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Tricia Hobson: Women lawyers have every reason to aim high

Norton Rose Fulbright’s global chair on why having senior female role models is important, evolving client expectations, and why it’s no longer enough just being a high-quality lawyer

What is the leadership structure at Norton Rose Fulbright?

The firm is led by global and regional managing partners. They are supported by global and regional chairs that sit on our various boards and undertake a range of responsibilities that involve business strategy, firm culture, diversity and inclusion, and charitable initiatives, among other things.

Since becoming global chair, what’s surprised you most about managing a firm?

In my role as global chair, I have visited most of Norton Rose Fulbright’s offices. I’ve been most surprised that, despite their different countries and cultural backgrounds, our people have more in common than they think; they have similar drives, ambitions, and aspirations, and the challenges and issues that they face are also very similar.

My message to everyone has been: Don’t feel or be alone with your challenges. Share them with your team – both local and global – and they will give you the support you need.

How would you define the culture at Norton Rose Fulbright?

As global chair of the firm, Asia Pacific head of insurance, and an active adviser to clients, I have seen all aspects of Norton Rose Fulbright’s culture across the world.

We align our culture globally to our values, which are quality, unity, and integrity. Quality means we put our clients first and motivates us all to produce the very best standard of work that we can. Unity is driven by a team culture and a united, global perspective. Integrity is about valuing our people, being open, trustworthy and fair, and adopting the highest professional, ethical and business standards in everything we do.

Culture is everything to a business and it is critical for me. Norton Rose Fulbright has given me a lot and one of the many reasons I decided to take on the global chair role was that it would provide me with the opportunity to give back to the business.

The thing about culture is that it isn’t static; we need to keep evolving and improving our culture as our business grows and develops, and that is something we are very focused on doing. We need to be the best firm we can possibly be.

What’s the main change you’ve helped to bring about that will benefit clients?

As global chair, I have been working with the firm’s leadership – chiefly the global and regional managing partners and others in senior executive roles – to drive diversity, innovation, and collaboration right across the business to ensure that we deliver the best teams, services and solutions to every client.

You’ve mentioned diversity a couple of times now. We know clients value diversity in their external law firms, but how do we get more women into leadership roles in firms?

It’s all about being proactive and creating opportunities and mentors for the next generation. In Australia, we were the first law firm with more than 100 partners to break the 30% female partner barrier. At the same time, we’ve made a lot of progress in appointing women into leadership roles. Having senior female role models is incredibly important for law firms.

Being appointed the firm’s first female global chair was personally important to me and I hope it has demonstrated to our talented female lawyers that they have every reason to aim high and expect their successes to be recognised and rewarded.

What else do you think clients value and why?

Our research shows that clients want trusted advisers who understand their specific business as well as their broader industry. They no longer just want legal advice, but commercial advice that is cognisant of their particular risks and opportunities.

Clients also want their lawyers to deliver value. This doesn’t mean that they want the cheapest price; it’s more about receiving a mix of high-quality and practical advice, along with tailored products and services, which combined provide innovative solutions to their problems.

Third, clients value responsiveness. They want the reassurance that lawyers understand the pressures they are under and are able to clearly articulate how they can help, in the form and at a time that they need it most.

How do you split your time between fee-earning and management?

Running a busy insurance disputes practice for many years now, as well as overseeing our insurance team throughout Asia-Pacific, has taught me the value of prioritising competing demands and multi-tasking. They are also important skills when you’re running complex class action disputes, which have been a big focus of my career.

My fee-earning work has not slowed down since I took on the role of global chair and I have my experience as a lawyer and regional and national team leader to thank for that. I am also fortunate that I can rely on a strong team of talented partners and lawyers to support me.

What are the biggest challenges facing firms of your size, not just in Australia but also globally?

Being an elite global firm requires seamless work and collaboration across borders. Technology plays an increasingly important role in facilitating this, and so a challenge that we are working hard to overcome is making the substantial investment in systems and processes to enable closer collaboration and the power to connect our people no matter where they are.

Law firms are also people businesses, and so having the right advisers to address every aspect of our clients’ evolving needs is a priority.

For example, in our global risk advisory team, we have addressed this challenge by retaining a combination of legal and non-legal risk experts to form a core group that is supported by a substantial team of industry and practice experts across the globe.

What do you think lawyers generally could be better at?

We are really lucky that we can attract and retain impressive, high-quality lawyers across our business. But as the market evolves and clients’ expectations continue to change, our lawyers are going to need to keep working hard at being adaptable and capable of re-skilling when required.

We are already experimenting with lawyers who are working on projects that call for artificial intelligence, programming, and design-thinking skills and we expect that this sort of diversification of work, albeit grounded in a strong legal discipline, will continue.

What have you found is the best way to retain talent?

There are various ways of retaining talent. Recruitment of the right talent is the first step! We have a well-rounded recruitment programme. We look at a person’s experience and their fit with the firm and its culture. We seek motivated and positive people who are driven to achieve their best. The firm has a number of business principles and behaviours and all roles and candidates are considered against these. Retaining talent is an art. Monetary compensation is never enough. To retain the best legal talent at both partner and associate level, we need to provide our lawyers with a stimulating work environment, which is dynamic, inclusive, and innovative. Lawyers join us because they want to do the best work for the best clients – ensuring that we are able to provide this for them is a never-ending job.

What advice would you give to those just starting out in law?

From day one, prove yourself as a team player and make sure you join the best team in your organisation. Keep an open mind in your early career too. It’s often hard to see where you might end up, and you don’t want to close off opportunities before you’ve had the chance to fully explore them. Contribute to your organisation in every way you can. Use your voice from the beginning – particularly if you are a female lawyer. Your ideas and opinions do matter, so make sure you share them. Accept that it is no longer enough to be a high-quality lawyer to succeed; today’s lawyers also need to be on top of the latest developments in project management, marketing and, of course, legal technology.

Work hard but always find ways to have fun and enjoyment in your work.