ALB: You have announced that you expect Freshfields to evolve. Can you tell us a little about what this evolu-tion will look like?
DAWSON: It is vital that Freshfields is an organisation where people want to work, and where they feel they can reach their full potential. I think there are three key elements to achieving this: Inclusiveness – creating a workplace where our people feel they belong; engagement – ensuring our people feel there is a good dialogue across the organisation on how we can continuously improve; and empowerment – giving people the tools, the know-how and the confidence they need to achieve their full potential. Combining these elements to create a common purpose and a shared value system for all our people is something that the new leadership team will be focused on in the coming years.
ALB: The pandemic has led to changes in Freshfields’ working culture, such as flexibility in some offices. I’m curious to know if there are any other COVID-influenced changes we might see in the business going forward?
DAWSON: COVID-19 brought about an expedited need for agility and meant that we had to adapt to working virtu-ally practically overnight. It was the first time in the firm’s 277-year history when almost all our people worked remotely. I was hugely impressed by how well our IT colleagues managed that transformation, and also how our people adjusted and embraced collaboration tools on an unprecedented scale.
An illustration of this was the 14-billion-pound ($18 billion) Mastercard litigation in the UK, which was run entirely by remote teams and culminated in a virtual hearing in the UK Supreme Court. We are doing what we can to maintain face-to-face interaction internally and with clients, albeit over Microsoft Teams and similar platforms, and moving forward that looks set to continue. Focusing on attracting and retaining talent post-COVID will also be important. It is clear that there are new skills, viewpoints and backgrounds that are going to be beneficial to advance the legal profession in the years ahead, and we will be looking closely at how we bring together teams, marshal our knowledge and resources and deliver end-to-end solutions to clients.
ALB: You’ve been recognised for your work around diversity and inclusion. What are some of the initiatives in place at Freshfields, and what is the secret to creating a firm culture that supports this?
DAWSON: Freshfields is a people business and our people expect to be treated with respect, consideration and cour-tesy. One of our key strengths as a global organisation lies in our diverse perspectives and ideas. We must lead by example, working as a team, supporting one another and giving credit where it is due. These and other principles are set out in a framework known as “Being Freshfields” that guides our standards of behaviour to build the organisation that we all want. We encourage honest feedback and provide a safe space to speak up if someone fails to observe these principles. We empower our people through various employee networks (for women, black and minority ethnic colleagues, those with disabilities, LGBT+ and others) to provide constructive feedback and ideas. We nurture our diverse talent through sponsorship and mentoring. This year, we piloted a reverse mentoring programme which I was pleased to take part in. My mentor and I freely exchanged ideas and I found it particularly useful, for example, to learn whether our efforts to support colleagues during the current pandemic had been effective and how we might improve. We also attach importance to allies who are not part of any minority group – we believe they play a key role in championing inclusion for diverse colleagues. We frequently pool efforts and ideas with clients, which leads to thoughtful discussions about both internal engagement and support, and also how we can work together in our communities to lead change for the better.
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