honouring our values. One thing I have been sure of is that our people created this firm, making it what it is today and only our people will get us through this crisis. We trusted them to do the right thing and we never stopped communicating with them, we just had to work harder at getting the message out to everyone.
To date it has paid off, with staff feedback and engagement more positive than ever. I think our approach has engendered loyalty as our people know that we have put them and their job security at the top of our Board agenda.
What aspects of law firm culture have come to the fore during lockdown?
I can only speak for the culture at Kennedys, but I am in no doubt that it is the strength of our culture that has got us through the lockdown period.
Like many businesses, in the space of 24 hours our working dynamic changed. We went from being an office-based global law firm with 38 offices (now 39 as we even managed to open an office in San Francisco in the midst of the pandemic) to operating from over 2,100 homes across the globe.
The pandemic has brought the need for even more trust and authenticity to the fore. For the first time in my career there has been a genuine recognition that ‘we’re all in it together’ and through those shared experiences new cultural norms have been formed.
For business leaders like myself, when I’ve not always known what was coming next or had all of the answers, what’s left than to be your authentic self? Never did I think I would be sending weekly videos to our global team bemoaning my lack of hair cut or with my dog lounging over me. But extraordinary times have allowed for a different approach – we’ve let people into our homes all around the world. And this has resonated with colleagues across the globe who have come forward to share their experiences and be heard.
Has the lack of office resources resulted in accelerated innovation for the legal profession?
Innovation is critical to our profession and is central to our global strategy. It’s unusual for a law firm to say we want clients to use lawyers less but it’s one of the most successful brand propositions ever.
While it makes a good marketing strapline, this core principle of ours has underpinned our approach to innovation for the best part of 10 years; it is proven and shows tangible financial benefits. I’m not the most tech minded individual but I sit on the R&D board in a role focused on identifying and resolving clients’ problems. I think what has become quite apparent is that legal services have evolved more in the last five years than the previous 100. The sector is now engaged in innovation and seeking solutions that can achieve operational efficiencies for our clients.
This is promising in what has often been seen as quite a traditional profession. We are excited to be taking our philosophy, and our own technology, to clients across our global network. We’re really proud of our output stemming from our global innovation investment, especially the recent launch of our separate technology driven company Kennedys IQ – It’s Kennedys, without the lawyers.
What will be the main challenges to the way Kennedys’ operates going forward?
Undoubtedly, the biggest challenge will be change – anticipating change and driving change. However, I think it’s important for us to take stock and look at how well we have navigated what has, for most people, been the biggest change ever in their working and personal lives. And while there’s still a long way to go and a great deal of work to be done, I am certainly encouraging my colleagues to celebrate what they have achieved since this crisis began.
Prior to the pandemic we were already undertaking a workplace transformation programme, looking at what our future needs would be and making sure we can meet them. That work continues apace and is even more crucial as we develop our future operations. As you would expect it involved changes to the way in which people will work and a strong focus on becoming a paperless firm globally and making better use of our real-estate.
Who has been the most influential person in your career?
My Dad. Not because he pushed me to be a lawyer – in fact I think he’d have preferred it if I had put my debating skills to good use by becoming a politician – but because he taught me from a very young age that I could be whatever I wanted to be. Dad brought me up to believe that the only barrier to achieving was myself, so when I started out my career as a lawyer that belief was already instilled.
Of course, entering the legal profession in the 1990s was quite the rude awakening. There was a distinct lack of diversity and equality in the workplace. But thanks to my Dad, I already had a strong foundation and was ready to prove myself. I am pleased to say that, although not perfect, the legal profession is getting better in being more inclusive.
Name 3 things on your bucket list.
For a brief time I did stand up comedy. My hero was and still is Julie Walters. It’s my ambition to meet her so this is top of my bucket list!
Complete a sprint triathlon. I did my last triathlon in 2002 and I vowed I would do my next one the year I turn 50. In fact, my fellow partners gifted me a triathlon wet suit for my birthday and I am yet to put it to good use as the pandemic has disrupted my training somewhat, but I will do it!
Study astronomy. I am fascinated by the science and would love to invest in a good telescope and learn more about the science.