Jennifer Teskey, the Canadian managing partner at Norton Rose Fulbright, on talent and motivation

Teskey spoke on the CL Talk podcast about her new role and judging the Lexpert Rising Stars

Jennifer Teskey, the Canadian managing partner at Norton Rose Fulbright, on talent and motivation

Jennifer Teskey became the Canadian managing partner at Norton Rose Fulbright at the beginning of 2024.

She is also a judge for the Lexpert Rising Stars Awards, recognizing Canada’s leading lawyers 40 and under. Nominations for the 2024 awards are now open, and the final deadline is July 5.

Teskey spoke on our CL Talk podcast about her new role, focusing on clients and internal talent, advice to young lawyers, and not fitting the traditional mould of law firm leadership.

Listen to our full podcast episode here:

This episode can also be found on our CL Talk podcast homepage, which includes links to follow CL Talk on all the major podcast providers.

Below is a summary of the conversation, edited for length and clarity:

Tell me a bit about your journey from junior lawyer to becoming the Canadian managing partner at Norton Rose Fulbright.

I have grown up at Norton Rose Fulbright through its various iterations over the last 20-plus years. I started as a summer student, articled here and then came back into the firm as a first-year lawyer in our insolvency group. I maintained an insolvency practice for about six months and realized that while I loved the people at the firm, I didn't love what I was doing. It speaks volumes about the firm because they quickly facilitated the change for me from our insolvency practice to commercial litigation. And I have never looked back since.

How does Norton Rose Fulbright maintain its competitive edge, and what role do you see yourself playing as a managing partner?

As managing partner, my role is multifaceted. First and foremost, I ensure that we truly partner with our clients and do not simply treat these relationships as transactional. That means investing in our clients in everything from the latest technologies and innovative practices to pro bono efforts to DEI initiatives.

Secondly, I focus on our talent agenda. Without our people, we lose our competitive edge. We are a people business. Investing in our talent and people, helping them build their profiles, and helping them grow as practitioners so that they have the tools to provide excellent advice is extremely important to me and the entire firm.

I also focus on ensuring we have the right people in various roles and practice groups. We have repeatedly heard from our clients that we need to ensure that our talent pool is diverse and that they want diversity of thought. Having and bringing true diversity of thought to the table makes the strength of our advice that much better.

You are one of the first female managing partners at a national firm in Canada. What strategies or perspectives does that help you bring to your new role?

Many female leaders have come before me in different capacities at different firms. They paved the way for people like me to enter my role.

There is change afoot, albeit slow. We need to bring our whole selves to the workplace to affect further change. As a woman, being a wife, mother, and caregiver to my mother are facets of me that I don't leave at home but bring to the workplace. They affect how my peers and colleagues see me and how we relate. So, getting those nuances is fundamentally essential in any workplace.

At Norton Rose Fulbright, we strongly encourage this approach, which provides another way for people to look at leadership within our firm.

Regarding practice groups and client work, what are your firm’s main priorities in Canada over the next few years?

Partnering with clients means being responsive to their needs. We must ensure that our decisions about investment and growth align with their strategies and needs.

Prime examples are cyber and privacy, which are front and centre and on the radars of all general counsel and boards of directors. The private equity and M&A markets are extremely busy for us and our clients, so we must ensure our growth strategy aligns with our clients.

A fundamental piece of our talent and people strategy is succession planning. As a profession, we have not been strong at considering the long game, what teams look like, and who gets passed the baton. Future-proofing our business, looking at our teams, how they intersect with our clients, and how they reflect our communities, and ensuring that we are bringing diverse teams to the table with our clients is fundamentally important to us.

In the next ten years, we will see change at an exponentially higher pace than we have seen in the previous 20 years of my career. Any management team should be ready to be agile, not only responsive but proactive in ascertaining where we should be looking to make change, pivot, and be flexible. As lawyers, we are often viewed as a conservative bunch and perhaps one that is slow to affect change. If we adapt slowly as a profession, we risk being left in the dust.

Where do you see the significant opportunities or challenges for corporate law firms in general?

The war for talent will only become more aggressive. Positioning yourself as a firm to ensure that you are a place where people are engaged and excited to come to work as an actual collaborative business will be crucial.

In our hybrid environment, it's both a challenge and an opportunity. The firm that gets it right will find a balance between investing in its culture and bringing people together while not being prescriptive for the sake of it.

I think we are entering an incredible period of change. With AI already here, we are finding ways to leverage that technology, enhance the conversation with clients, and accelerate how things are being done.

This is the opportunity to have enriching conversations with clients and all lawyers, including junior lawyers. I rewind 20 years ago, and I think about some of the things that were quite manual that people had to do in the early days of their careers, such as research. I think we have a real opportunity to leverage technology to expedite some of those more mundane tasks and raise the bar around the advice we deliver right out of the gate to our clients.

What advice do you have for lawyers on success, especially those like you who aren't from the traditional background?

I would encourage all to be bold, think big and seize opportunities. That doesn't mean simply taking opportunities crossing your desk or landing in your lap. Make opportunities for yourself. That means being proactive in your career. Don’t be shy about raising your hand to share ideas or challenge conventions around how things are done, saying, “Well, hang on a minute, I'm going to pause and think about why we do it that way. Based on my experience of X or my knowledge of Y, is there a different way to tackle that problem?” That can show your inherent value to the organization.

I would also strongly encourage you to test your boundaries to avoid getting too comfortable in a single lane. I have aimed to push boundaries regularly throughout my career. Whether taking on management roles, client relationship responsibilities, or being active in a committee within a firm, you should get comfortable with being uncomfortable.

Any good firm will have support to allow people to shine as they test their boundaries and take on new challenges.

We spoke with your predecessor, Charles Hurdon, last year, and he talked a lot about mentoring. How do you see that fitting into what you offer young lawyers when they join your firm?

Mentoring is deeply entrenched at Norton Rose Fulbright, both formally and informally.

On the formal side, we make a concerted effort to ensure that formal mentoring relationships are active. It's not just a matter of putting names on a page next to one another as mentors and mentees, but rather ensuring that these are proactive relationships that we can help a lawyer grow.

Informally, lawyers at Norton Rose Fulbright are encouraged to develop relationships internally. Drawing from my experience, those informal and formal mentoring relationships, some of which became sponsorship-type relationships, were critical for my development within the firm.

There is an increased emphasis on continuing the mentorship and sponsorship relationships into the junior and mid-level partnership ranks. Gone are the days of saying, “You've now made your way to partner, and now it's over to you, and you're on your own.” That's not the kind of organization that we want to run. We want to be supportive of all our people. It's in our collective interest to see all of us succeed, so continuing to augment our programs and offerings for our associates and our junior and mid-level partners is also something we're focused on.

Mental health is a big issue in the profession. How do you advise young lawyers about achieving professional success while still maintaining their fundamental happiness and mental health as they move up the ranks?

I encourage everyone, not just junior lawyers, to have those moments of introspection to pause from what you're doing. When you're in a busy work environment, it's easy not to pause, take time for yourself, sit and reflect on how you're doing and feeling, and ask if you feel fulfilled.

This is important because fulfillment looks different for people and is maintained differently. Once you've had that opportunity to reflect and think about what makes you happy and less happy, it is essential to share that. You must actively speak with formal and informal mentors, management, family and friends to share how you want to drive your career.

It is also essential to look at things in chunks. You can't be coming off a busy transaction and immediately have that moment of introspection. Whether it's in six or 12 months, be fair to yourself and look back at your career over a segment of time to make those assessments as opposed to a time when you may act more rashly.

Fulfillment can also come from recognition. How do you see the Lexpert Rising Stars in terms of keeping young lawyers motivated?

It aligns with all our values. Individuals recognized in the Lexpert Rising Stars awards are the future of our profession, so they are critical. To quote the late Brian Mulroney, “We owe it to ourselves to honour excellence and to pursue it relentlessly.”

That couldn't be more appropriate for this award, where individuals who have demonstrated excellence in their firm deserve to be honoured. I couldn't be more thrilled to join the judging panel.

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