Georgina Smith on staff retention as a "constantly moving target" and meeting Antarctica's penguins
Since making partner at Holland Beckett in April, Georgina Smith has jumped headfirst into the role. The transactional property specialist has taken to wearing a number of hats at the firm, including that of AML compliance officer.
Smith commenced with the firm in 2014, and she has watched the team grow significantly over the years. And as restrictions ease into the “new normal” post-COVID and borders reopen, she sees keeping staff on board and wanting to return to New Zealand as an important challenge for the legal profession.
In this interview, Smith talks not giving up on one’s goals and “making big things happen,” the outpouring of support she received on her promotion, and wanting to meet Antarctica’s local penguins while in a boat full of strangers.
What is going on at the firm? Are there any new programs and initiatives that you’re particularly interested in?
Being in the transactional property space, AML compliance is very much front of mind for me. I have recently stepped into Holland Beckett Law’s AML compliance officer role. I have enjoyed bolstering my existing AML knowledge with a tonne of background reading to ensure that we continue to meet on-going compliance in this area. It is, as the saying goes, an excellent opportunity to really “know your client.”
Holland Beckett Law’s headcount has grown hugely during the time I have been here. We currently have 60 lawyers, and nearly 140 total staff. I contribute a significant amount of this growth to our focus on our firm’s culture. The practice of law can be difficult, and stressful at times, so it is critical that we can rely on each other to achieve our goals and provide excellent service to our clients.
I have enjoyed building a team in the property and development space, where we work together to get the required results for our clients, but we also ensure we take the time to celebrate the wins with regular social events within our team, and with the wider firm. I am grateful to get to play a part in creating an environment where people want to be involved and continue to make Holland Beckett Law an exceptional place to work.
What tech-related initiatives adopted by the firm, if any, are you most excited about?
We have grabbed flexible working “by the scruff” and ensured that all our staff have the ability to work whenever, from wherever. Full credit to our IT team – to name only a couple of achievements here: our servers are fully migrated to the cloud and we are now a more mobile and resilient workforce who can move and adapt to ever-evolving circumstances. Staff are provided with mobile phones, WFH equipment and related services to ensure smooth transition between office and home environments.
What has been your proudest accomplishment in the last year or so? What advice can you give fellow lawyers about it?
Becoming a partner in one of the Bay of Plenty’s largest law firms. One of the best things to come out that process was the outpouring of support that I received, both internally and externally. People were genuinely excited to hear this news. I had emails and phone calls from a range of people, some whom I had not heard from for a while but who took the time to pick up the phone and have a chat – thank you to those people.
So the advice is not to give up on your goals. Sometimes things may feel too hard or the hurdles too high, but the feeling of achievement once you get there, and the opportunity to celebrate your successes with the people you care about definitely makes all the hard work worth it. I challenge you to put pen to paper and create some goals for yourself, and focus your attention on making big things happen.
What should the profession focus more on?
People. In a world where lots of things are being automated, we need to ensure we look after our people to preserve those critical thinking and judgement skills that cannot be automated. We need to be aware of both our staff and our clients well-being, but this is not a “one-size-fits-all” concept. What works for one does not necessarily work for everyone. This means that we must have good open channels of communication to ensure that our staff and clients know how to convey what they need in order to get the required results for all involved.
What are the challenges you expect in your practice, and in the business of law in general, going forward? What challenges are particularly pressing in the country’s legal industry?
Staff retention. With the borders opening up, we face the possibility that “the Big OE” once again becomes a rite of passage for people. I did it, on more than one occasion and to more than one continent – the pull of seeing how other people live was too great, I had to immerse myself in it completely. Holland Beckett Law is supportive of our staff taking this step, whilst also recognising that they are our greatest asset and there is value in putting good structures in place to ensure they return to us.
Retaining and growing staff is our number one priority. We achieve this in a number of ways: as part of our graduate package we offer cash bonuses after three and five years, or options for extended paid leave to travel. We also make it a priority to review our salaries every year. We offer access to a wide range of internal and external CPD options, as well as flexible working arrangements, social and sporting events (COVID-19 permitting!), wellness package, community service days, dress for your day, yoga classes, EAP and study benefits.
Staff retention is not a new concept for Holland Beckett Law, and we acknowledge that it is a constantly moving target where societal changes and different generations mean you have to be engaged and listening to what is attractive to the legal workforce, to ensure we keep the best and brightest at Holland Beckett Law.
What are you looking forward to the most in the coming year?
The challenges and opportunities that being a new partner in a law firm brings. Already I have had to shift my thinking from being an employee to being an integral part of the business operations. I’m looking forward to offering my perspective and opinion into the mix.
If there were no barriers, where would you travel to and why?
Antarctica. My track record suggests that I’m always on the hunt for a non-traditional adventure. As much as there is absolutely a time and place to lie beside the pool in Waikiki, I’m not afraid to put on my puffer jacket and my running shoes and venture into lesser-known pastures – so bobbing across the Drake Passage in a boat full of strangers to investigate a giant ice mass and meet the local penguins is right up my alley.