Improved global collaboration, strategic C-suite management, increased diversity and inclusion—they’re the type of goals any leader of an international firm would hope to advance.
Andrew Robinson, global chairman at Am Law 50 firm Norton Rose Fulbright, says he is taking a different approach to these critical issues within the industry.
Robinson, a partner in South Africa whose practice is focused on transport law, started his one-year term as global chairman on Jan. 1. He said those three items are among his broad goals for the firm, but he knows he will have to pivot toward other pressing issues that emerge less expectedly.
One already taking his attention is the spread of the coronavirus, which he said has caused business problems for some of the global firm’s clients. Additionally, he said, because of the virus, lawyers from some far-flung offices will not travel to the firm’s “Summit” partners meeting later this week in Austin.
Connecting the Dots Globally
Robinson, who is also South Africa chairman, was in Houston on Tuesday and said he plans to visit many of the firm’s offices during 2020. His new prominent position within the firm is yet another example of how much it has changed over the years; he joined Norton Rose in 2011, when it merged with South African firm Deneys Reitz.
At the firm’s partner meeting in Austin, Robinson said he wants to drill down on moving away from the “my client, my practice” mindset to one that views the 55-office firm more globally.
It’s a client-demanded shift, he said, noting that they are asking for “seamless” service.
Robinson said it should not be a difficult change because technology makes it easy to introduce a client to a global team. And it’s essential because the firm does so much cross-border litigation and mergers and acquisitions, he noted.
Still, he doesn’t plan to use heavy-handed tactics to urge partners to cooperate. Instead, he will “repeat the mantra,” and describe successful examples of cross-office cooperation, he said. For instance, he worked on a lawsuit in South Africa stemming from a shipping incident off the coast. He pulled in lawyers from London, Amsterdam, Greece, Singapore, Hong Kong, Beijing and Houston to work on the matter.
Choosing a Chief Executive
Global Chief Executive Peter Martyr is planning to leave his management position by the end of 2020 when his sixth three-year term ends, and Robinson hopes to have a successor in place by September, following completion of the selection process that will lead to four or five candidates and a global partnership vote. While the firm will likely choose another partner to replace London-based Martyr, Robinson said he is open to considering a wide range of candidates, including management professionals.
“There’s no question you have to be open to the notion your CEO doesn’t have to be a partner in the firm—or even a lawyer,” Robinson said, noting that the search is in the early stages.
Under Martyr’s tenure, which began in 2002, the firm underwent a global transformation, including Norton Rose’s 2013 merger with Houston-based Fulbright & Jaworski, creating Norton Rose Fulbright. The firm also expanded through combinations in Australia, Canada, South Africa and Latin America.
Turning to Real Diversity Experts
Robinson said he wants to ensure that women and minorities have opportunities to get more work and understand what they need to do to make partner. The firm has a structural path to partnership in place, but his ideas go beyond a checklist implemented from the top.
Instead, he plans to turn to those who know the issues personally. His goal is for each office to hold a “conversation,” where successful women and minority lawyers and clients talk with associates about their own career paths. It’s the “How do I get there?” advice, he said.
“We just want to make sure everybody has the opportunity [by] reducing the hurdles,” he said.