A Q&A With Georgia Dawson: "I Am Looking Forward To Calling London Home Again" - Law.com
2/17/21, 6:53 AM
Freshfields' senior partner discusses the firm's progress in the U.S., the conduct committees and what aspects of the firm's culture could change.
February 17, 2021 at 06:53 AM
In 2020, the headlines were everywhere: Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer had elected Georgia Dawson as senior partner, the first ever woman to lead a so-called ‘magic circle’ firm.
What does Dawson want to achieve and what changes does she envisage during her tenure?
Dawson, who was promoted to partner in 2012 and was Asia managing partner from 2017, spoke to Law.com International about her goals for the role, her favourite things to do in London and the firm’s progress in the U.S.
What made you decide to run for senior partner?
I was really enjoying my managerial role as Asia managing partner, so when the opportunity to run for senior partner came up, it was an interesting potential next step. I was also encouraged to run by the fantastic mentors I’ve always had within the firm, who have not only supported me throughout my career, but continued to support me throughout the election process.
What was it about your vision for your firm that you think resonated?
Our vision focused on protecting and preserving what is already great about the firm, while moving to address areas where we can be stronger. We were particularly clear that responsible business should continue to drive our purpose as a firm and remain at the heart of what we do — this includes our pro bono work and commitment to CSR, diversity and inclusion.
What’s your favourite thing to do in London (when lockdown isn’t in place)?
London is a wonderful city, everything from the brilliant museums, theatres and concerts to taking walks in the parks or by the Thames. It will be fun to show my three children who have grown up in Asia the many different things the city has to offer, and I am looking forward to calling it home again.
How has leading remotely been so far?
While there hasn’t been a lot of face-to-face interaction with colleagues, I’ve made good use of virtual channels to speak to many people around the firm. However, I am looking forward to meeting colleagues in person again once restrictions lift.
Our people have really embraced the tools and technology available to them, and for a global organisation it’s certainly a lot more efficient and environmentally friendly to talk to colleagues via video calls than in person. As a firm we’ve recently committed to reducing global travel as part of our environmental commitments, so to a certain extent leading remotely will be part of our future too.
What are some of your goals in the role?
A key focus of mine is diversity and inclusion and continuing to make the firm a place where people feel they belong and can thrive. More immediately, my top priority is our people. It’s a very challenging time for people around the world, and our people need to feel engaged, motivated and supported as they juggle various competing demands on their time, as well as the various restrictions on their lives. We’re very conscious of how people are feeling at the moment, and the fact that the pandemic has impacted them for a long time now.
How are things developing in Silicon Valley?
Really well. We’ve got a fantastic team in Silicon Valley who have been extremely busy since we opened the office in July last year. 2021 looks set to be no different, with many big transactional and litigation matters for Bay Area-based companies.
What goals does the firm have for its U.S. presence?
The firm has a clear ambition in the U.S.. We already have a team of market-leading lawyers across our core areas of corporate/M&A, litigation and anti-trust, bolstered in 2020 with significant hires including Mary Eaton, Julie Elmer and Meghan Rissmiller.
We will continue to build our strength in these practices – most recently demonstrated by our work for AstraZeneca on its acquisition of Alexion (which was 2020’s largest acquisition of a U.S. target and largest acquisition financing). Alan Mason, who has been one of the architects of the firm’s successful strategy in the U.S., will perform his role as managing partner from the U.S., having recently relocated there from Paris.
Looking back on your career, what have been some of your proudest moments?
My career to date has provided so many high points it’s hard to make a selection. Watching colleagues develop, achieve their potential and enjoy their work is extremely rewarding. As is helping a client successfully resolve a challenging dispute or issue facing their company.
My pro bono caseload is probably the most personally rewarding as you can see very clearly the difference our skills as lawyers can make to someone’s life or to successfully supporting the work of a charity or NGO.
How will your London office space change going forward?
Our new space at 100 Bishopsgate was designed with agility and collaboration front of mind, and we’d always planned for there to be less floorspace in Bishopsgate — almost 50% less than in our Fleet Street office. The office move was very focused on sustainability, an issue that we, and our clients, care deeply about. All the furniture and fittings in Bishopsgate have been made using recycled or recyclable materials, and we have worked with Business2Schools, a U.K. charity, to donate thousands of items of furniture, technology and office equipment from the Fleet Street office to over 50 state schools around the U.K..
What advice do you give to your senior associates who want to make partner?
Be client centric in everything you do and constantly looking for ways to improve the delivery of advice to our clients — be it through tech or other solutions.
Look after your teams and role model the “Being Freshfields” principles — the internal framework that guides our standards of behaviour and our expectations of each other. Building strong, supportive, collaborative teams is at the heart of a successful practice.
Make the most of the support available from the firm. From training, mentoring, and coaching – both formal and informal — there are resources at hand to ensure all of our top senior associates feel well prepared for partnership.
Finally, be brave and seize opportunities to develop. Push yourself to try new things, meet new people, improve your skills or knowledge. The worst that can happen is that you learn from your mistakes, which is no bad thing! And you will likely surprise yourself with how far you can take yourself if you just try.
How has the firm’s culture changed in your time at the firm? What else needs to change currently?
Throughout my time at the firm we have continued to increase our focus on wellbeing. In the last few years we’ve trained over 300 mental health first aiders around the firm and developed a large suite of wellbeing materials that anyone in the firm can access at any time from a central hub on our intranet.
The firm has been focused on inclusion for a while now, but this is always improving. We have various inclusion programmes and training programmes in place across the firm, and through these, combined with focus from management around the firm, I am hopeful that we can drive change in our organisation and influence change across the legal profession as well.
Have the conduct and ethics committees made a difference, if so how?
Yes — the committees meet regularly and are active. They play an important role in our overall risk management framework.
How are you looking to tackle diversity?
Diversity is an issue that I deeply care about and a key focus for the entire leadership team. We are currently working on our diversity commitments and I want to ensure our people know that the firm is intent on improvement and willing to be held accountable through ambitious targets.
Will the firm adopt a formal flexible working policy?
The firm has had flexible working policies in place for many years. The pandemic has re-emphasised the importance of flexibility and agility and so we are revisiting our existing approach to ensure it is fit for the future.
We are already piloting interim approaches in some offices to see what works best for our people. For example, our Hong Kong office has had a pilot in place since June 2020, which allows colleagues to agile work as much as they like, following a discussion with their team leaders.
There are certainly benefits to both remote and in-person working, and we recognise the importance to our people of having flexibility during their week. Throughout all the discussions, our focus is on ensuring that we continue to deliver exceptional client service.