Legal profession needs to address traditional hierarchical power structures, says HFW of counsel

Naraya Lamart is a champion of diversity in various forms—in her work and within the industry

Legal profession needs to address traditional hierarchical power structures, says HFW of counsel
Naraya Lamart

Naraya Lamart is a fan of diversity—whether it’s in the kind of work she takes on every day, or in terms of representation within the legal profession.

While the COVID-19 pandemic has created its share of problems for her practice as an of counsel of shipping at HFW’s Sydney office, she welcomes the positives that have come with it—including the necessary implementation of flexible working arrangements that can help promote gender diversity. For Lamart, the legal profession needs to turn its attention towards breaking down traditional hierarchical power structures and putting forward programs that call for lawyers to treat one another with respect—a step that can bring about better mental health and diversity, among others.

In this interview, Lamart discusses the power of the law, loving a good debate, building a close virtual connection with colleagues and the challenge of running a practice in the COVID-19 environment.

What made you choose a career in law?

I have always enjoyed a good debate! I initially intended to pursue a career in diplomacy/foreign affairs, but quickly realised that the law enables me to engage in debate, albeit largely in written form, on a daily basis. It is a rare case that has a definitive answer and the constant intellectual stimulation certainly keeps me on my toes.

I believe the law and the rule of law empowers people to put forward different perspectives within a framework that can actually bring about meaningful change—whether that comes from running a case on a novel legal point and setting a precedent or by advocating for a policy position which results in legislative reform.

What do you love most about your job?

Working in dispute resolution, I deal with so many different cases and use so many different dispute resolution mechanisms that every day is challenging and stimulating. I love that I could be filing for a ship arrest in the morning, advising on a supply chain issue in the afternoon and appearing in court for a construction dispute the following morning.

One of the most rewarding aspects of the diversity of my practice is that it enables me to better understand the interconnectedness of my clients' businesses and the industries they work in. For example, if I were working on a port development it would be important to understand the contractual framework for the physical construction aspects as well as being alive to, and being able to advise on, the risks associated with shipping in materials from around the world. With the ever present and increasing insolvency risk during and post COVID-19, understanding options for securing a claim, including ship arrest, are also crucial.

What is going on at the firm? Are there any new programs and initiatives that you’re particularly interested in?

The COVID-19 pandemic has presented some challenges for the firm and the legal profession as a whole, as it has for many other industries and businesses. It has also, however, resulted in the firm taking a leap forward in terms of connectedness and making better use of technology. I now feel I have a much closer connection to many of my colleagues in offices around the world with a greater focus on wellness, coordination and transparency. There have been numerous working groups and initiatives pop up across the firm from promoting WFH video competitions to workflow allocation tools which have provided opportunities for staff at every level to participate in, and help promote, firm business.

Of course the WFH arrangements have also served to increase awareness of the utility of flexible working arrangements and will hopefully result in improved working arrangements for parents across the legal industry, which will, in turn, promote gender diversity. As someone who has always had some kind of flexible working arrangement in place, it has been great to see this become more of a norm. 

What’s the biggest lesson you learned in the past year and what advice can you give fellow lawyers about it?

Some recent changes in my team meant that I had to take on the challenge, in the COVID-19 context, of running a practice as special counsel and all that entails. I have learnt to have confidence in my ability to lead a team and find new ways to connect with clients. A big part of that was also learning how to delegate and trusting in the fantastic people within the firm and leveraging their respective abilities at every level. I am proud to be working with some seriously talented people.

What should the profession and law firms focus more on?

Breaking down traditional hierarchical power structures and recognising that every individual within an organisation plays an important role, no matter their position. Law firms have been slow to recognise shortcomings which are partly engrained through their structure and have allowed issues of bullying, harassment and gender inequality to become entrenched. Whilst there has been some progress in the past few decades, there can be no denying that the law, as a profession, has a ways to go.

Addressing the power imbalances and initiating programs which require everyone in the profession to treat every other individual with respect will lead to positive outcomes for mental health, wellness, gender equality, diversity and engagement. I am thankful that HFW has made significant strides in all these areas and is continuing to prioritise these issues.

What has been the biggest challenge you and your practice has faced amid the pandemic?

As COVID-19 continues to spread around the world, there will continue to be knock-on effects on supply chains globally which are likely to, at varying times and with various outcomes, have an impact in Australia. Our logistics clients will clearly be directly affected; however, there will also be more indirect effects on many other clients as so many of them depend upon international trade—from retail to construction to resources companies. It will be interesting to see how supplier insolvencies also feed into supply chain disruptions in the coming months.

What are you looking forward to the most in the coming year?

It will be interesting to see, if there are further waves of COVID-19 around the world, whether governments and the private sector will have learned lessons from the past few months to ensure that international trade continues to flow and what processes can be improved upon to ensure the recovery is as rapid as possible. One thing is certain—there are many challenges ahead for our clients that we look forward to tackling head on!

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