What do you do?
I’m the director of people at Cornwall Stodart law firm in Melbourne, working in a team of four in our HR department. I’m basically the day-to-day contact for everything HR related, reporting into the executive team and our partners. A regular day throws up a host of HR issues: we look after graduate lawyers and trainees, handle recruitment needs and work on strategy. We’re currently mapping out the next three years of recruitment and learning and development.
What inspired the move from law to HR?
For me, it’s always been about people; that’s my passion. During my eight years as a practising lawyer, I realised that the industry faces a lot of difficulties, such as balancing the competing demands of key stakeholders and clients, plus the added pressure of billing requirements, where literally every minute of your day counts – and is counted. I wanted to use my personal experience with these issues to help other lawyers. I undertook my HR certificate at AHRI while I was still practising law at Cornwall Stodart, and this role came up just as I was completing my final subject, so it was a smooth transition from one position to the next.
How has your law experience shaped your work as director of people?
It’s been invaluable. In the past, I’ve seen other HR practitioners in law firms struggle to get their heads around the structures and stakeholders. I can draw on my experiences, which means I can identify with the pressures and the stresses and provide valuable input. This is especially true in terms of strategy, as I know what my own needs have been with regards to learning and development.
What is the biggest challenge you face in your role?
It’s difficult to balance your priorities as a HR practitioner. First and foremost, you have to uphold your responsibilities towards the company, but you also want to protect the interests of the people. At the end of the day, they are the firm’s biggest assets. There’s no way you can please everyone all the time, so that compromise can be quite difficult.
How does the role of a HR practitioner in a law firm differ to other industries?
Every single HR practitioner needs to ensure they’re assessing risks to the business, so that doesn’t necessarily change, but in the legal and financial industries, you need to understand the importance of stakeholders and partners. My position personally is an interesting one as I’m still involved in the marketing and business development side of things. As a lawyer, you’re taught from a young age that creating networks and building relationships is paramount, and that’s something I’ve been able to continue in my new role.