How remote working is shaping the future of our firm
Extensive remote working has prompted us to evolve traditional working habits, develop new styles of leadership and cultivate a new sense of community.
New York Associate Neha Patel and Regional Managing Partner for the Middle East Mohammed Al-Shukairy discuss recent experiences in their regions.
What stands out to you the most in terms of how we’ve had to adapt this year?
Mo: The unwavering commitment of our people to help each other. This was evident throughout our experiences, and I saw leadership in many different guises. Partners ramping up one-to-one engagement to check in on team members and clients. Lawyers showing camaraderie and relentless devotion to clients on transactions that suddenly became significantly more challenging. I also witnessed numerous examples of our business professionals being extremely creative to ensure business could continue come what may. The exchange of ideas and collaboration was hugely valuable.
Neha: We felt these efforts at all levels of the firm as teams went out of their way to make the transitions feel as comfortable and seamless as they could. The IT team’s leadership was at the forefront of this, but many partners and associates came up with ways to deepen our sense of community and camaraderie. Whether through personal check-ins, weekly calls to share news on work or social events with teams, we feel more connected with each other than ever before, which is a very positive outcome.
A lot of the recent challenges our teams have faced are entirely new. How have we been able to navigate these?
Mo: In many ways, through open debate and humanising the experience. While we were finding our feet early on, we focused on policy and procedures, and rightly so. As things evolved, we quickly turned to sharing personal experiences during regular team calls and ensuring transparency around what was working well and what was not. Accepting sometimes that there may not be a perfect solution and engaging in meaningful dialogue and being more adaptable was key.
Neha: This is also important because not everyone’s situation at home is the same. Parents who have children at home or others who have faced emotional and even physical challenges as a result of the coronavirus found the adjustments harder than others. Many working groups have been set up and wellness programmes increased to help those in different situations feel supported. Our leadership has been very open to what we could do better. In my opinion, this is really setting Clifford Chance apart from other firms.
How have we worked to ensure the needs of our people are being met from a personal development perspective also?
Neha: Training has been a real priority. Partners and senior associates have taken this time to connect with junior associates every week to study different substantive and legal topics and answer any questions we may have. While we’ve always offered this type of training, we may not have prioritised it in the same way before. It’s been hugely beneficial to my growth as a junior associate, so I’d like to see it continue.
Mo: As it should, of course. It is imperative for us as firm to continue to find effective ways to deliver and receive professional training for the benefit of our teams and clients. Our global Academy has done a great job of ensuring training opportunities scale up both online and through virtual group meetings, so that our people have a chance to share knowhow and stay on top of latest developments and learnings.
Mo, your region has been trialling a ‘balanced contribution’ model, which removes utilisation from its assessment of lawyer contribution and performance. How important do you feel this is now?
Mo: Our balanced contribution approach remains important and if anything gains additional urgency in light of the “new normal”. Looking beyond billable hours to a more holistic understanding of our people’s contributions is not entirely new for us as a firm, but we formalised the approach in the region in the context of our bonus criteria for lawyers, to adhere to a more qualitative and broad based assessment of how our lawyers are doing when it comes to delivering legal advice, developing client relationships, playing a part in the firm achieving its strategy and thought leadership. This is critical to how we continue to develop as a business. Certainly our experiences this year have emphasised the need for versatility, listening even more intently to our clients and finding ways to deliver greater value.
Our people also thrive on being empowered to contribute to community matters and use their talents more broadly in the knowledge that it will be celebrated and recognised including through compensation and career progression. Our associates’ involvement in broader initiatives has increased, our financial performance in the region improved and, crucially, feedback from our lawyers and clients is overwhelmingly positive.
Neha: It’s a great model because the entire notion speaks to work-life balance. Being solely focused on utilisation creates a competitive environment where people feel pressure to increase their billable hours, instead of thinking of how they could maximise the efficiency and efficacy of our work product, as well as their own skills and experience. The Americas offices are also already taking a more holistic view, for example, counting a certain proportion of pro bono hours as billable hours. I think adopting this model more broadly would be a very positive step for our firm.
As we look ahead, how do you think our learnings from this year will shape our future?
Mo: We gained greater focus on the things that matter the most to our people and to our clients. I hope that looking back people will say that Clifford Chance showed leadership, genuine care for our people, a ‘can do’ attitude, resilience and, importantly, humility.
There is a real desire to learn and to adjust. I believe this will continue to translate across everything we do; from developing our individual skills and approach, to delivering an unparalleled client service, regardless of where we work from. I also believe we’ve developed greater momentum in our efforts to nurture truly diverse and adaptable teams, so we can hopefully thrive as a responsible business in the years to come.
Neha: Yes, our experiences have definitely pushed us towards being more open to new ideas. We’re listening in a meaningful manner and having genuine conversations rather than going through the motions. We’ve seen this in our interaction with clients too; there’s a more personal touch which we may not have managed as well in normal circumstances. This needs to be a continuous effort, so our learnings stay with us for the long-term and help us set a new standard for our industry.
2020 Responsible Business Report
As we try to build a better, more sustainable future, it is the fundamental principles of the law that guide us, as a responsible business: equality and fairness, access to justice, effective regulation and government, and the promotion and protection of human rights.
Our 2020 report demonstrates our commitment to sustainable growth and how it has endured and been strengthened during a period of uncertainty and change.