fivehundred magazine > Interview with: Gavin MacLaren > If you are standing still, you’re going backwards

If you are standing still, you’re going backwards

Law firms must be fast followers of new tech to offer clients the best systems on the market, says Corrs Chambers Westgarth’s senior partner and CEO.

How would you define your firm’s culture?

Culture is intrinsically linked to, and the foundation for, success. It is what drives behaviour and decision making at every level, and ultimately determines our ability to deliver outstanding results for our clients.

At Corrs, our culture is focused on excellence, collaboration – both internally and with our clients – and energy.

How has your involvement in client-facing work changed since becoming senior partner and CEO?

All our leaders are client-facing, and this extends to me as CEO. While I am involved in less day-to-day client work than I was, I continue to play an active role on significant, high-value matters. This is something I intend to continue as l enjoy the legal work and the client interaction.

It is also important in terms of staying close to the market and relevant to developments and ensuring you are able to adapt quickly to what is happening.

Since becoming CEO what’s surprised you most about running the firm?

I always expected it to be a people role and my experience has confirmed that. When I started this job as an external appointee, the first thing I did was to meet with every partner individually and to hear from them about their views on the firm – what was working well and what could be improved.
I have also done a series of Q&A sessions and focus groups with staff to have similar conversations with them. I have been pleasantly surprised by people’s willingness and appetite for change.

For a firm to be providing clients with exceptional service, the whole firm needs to be engaged and working together to successfully implement our strategies and continuously improve the way we do things.

If you are standing still, you are essentially going backwards in a time of fast change. That is true for any business, but at the moment, it is particularly true for the legal services sector.

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

I have prioritised a high-performance culture and commitment to excellence in everything that we do. Our core focus is the delivery of exceptional legal services.

Our approach to clients and matters, our internal structures and leadership, and our recognition and reward of our people, are all designed to achieve this.

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

Innovation is about improving efficiencies, adding value, and enhancing client experience. It is also a mindset, continuously considering and being willing to implement new ways of doing things better.

The evolution of the digital space and the development of technological tools in the processing and analysis of information offer exciting opportunities for law firms.

My own view is that law firms need to be fast followers in the technology space, to be across developments and to ensure that we are offering our clients the most efficient and best systems in the market.

Law firms do not have the resources, capability or culture to compete with the best technology companies, and it is not something they should necessarily try to do.

Our strategy is focused on providing clients with high-quality services that are dependent on expertise and judgment, and quickly adopting the very best tools in the market to facilitate this.

Is technology changing the way you interact with and service your clients?

Technology allows us to respond to client needs and market developments more quickly and efficiently than ever before.

We are able to use robotic process automation to optimise internal processes that traditionally have been labour intensive and repetitive, and this allows us to work more efficiently and utilise our lawyers’ time in more productive ways.

We also use data integration and machine learning as part of our offering to clients in a variety of contexts.

What are the biggest challenges facing firms in Australia?

A key challenge for all laws firm in Australia remains people, in particular, engaging new generations of lawyers and providing them with the career development and the opportunities they need to succeed and feel fulfilled.

Our international secondment and scholarship programs are two areas we are investing in as part of our strategy to address this. By providing our people with high-quality international opportunities, they return with enhanced experience, knowledge, perspectives, and relationships which position them and our firm well for long-term success.

What do clients want and why?

In my experience, the things clients want most are expertise, the ability to deliver value in any situation, and responsiveness.

They need to be confident you will understand their needs and deliver what they want, in the way they want it. This includes ensuring your teams have the right mix of seniority and expertise tailored for every matter, with every member of your team able to be relied upon on to deliver high quality legal advice, excellent service, and value.

It is particularly critical you are able to deliver insightful strategic advice on their most challenging issues. This is what really sets one firm apart from the next.

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

People need to feel valued, that they are part of a team, and that they are rewarded for their efforts. It is important to ensure they have opportunities to develop – at whatever stage of their career – and have access to interesting work in which they feel engaged, challenged, and stretched.

All of this needs to be balanced with the recognition they have a life beyond work, to ensure the expectations and pressures placed on them are appropriate. You also need to ensure your culture is consistent with their values, for example in relation to issues such as diversity and community contribution.

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

Corrs is committed to all forms of diversity and inclusion and this remains a strategic priority for the firm. Attracting, retaining, and advancing the best talent is critical to our success and to achieve this we continue to promote a culture in which everyone is valued, supported and encouraged.

The key objectives of our diversity policy include increasing gender and cultural diversity in senior management and partnership roles and creating flexible career paths for all our people.

Corrs’ diversity policy is compliant with Australian Stock Exchange (ASX) corporate governance guidelines. Although the firm is not publicly listed, we took the decision to emulate the requirements of our ASX listed clients. We were the first national law firm in Australia to make this commitment.

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

The most important thing for all lawyers – at partner level or not – is that they focus on areas in which they have passion, enthusiasm, and interest. Lawyers who enjoy what they do are far more likely to succeed.

It is important also to be forward looking in terms of areas of expertise and what is most valuable to clients. This includes identifying market trends, developments and future opportunities (and conversely the areas which are becoming commoditised as the market evolves), and ensuring you are developing a skillset which will be valuable to clients both now and in the future.

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