Charles Hurdon, managing partner of Norton Rose Fulbright Canada, on mentoring and industry trends

Hurdon says his firm is focused on the return to the office and has yet to see a slowdown

Charles Hurdon, managing partner of Norton Rose Fulbright Canada, on mentoring and industry trends
Charles Hurdon

Canadian Lawyer recently spoke with Charles Hurdon, managing partner of Norton Rose Fulbright Canada LLP, about his role, recruitment and retention and tips for young lawyers*.

Hurdon is a judge at this year's Lexpert Rising Stars Awards, honouring leading lawyers under 40 from law firms, in-house departments, and other practices. Nominations are open until July 7; winners will be announced on November 23.

Tell me about your practice.

I started as a commercial litigator and found my way into employment and labour law. For the last 15 years, I have practised executive employment law, primarily for financial institutions. The executive piece gave me an insight into broader business issues and helped prepare me for what I'm doing now.

Why did you shift from commercial litigation to labour and employment law?

Another lawyer knocked on my door and asked if I could help with a complicated and serious industrial accident. I did that and ran the trial. That got me more into the workplace space, which I stayed in for the rest of my career.

Tell me how you ended up in a leadership role at Norton Rose Fulbright.

I feel like I came from the mailroom to become the firm’s Canadian managing partner because I didn't aspire to be the managing partner. I have been in this role for nine years now. The year before I was the managing partner, I became the managing partner of the Ottawa office, the smallest Canadian office in the firm. I was also the practice group leader of our employment and labour group for a year.

We were going through an interesting time as a firm. We merged with a significant global player and Macleod Dixon, a very good Calgary law firm. When you merge a firm in the East with a firm in the West, there are challenges. Some partners came to me and said they thought I could help with that. I was in the mix with five other candidates and ultimately ended up in the role.

Our 2017 merger with Bull Housser Tupper LLP completed the Canadian offering. They've strengthened us, and we've strengthened them, so it's been a great fit.

What are your most noteworthy internal initiatives at NRF?

We just rolled out a market-leading parental leave policy, which applies equally to business services and lawyers. It also covers mothers, fathers, and adoptive non-birth-giving parents. So, it's a very broad policy. The reaction from our people has been overwhelmingly positive.

In most law firms, there's a division between lawyer and non-lawyer, and we've worked hard to break that down. We have a head of people responsible for both as opposed to separate strategies on the legal talent and HR business services sides.

Another initiative that we're proud of is our “Progressive Aboriginal Relations” certification. That is intended to demonstrate our commitment to strengthening our relationships with Indigenous communities and answer the specific calls to action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

I would also highlight our career strategies program for Black, Indigenous and People of colour to support career success. Law firms have not been leaders in this; we’re the same. But we're trying to follow the model we introduced with programs to support women in practice.

What major macroeconomic trends are you seeing in your client work?

We've been told so much about the economic uncertainty and the impact of rising interest rates. Intuitively, you would expect that to have impacted certain spots with our clientele and our markets. But really, we have yet to see it. We've had a solid first five months, on pace with 2021, which was extraordinarily successful for firms nationwide.

Other firms have seen a slowdown in M&A – why do you think that hasn’t happened for NRF?

M&A activity has not slowed for us. It's a head-scratcher. We're still prepared for a slowdown and taking steps for when or if it does come. Distressed M&A and restructuring have picked up in some markets.

But some clients continue to be very active in the marketplace. There are fewer deals, but we've had some huge ones that take up many people's time. It certainly hasn't been as sustainably slow as everyone thought.

What are your recent areas of growth or challenges?

The technology sector has been slower, but there hasn't been a material slowdown in any other industry we specialize in.

We have continued to invest in a market-leading white-collar and investigations practice. We are flat-out busy in that space, which probably does tie to some extent to changing market conditions. We have also seen more regulatory enforcement and changes, particularly in the US.

What trends do you predict for your firm in the next 12 months?

Internally, the big topic is the return to the office and finding the right spot in the continuum of work from home and in the office. We have seen Davis Polk on Wall Street announce they want their people back four days a week, Monday to Thursday.

For all firms, that's going to continue to be a challenge. Successful firms will have to find some balance between remote and in-office. I worry about the lost generation of associates who haven't had enough hands-on experience on matters because they have been remote. But there's been a fundamental seismic shift in the mentality on that.

What is NRF doing in recruiting and attracting the best legal talent?

There is a significant focus on mentoring. We are adopting formal and refined mentoring programs. More importantly, in some cases, we have sponsorship programs.

We have a market-leading learning and development program. Our academies are multi-day; they bring associates together from all offices. They teach business development and financial skills.

We're actively pushing our partners to get back into the office so they can be real mentors. It's hard to go out and say to our associates and business services people, “Please come back” when the partners are working remotely.

What is your advice to young lawyers on succeeding in a competitive legal landscape?

Do something that you enjoy. I think we tend to fall into something instead of direct ourselves into something. If you can find a mentor doing something you enjoy, that's more helpful.

When building your network as a young lawyer, don't just get on any board. Get on a board that you're interested in or feel committed to. You're going to be more successful at it.

What has stood out to you before when judging the Lexpert Rising Stars?

It is astonishing to see the level of community involvement of many of these candidates. That is a differentiator for people. If you can be connected in your community, doing things you enjoy and feel good about doing, that will help you in your career.

I've really been impressed by their contributions outside of the workplace.

*Answers have been edited for length and clarity.

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