DLA Piper partner encourages lawyers to ‘find a way to use your voice’

Tricia Hobson emphasises the importance of hearing and being heard to improve a firm’s culture

DLA Piper partner encourages lawyers to ‘find a way to use your voice’
Tricia Hobson

Tricia Hobson has been a trailblazer throughout her legal career. The big law-trained insurance and class action specialist has not only been involved with landmark cases such as the class actions related to the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires, but she also made history by serving as the first female chair of the global board at Norton Rose Fulbright in 2018.

In her current role with DLA Piper, Hobson will be operating from both Sydney and London to bridge the gap between both markets as a partner in the firm’s global insurance and class action practice. Despite her busy schedule, however, Hobson has made it a priority to effectively parent her twin sons, particularly during COVID-19.

In this interview, Hobson talks the importance of a strong firm culture, listening to the stories of colleagues at all levels and seeking out reverse mentorship to better understand the challenges of talent and technology.

What made you choose a career in law, and what’s your favourite part of the job?

Coming out of school, I chose to study both science and law – science because I was good at it and law because I was intrigued and we’d never had a lawyer in the family, with my parents both being public school teachers. Back then, this was seen as a very strange combination, but at the end of the day both are about problem-solving. When faced with choosing, I thought I would give law a go – so no profound initial reason!

But once I began practising, I knew immediately it was the career for me. Not only did I get to problem solve every day, but I realised very quickly that I would also get to build and enjoy incredible relationships with people from all walks of life. And these people would count on me to do a great job. This concept of lawyers being trusted advisors is widely talked about now, but it wasn’t back then, yet it was the thing that really grabbed me right from the start and has fuelled me ever since.

What is the most memorable case you’ve taken on/been involved in?

There are so many great cases I’ve had the privilege of being involved in, but the one I think stands out, for many reasons, was acting to defend the Victorian government when it was sued in relation to the tragic 2009 Black Saturday bushfires. Over 130 people lost their lives in those fires, and the class actions which followed were the first truly mega natural catastrophe class actions in Australia. I defended the volunteer fire fighters, the men and women of the police force and also the department responsible for managing the rural lands of Victoria. I felt a great sense of responsibility in defending these brave men and women but also in making sure I did so in a way sympathetic to the loss and suffering of so many Victorians.

I was privileged to lead a large and incredible team of partners, solicitors and barristers, and we all bonded together to get the very best result for our clients. It was one of those hallmark career cases where you learn so many lessons, forge friendships and not just become a better lawyer, but also a better leader.

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

I am new to the firm and so still learning about all it has to offer, like it’s strong “Client Care” initiative, which I’m looking forward to getting involved in, and its global investment in technology. But I can share with confidence the initiatives that attracted me to join the firm: importantly, the firm’s dedication to global sectors, insurance being one of 10. Coupled with its truly global platform, one which will allow me (eventually) to move seamlessly between Sydney and London, this supports a global insurance practice in a way that I don’t think any firm can match.

The other initiative that told me so much about the culture of the firm was its recent “values” campaign. The firm listened extensively to what was important to its people and used what was learnt to guide the refresh of their values: Be supportive, be exceptional, be bold, be collaborative. It was patently clear to me through my many meetings, from the most senior leadership to the local insurance partners, that everyone in the firm is proud of these values and aspire to live and breathe them every day. I found this so inspiring!

What has been your proudest accomplishment in the last year or so? What’s the biggest lesson you learned in the past year and what advice can you give fellow lawyers about it?

Getting my twin sons successfully through their HSC year during COVID-19! My advice to parent lawyers: never miss the special moments if you can help it. Your career is a long haul, and only by making sure family comes first will you get to a certain age and stage of your career and feel happy and satisfied with both.

I have been privileged to hold some very senior roles in big law and to be the first woman to do so in some cases. I spent a lot of time in offices all around the world with colleagues at all levels listening to their stories. I was able to learn so many lessons and insights which I then shared with the executive to help build a better firm and culture with particular focus on such critical issues like diversity and inclusion, mental health and innovation.

I felt such a sense of responsibility in the fact that my colleagues were prepared to share their stories that I made sure I used the platform I’d been given to give them a voice. I’m proud of them for sharing and i feel pride in the fact they trusted me in doing so. My lesson to pass on to other lawyers: find a way to use your voice. Always be respectful and professional, and find a safe way to do so, but make sure you feel heard. There is almost nothing as debilitating as feeling you have no voice.

What should law firms in the profession focus more on?

I come from a big law perspective – big law has had to become big business, and in some ways I think the pendulum may have swung a little too far in that direction. Our clients are central to all we do and we need to be financially successful, but we remain first and foremost a profession. It’s the fundamentals of that which I think are so important to focus on: living values, taking care of our people, clients and community, putting the whole ahead of self-interest.

Good culture stemming from sustainable, transparent and accountable leadership is critical. It is no secret I am a passionate advocate for diversity and inclusion. And issues like mental health need more light and support – our profession is very demanding and it has a terrible track record with these issues. The generational shift is already upon the profession and the new wave of lawyers want a different way of life and work. I think those firms who truly embrace the fundamentals will be the success stories of the future – clients and financial success will follow. As with any business, rewarding the right behaviours is so important, but in a traditional partnership model, very hard to get right. That’s a hard nut to crack but worth the prize.

What are the challenges you expect in your practice and in the business of law in general going forward? What challenges are particular pressing in the countries legal industry?

In addition to keeping ahead of new and emerging practice areas like energy transition, climate change, tech cyber and privacy, I see talent and technology as the real challenges – but exciting ones. Retaining and attracting talent will require new and less traditional means and skills; moreover, utilising technology for efficiencies and innovation and to drive best overall outcomes for clients will be essential. Our clients are ever more sophisticated in these areas and at times it can be hard for law firms to keep up.

We are also grappling with these issues in the midst of a pandemic, not quite knowing what the world will look like as we emerge from it. We have to adapt and be agile, and the truth is, we have not been a profession historically known for being quick to embrace change! I have always sought out reverse mentorship to help me better understand these challenges and continue to do so today – I recommend it.

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

I am really looking forward to getting to know and work with my new partners and colleagues here at DLA Piper in Australia, in London (where I will also be based travel permitting!) and all around the world. A new firm and so many new people to meet!

I’m looking forward to continuing to do a great job for our clients, helping to build a world leading global insurance and class actions practice, fighting the good fight for diversity and inclusion and finding more ways to give back to the profession and beyond. And spending quality time with my family before my boys truly fly the coop. It’s that stage of my career and life, and I’m inspired and excited.

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