fivehundred magazine > Interview with: Juan Francisco Torres Landa Ruffo > Avoid getting rusty

Avoid getting rusty

The head of Hogan Lovells’ Mexico office on the importance of managing partners avoiding isolation, leading by example, and why future lawyers will need a different skillset

How would you define your firm’s culture? How important is that culture to you?

Our firm’s culture is client-focused. We are dedicated to providing a seamless service, one that gives our clients a sense of excellence, depth, full expertise, and focus on their industries. We pursue long-term and mutually rewarding relationships with all our clients. Our firm culture is as important as anything we do. Our commitment is consistency in the way we render our services regardless of location. This is what clients expect and our goal is to exceed their expectations.

What’s the main change you’ve made in the firm that will benefit clients?

The main change that we have made in the firm has been our industry-sector approach. This means that we picked the most relevant sectors in the industries in which our clients participate. The idea has been to focus and be able to provide first-hand knowledge of what their respective businesses are all about.

Areas such as automotive manufacturing, life sciences, insurance, financial institutions, and energy, among others, are those that we have focused on as a way in which to ensure that our clients receive the full benefit of our track record both from the legal and market-knowledge perspectives. We have become well known in the legal industry for this level of in-depth knowledge and full-service approach.

What does innovation mean to you and how can firms be better at it?

Innovation means that we should be willing and ready to adjust to new circumstances regarding how our clients expect us to deliver value-added services. It means we must think ‘outside of the box’ and improve how we deliver quality results to our clients. Such innovation is not only based on the use of new technology (something we are at the forefront of), but also an understanding that the way business is carried out today has changed significantly in just the last few years. There is no question that law firms which are slow as regards innovation will find it hard to remain competitive in the market.

What are the biggest challenges facing firms in Mexico?

The biggest challenge for firms our size in Mexico is the failure to adjust to the changing world of the digital age. In that sense we are uniquely positioned to stay among the leaders of our practice. As part of a global firm we have immediate access to state-of-the-art technology and tools to benefit all of our clients. Firms that do not have those resources available, particular small and mid-size firms are far more exposed than firms with our capabilities.

Another common risk for local firms is the difficulty of managing an orderly generational transition. Many firms have suffered spin-offs and other departures due to a lack of institutional rules regarding compensation and leadership changes.

What do you think are the top three things most clients want and why?

Timely advice, reasonable pricing, and consistent quality. This means firms must become truly efficient should they wish to secure the required quality, pricing, and consistency. It is a real challenge that requires team work, training, investment in technology, and the overall mastery of a firm culture built around those values. It is not an easy combination but without these elements in place it will become increasingly difficult to compete in the legal market.

Is technology changing the way you interact with your clients, and the services you can provide them?

Technology is most definitely changing the way we interact with our clients. The change is not only accelerating but also irreversible. Who would have thought that we would be contacting our clients and interacting with them not only by phone or email, but also now via social media, video conferencing and even technologies like WhatsApp?

The way we interact and work with clients is changing at light speed. We must use technology or risk becoming obsolete or disposable. Technology is also reshaping the way our clients carry out their business. Unless lawyers understand these trends, it is almost certain that their utilisation levels will drop dramatically. That is a risk we are not willing to incur.

What have you found is the best way to retain talent – both at partner and associate levels?

Retaining talent requires clear compensation rules, objective career paths and transparent evaluation methods. However, we must understand that working at law firms has changed significantly over the past five-to-ten years. With the invasion of technology, lawyers must be available 24/7. Lawyers can now work remotely in a seamless manner. Creating the infrastructure and tools to allow for flexible and agile working is thus critical. But lawyers also want to achieve work-life balance and firms must understand this to retain the best talent.

Since becoming managing partner what’s surprised you most about running a firm?

Being a manager partner is not an easy task. It is important to keep your own legal practice active to avoid the risk of your legal skills getting rusty. However, at the same time, running the administrative side of the business is eye-opening and many things that the firm can do better become visible. One has to understand how to deal with clients on the other side of our business. One has to always be on the lookout as to how procedures can and must be updated to remain on top of the delivery of administrative services. A firm can be very good at providing legal services, but if client contact through billing and other activities is not up to speed, client service can suffer dearly. Everyone within the organisation plays a role in providing excellent client service.

How has your role/involvement in client-facing work changed since becoming managing partner?

I have tried to stay on the front of client-facing work as much as possible. However, it is obvious that time is a scarce resource and administration requires several hours a day. Therefore, you must prioritise the work you perform including when and how meetings outside the office are warranted. But it is also true that delegation of those responsibilities and better interaction with administrative teams will give you the flexibility to cover more territory than if you do everything by yourself. Striking the right balance is not easy but it creates a very rewarding goal in one’s everyday activities. There is no better way to obtain optimal results than through team work.

What advice would you give to the next generation of partners ready to rise the ranks?

The best piece of advice I would give to the next generation of managing partners is to never stay isolated. One thing I have learned is that you must always be looking for ways to improve. Not a single day passes-by where you don’t learn about additional things that must be taken care of, procedures that require improvement, new government regulations that require action… in general, we need to have an engine in good running order and up to demands of the market in terms of both speed and quality.

One must always seek quality and dedication from the people that work on the teams within your organisation. Leading by example and showing commitment is also a very powerful tool to ensure that the desired end-results can be secured. I can only suggest that in the next few years the way we do business will continue to change driven by technology. That will raise the bar and demand additional commitments from future managing partners. I can see a point in time where only having training will be inadequate for these individuals; they will perhaps require some other skillsets that one did not necessarily acquire at law school. In the future, managing partners will require additional specialised training to run successful practices.

What are your firm’s policies on diversity and inclusion?

We are firm believers in diversity and inclusion as a key part of our success and ability to deliver better services to all of our clients. Our firm is known worldwide for having a comprehensive diversity and inclusion policy. We do not discriminate against any persons regardless of their age, gender, ethnic origin, sexual preference or orientation, religion, life experiences, or any other possible personal feature. But above and beyond that, our firm has endorsed several programmes and initiatives to ensure we reach higher levels of minority representation and inclusion within our ranks.

In our US offices we have become one of the few firms that is Mansfield certified and we are expanding that goal across the rest of the firm. We do not sponsor quotas but rather endorse the ability to have a full meritocracy that is blind on personal differences. We have a firm commitment to this globally and are proud that this is a cornerstone of our culture, just as we are regarding other significant commitments such as pro bono and community work.