'Young lawyers want their voices heard now' - Norton Rose Fulbright's new chair on learning from millennials

“Our millennials and young associates will be our future leaders - we can only benefit as a firm from seeking their views of what the firm of the future might look like,” says Norton Rose Fulbright’s new global chair Tricia Hobson.

This January, Hobson will succeed London banking partner Stephen Parish and become the first woman to hold the leadership role at the firm.

She is currently handling Australia’s largest-ever class action, and having previously advised on the second and third largest, it is fair to say she has experience on her side.

But, despite her many years as a partner, Hobson intends to draw on the firm’s younger lawyers for inspiration.

“Millennials and younger lawyers are more focused on experience. They look at the world of law very differently, because they see the rapid pace of change and disruption that is occurring,” she says. “Their drivers are different; they want a workplace that they are proud to be a part of – and that feeds into our approach to corporate social responsibility.

“Their timeline for how they look at their career is also much shorter than in the old days, and so we have to adapt to make sure that we keep our talent engaged and on track to join the partnership. I think that law has historically been a little hierarchical in terms of committees and up into senior management. Young partners and lawyers want their voices heard now, so we have to make sure that we are providing them with the best platform for that.”

With technology also top of the agenda for the modern law firm, Hobson is also planning to tap into the more progressive attitudes of the new generation. “They are so savvy in terms of technology, and do not see it as disruptive as some of the older partners,” she adds.

Unlike her predecessors in the global chair role, who Hobson adds “tended to be in a different phase in their careers”, she still has an active practice and client base in Australia, which she says she has been introducing younger partners into as part of her leadership transition.

We are the first firm in Australia with over 100 partners to have more than 30% female partners

She has been a partner with the firm for ten years, joining legacy firm Deacons in 2007 prior to its 2010 merger with Norton Rose, and as well as her extensive class action experience, has acted on a string of high-profile insurance disputes.

“I have a very large practice here in Australia, and although I will keep practising, I will aim to spend about 25% of the time on that and 75% on the global chair role. This transition has required getting some of the younger partners more involved in my practice and with my clients, which is great for them at this stage in their careers.”

As well as co-heading the firm’s national cyber insurance incident response practice and leading the Australia and Asia-Pacific insurance practice, she is also the firm’s executive sponsor for LGBTI inclusion, and as global chair, intends to push the firm to improve its gender diversity.

“After our combination with Henry Davis York in June, we are the first firm in Australia with over 100 partners to have more than 30% female partners, which is a fantastic result,” she says, “However, female partnership percentages across the industry are a fair bit lower than that, and it has historically been hard to break that 30% barrier.

“This role offers a great opportunity to be a role model to up-and-coming female associates and partners in the firm, but I also want to look at how we can take more practical steps to improve female career progression.”

On the greatest challenge facing the firm, she says, is that having rapidly built a complex, international business via a series of mergers, it is imperative to move forward as a unified firm, rather than as distinct and distant parts.

“When you have an international firm, made up of a number of complex parts, it is really important - and also difficult - to ensure that you are driving that international platform in the right direction and making sure all of our global teams are collaborating. An important part of my role will be helping with cross-border collaboration.”

The biggest personal challenge facing her, she says, is “to make the most of the 12 months I’ve got - I am already feeling ambitious about what I want to achieve.”

Photo credit: Ryan Stuart / Fairfax Syndication