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Suzanne Liversidge: Leaders should be true to themselves

Kennedys’ first global managing partner discusses the priorities of her new role, highlights the firm’s recent international expansion, and reveals what gives her the most job satisfaction

What will you be focusing on as global managing partner, and what do you hope to accomplish or change at the firm that will benefit its lawyers, staff, and clients?

As global managing partner, I will be working closely with Nick Thomas, our senior partner, on the strategic and operational management of Kennedys’ global network of 38 offices. As a firm we have great ambition and I am looking forward to working with Nick and colleagues to continue, and improve upon, the excellent work that we are doing in the UK and Europe, Asia Pacific, North America, Bermuda and Latin America, and the Caribbean. Key to this success is our fundamental core values which underpin everything we do. Based on those principles, I want to continue to make Kennedys the place where our colleagues can be the very best they can be and succeed in everything they do. This means our clients get the very best service wherever in the world they need it. Technology is key to that delivery.

You mention technology and you’re a member of the firm’s global strategy board, as well as the R&D and innovations boards. So what does innovation look like to you? How does the firm innovate for the benefit of its clients and fee earners?

Technology and innovation are critical to our industry and central to our global strategy. We have invested significantly in this space to develop a market-leading, client-facing platform of tech solutions which are unrivalled. Our core principle is to help our clients be self-sufficient and only use lawyers when they really need to. We are excited to be taking our philosophy, and our own technology, to clients across our global network as the factors that make some of our solutions so appealing in the UK reducing legal spend and speeding up the life-cycle of claims – are just as relevant to our clients in other jurisdictions. The client response to these innovations has been amazing.

You’re a specialist in employers’ liability, public and motor claims, as well as health and safety advice, and prosecutions. What impact will this new role have on your day-to-day practice? Will you maintain your client-facing work?

Given the breadth of this new role, I will be relinquishing my day-to-day practice, and my position as head of the Sheffield office which I held since 1997. I will however retain my focus on key clients as part of our key relationship management programme.

What are the biggest challenges to Kennedys on a regional and global level? And what about the insurance sector generally?

The biggest challenge for both Kennedys and the insurance sector is the consolidation of the market and the fast pace of change. We as a firm identified these challenges some time ago and developed our strategy to be the go-to global insurance law firm of choice, wherever our clients operate. Our continuing challenge will be to deliver that whilst ensuring we retain our culture and values which are the essence of Kennedys. Fortunately, we’re good at that!

In March, Kennedys became the first international law firm to establish a presence in the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, and Panama through three new associations. What was the thinking behind that expansion?

It is, as with many of our strategic moves, based on client need. We have a history of establishing a presence in jurisdictions where clients need us and we believed that it was in our best interests to formally associate ourselves with these firms. These jurisdictions are poised to have substantial growth in the near future. As our other moves in the Latin America region have already shown, an important factor in success is being there first. Through these associations, we are securing Kennedys’ premier position in the Latin America and Caribbean insurance market and adding to our considerable expertise across the region for our clients.

You also recently took a 12-strong insurance team from Norton Rose Fulbright in London. Is there further expansion planned in the short term?

As a firm, we are continually looking for opportunities to bring new talent in that aligns and supports our clients, existing and developing, both in the UK and internationally. In addition to recently welcoming partners to our offices in Dubai and Philadelphia, we have also strengthened our professional liability practice with a number of strategic partner hires in our Birmingham, London, and Taunton offices. Our regional UK network has always been an important part of our strategy and has grown in response to client need. It is this strategy that led us to opening the 38th office in our global network in the city of Bristol, in September.

You’re a member of Link, the network for LGBT+ professionals and their allies in the insurance sector. How would you describe diversity in that sector?

As far as diversity and inclusion goes within insurance, there has been a dramatic change and I am proud to say our sector has been leading the way. No longer do we see lip service to diversity, but real and effective investment in initiatives across the industry to embrace, promote, and celebrate difference. There is a long way to go, but if I compare the industry to ten years ago, it is unrecognisable.

You’re also involved in Kennedys’ D&I initiatives, leading the firm’s Women in Insurance Network. What more can be done to increase female and LGBT+ inclusion in the profession?

The law is very traditional, and so I am delighted to see so many female partners now at the table and in senior leadership positions. But we need more faces and voices. I would still like to see more emphasis on intersectionality within the industry and greater leadership representation within that. The profession as a whole has a responsibility to make that happen. And those role models out there, especially in the LGBT+ community, need to make their voices heard and get the seats at that table.

What advice would you give to other partners with aspirations of becoming managing partner of their firm?

Embrace opportunity, stretch yourself at every turn, and take people on that journey with you. I would also say don’t accept the norm, don’t be afraid to push the boundaries, challenge or diversify, but always be true to yourself as a leader. Only then can you achieve your true potential. Ensure you know the whole business, its key drivers, and how you can influence and deliver on that. And always play to your strengths and accept support for your weaknesses.

Finally, you’ve now had a couple of ‘firsts’ in your career: you became the first female president of Sheffield Chamber of Commerce in its 242-year history, and you’re now the first global managing partner of Kennedys. Overall, professionally and personally, what’s been your greatest achievement to date?

There’s a lot to be said for finding a balance between being happy and achieving your full potential, professionally. That is an achievement in itself, but my greatest professional achievement, or what brings me most satisfaction, is seeing others grow and flourish under my leadership. On a personal level, my best achievements were usually sport related. I was a keen sprinter and still run most days as I find it incredibly relaxing. I wish girls could have played football when I was young.