The six law firm leaders profiled here are all familiar with radical change. Each has recently led recent deep reforms within their law firm. Examples include Bruno Ferreira’s decision to overhaul partnership pay terms and performance reviews to encourage greater transparency at Portuguese law firm PLMJ or Richard Foley’s mission to improve work flexibility at Pinsent Masons during the pandemic and to open up partnership recruitment beyond qualified lawyers.
Many top law firms are under pressure and heightened scrutiny to improve their record on ethnic diversity and gender balance across their businesses.
For two leaders in particular, diversity has been at the top of the agenda. Susan Bright of Hogan Lovells has increased recruitment of black, Asian and other ethnic minorities among trainees at her UK business to 30 per cent or more every year since 2015, while Petra Zijp of NautaDutilh has focused on improving gender parity and generational diversity through initiatives such as a young professionals board.
The six leaders are also highlighted here for making bold strategic moves to help drive growth within their firms, even in the middle of a global economic crisis. Wim Dejonghe of Allen & Overy continues to focus on expansion to new markets as well as practice areas that will be busier during a recession. Suzanne Liversidge has delivered an ambitious growth strategy for Kennedys by setting up a new office in San Francisco during lockdown and establishing Kennedys IQ to deliver cheaper legal services.
These leaders could not have foreseen the crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic. But their vision has supported both clients and employees during a period of great uncertainty.
Profiles compiled by RSG researchers and FT editors
Regional managing partner for UK & Africa, Hogan Lovells
Susan Bright will step down after seven years as UK managing partner at the end of this year to focus on her role as global managing partner for diversity and inclusion and responsible business at the global law firm.
In 2014 she launched the firm’s constitutional change task force to advise the government and clients on Brexit risk.
Ms Bright also helped lead the reorganisation of Hogan Lovells’ UK business, moving business services out of London and opening its first legal services centre based in Birmingham.
She also implemented a “flexible lawyering” programme with Elevate Services to allow the firm to draw on a pool of experienced professionals for specific projects.
Her commitment to diversity at the firm has helped boost the number of trainees from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds in the UK from 9 per cent in 2010 to reach 30 per cent or more every year since 2015.
Senior partner, Allen & Overy
As managing partner in the years following the 2008 financial crisis, Wim Dejonghe responded by investing in the global expansion of the firm. Over five years, he pursued a countercyclical approach by opening 15 new offices and a support services centre in Belfast that now employ about 500 people.
Since then the firm has launched Peerpoint, a flexible resourcing business that employs 300 consultants and a project management office that provides support to A&O lawyers.
During his tenure as senior partner, Mr Dejonghe has overseen the launch of Fuse, the firm’s technology innovation incubator, and a 50-strong legal technology group.
The firm also launched a business consulting arm last year staffed with former regulators and financial industry leaders.
Not every initiative launched by Mr Dejonghe has succeeded, but “lessons learnt from each have informed the future,” says the firm.
Managing partner, PLMJ
When Bruno Ferreira took up the position of managing partner at one of the largest and oldest law firms in Portugal last year, its siloed culture reflected its previous history as several separate businesses brought together over the years.
Mr Ferreira has since overhauled practices at PLMJ by: creating greater equality and transparency between partners; updating its process of performance reviews; and improving staff conditions through initiatives such as flexible working.
Another focus is promoting technology and creating an innovation unit that is developing systems to offer to clients or to use within the
Mr Ferreira set up a practice area focused on environmental, social and corporate governance policy, which has supported the development of the first social impact fund in Portugal, Mustard Seed MAZE Social Entrepreneurship Fund, building on the firm’s record of pro bono work.
Senior partner, Pinsent Masons
Since his election as senior partner in 2014, Richard Foley has invested heavily in IT to streamline business processes and allow for more agile and remote working among staff.
Fortuitously, this approach has enabled a smooth transition in the switch to homeworking that was required by this year’s coronavirus lockdown.
He has encouraged the development of a more open culture and backed wellbeing programmes to protect mental health among staff — again, a strategy that has helped employees cope with the crisis. Mr Foley also rolled out a “Together Plan” in response to the economic shock created by Covid-19. This has involved reduced working hours and salaries to protect job security at Pinsent Masons, which was supported by 98 per cent of people across the firm.
The firm has also committed to promoting a minimum of 10 per cent of its leading staff from non-legal backgrounds to partner status, reflecting the contribution other professionals make to the business.
Managing partner, Kennedys
Suzanne Liversidge was appointed Kennedys’ first global managing partner last year after a decade as partner at the firm.
She has overseen the development of Kennedys IQ, a service launched in February, which aims to provide technology services to clients that minimise the billable hours charged to clients for routine work.
The firm has also launched an ideas hub to encourage new technology projects, eight of which are now under development at the firm.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, Ms Liversidge says the first priority has been to provide job security for colleagues — the firm chose not to furlough staff or cut pay. Despite the crisis, the firm launched its new office in San Francisco in June, and in July announced a collaboration with Canadian law firm Dolden Wallace Folick.
Ms Liversidge leads the firm’s Women in Insurance network and is a member of LGBT+ network, Link.
Managing partner, NautaDutilh
For the past three years, Petra Zijp has led several initiatives that have considerably enhanced collaboration at NautaDutilh, the international law firm focused on the Benelux region.
To encourage more collaboration, she expanded the firm’s talent development programme to improve the training of lawyers and other professionals in “soft” as well as professional skills.
Her campaign to break down barriers between lawyers and other professionals has seen several lawyers take on leading roles in business development and IT.
Ms Zijp has also established a board of 16 young professionals from across the firm who consult with the management board on how the business’s strategic approach is backed by younger staff.
Ms Zijp has expanded the firm’s corporate social and responsibility remit and launched a new practice area that specialises in environmental, social and governance work.
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