1. How would you define Gilbert + Tobin's culture? How important is firm culture to you?
Making sure we have the best culture is really the most important part of my job. The right culture is crucial to attracting and retaining the top talent required to achieve our goal of being Australia’s leading transactions, regulatory and disputes law firm. Our culture is open, energised, freewheeling and performance based where everyone can be who they are in a firm driven by determined ambition and energy, underpinned by values of respect, integrity and fairness.
2. What’s the main change you’ve made that will benefit clients?
There have been many changes that have occurred over our 30-year history and they start and finish with the highly talented people who have contributed to our success along the way, including of course people no longer with our firm. Over that period our clients have benefited from our firm assembling leading talent who can deliver outcomes for them in their most defining, complex times in business.
We have always taken risks and tried to think out of the box. More recently, we’ve added to the talent proposition a focus on technology and innovation in our service delivery – to ensure we are being highly productive in how we deliver our legal work. This includes automation, process improvement, project management and working with other service providers to deliver for our clients. We’ve invested in a start-up law firm, LegalVision, to broaden the proposition we can take together to our clients. Our clients tell us they value us bringing these new types of solutions to them.
3. What are the biggest challenges facing firms of your size and specialism in Australia?
Australia is a very competitive legal market. Every day we need to meet the challenges thrown to us by our clients and by the other top-tier firms competing in this market. Personally, I spend a lot of my time thinking about the challenges at three levels.
Firstly, making sure we have the best team of ‘go-to’ partners in our focus areas – transactions, regulatory and disputes. That means keeping the team we have together, keeping them happy and engaged in our vision as a firm, as well as building that team through both recruitment and internal promotions.
Secondly, the longer term evolution of our industry. I push our team to think about the future all the time and not assume it will look the same as the industry does today. We need to be asking, 'Are we doing enough on technology?' 'Are we ready for the business model to look very different?'
Thirdly, competition for the best people is relentless. I want to provide our people with the best workplace environment and pay them at the top of the market. While we are first and foremost a professional law firm that must manifest the best traditions of the law, we are also a business. We must operate at optimum efficiency and profitability – there is no second prize here.
4. What do you think are the top three things most clients want and why?
Our clients want the right expertise that can make a difference for them in the most defining moments in the life of their company or – in the case of the individual executives involved – often in their careers. They are asking ‘can we trust you with the most important legal issues we may ever see?’.
The other thing clients want is independent advice of the highest integrity. As lawyers we must have the courage to sometimes tell our clients things they do not necessarily want to hear.
Clients also want us to be commercially astute. That means understanding their business, their commercial and strategic objectives and their values and aspirations. It also means being proactive and bringing ideas for new ways of getting legal work done (particularly the resource-intensive aspects) most productively.
5. Is technology changing the way you interact with your clients and the services you can provide them?
We now interact with our clients in so many different ways. Increasingly, our teams are working collaboratively with clients through platforms that provide real-time access to the latest versions of documents, task lists and status dashboards on document reviews. These methods create a single source of truth that is far more efficient than a series of emails.
The overall service we provide to clients now has embedded within it new types of capability and technology – including data analysts, project managers and technologists.
We now also launched ‘G+T Innovate’, a consulting-style service we offer to our clients’ in-house legal teams – advising on and helping to implement legal technology, project management, process improvement and automation initiatives.
6. What firm initiatives are you particularly proud of launching?
What we have achieved over 30 years is the product of many initiatives and of course a little bit of luck along the way. Three particular examples I am proud of are:
From the outset we had this (then) not fully-formed idea that we had to be an outstanding corporate citizen. We did this by undertaking pro bono work to help Australia’s most disadvantaged and marginalised people. We have always had a significant pro bono team and now have two dedicated pro bono partners, four pro bono lawyers as well as many lawyers across the firm who undertake some pro bono work each year. This is very much part of what makes us the firm we are and is a major contributor to our success. Our commitment to the community now includes our support for numerous not for profit organisations, education in high schools and the university sector. We are very proud of our 10 year support of the Gilbert + Tobin Centre for Public Law at UNSW . Most importantly, our support for Indigenous Australians across all of their very legitimate aspirations has been a hallmark for what we stand for.
A few years ago we made a bold decision to offer a major telecommunications client an ‘all you can eat’ offering, with very few caveats. People told us we were crazy but we did it anyway. It totally repositioned us with that client and shifted how we were seen in the market.
Around 10 years ago, our firm was well known as a leading ‘TMT’ firm. We made a decision to pivot to be a major corporate transactions firm as well. To do so, we needed to recruit leading corporate and banking partners who were highly successful and well entrenched in major, establishment firms. Again, people told us we were crazy, but we did it and now we are very much among the top few firms in corporate transactions.
7. What have you found is the best way to retain talent – both at partner and associate levels?
Firstly, and most importantly I believe, we need to provide people with better rewards here than they could get anywhere else. Those rewards will of course be monetary, but also include rapid development and the opportunity to work on interesting and challenging work. We don’t want our people to be limited in their rewards by their tenure either – we want them to have opportunities and rewards as early as they are ready to take them.
It is also important to have a culture and sense of ambition that makes people want to stay and be part of our firm. This includes an inspiring direction, an open and fun culture, freedom to be entrepreneurial and make your own career and pride in the firm being an outstanding corporate citizen.
8. What’s surprised you most about running a firm since you started Gilbert + Tobin?
What can be achieved when you truly back yourself and your people.