Tim Haney, Canada Chief Executive Officer of Dentons, on his leadership style at a global law firm

Haney was recognized as Managing Partner of The Year at the 2023 Canadian Law Awards

Tim Haney, Canada Chief Executive Officer of Dentons, on his leadership style at a global law firm

Tim Haney is Canada Chief Executive Officer of Dentons. For our CL Talk podcast, we spoke to Haney about his transition to leadership, his firm’s strategic plan, cross-functional teams, mental health, diversity, inclusion, and meeting clients.

Haney won the Managing Partner of The Year award at the 2023 Canadian Law Awards. Nominations close on Feb. 2 for the 2024 awards.

Listen to our full podcast episode here:

You can also find this episode on our CL Talk podcast homepage with links to follow CL Talk in all the major podcast providers.

Below is an edited summary of the conversation.

Tell me about your practice before you took on a leadership role at your firm.

I started a Dentons well over a decade ago. I was a securities, corporate finance, and M&A lawyer. I evolved into several leadership roles, leading the national management committee and chairing the firm's audit committee. I was the managing partner of the Calgary office before I took on the national CEO role.

You no longer practice – tell me about the transition.

I was always drawn to leadership roles. I enjoy thinking through the complexities of developing and implementing strategy. That led me down the path toward leadership. I also enjoy engaging with our incredible team at Dentons. We have several initiatives that give back to communities and make a positive impact. That was a real drive and something I embraced early in my leadership journey. Of course, I've always enjoyed working with clients, fostering those relationships, providing value, and helping them navigate the intricacies of an increasingly complex legal, regulatory, and business environment.

Tell me about Dentons’ presence in Canada.

We're a full-service Canadian law firm that is part of a large if not the largest, global firm. We have offices in Canada’s major business centres, including Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Toronto, Montreal, and Ottawa. These fully integrated offices focus on complex cross-border litigation, corporate M&A, private equity, banking and finance.

Tell me a bit about your firm's platform.

Our new five-year strategic plan drives the strategy. In February 2023, I visited our six offices and launched this strategy. It is focused on profitable growth as we continue to find ways to enhance client service. What is unique to Dentons is our deep local roots in all the business communities across the country, our global platform, and how we leverage it. It differentiates us from our competitors in that it allows us to grow with our clients from Canada and around the world and serve them effectively.

As a leader, you have said you like to focus on where the legal profession is headed and not just where it has been. What does that mean?

We are seeing increasing geopolitical and economic complexity and uncertainty. This leads clients to look for much more tailored legal and business solutions. That also sets the table for the advent of new technologies.

As a leader, I have been leaning into legal tech, particularly in the last year. I have been learning, investing and considering the impact of new technologies like artificial intelligence. Our firm has been running numerous pilots and programs and hosting internal discussions as we prepare to adapt to this transformative technology. These technologies are also highly beneficial for our clients. They are just as keen on automation and AI as we are, so our interests are aligned.

At Dentons, you have many different professionals at your firm, not just lawyers. How do you do business planning in such a large, complex organization?

It's a challenge if I am being candid. All organizations exist in silos. But early in my leadership tenure, we focussed on cross-functional teams in our formal business planning and processes. We have worked across the firm to transcend practice areas and geography and focus on collaboration and open lines of communication.

This allows people to share diverse perspectives, practices and viewpoints that achieve the best business results for the firm and our clients. Most law firms traditionally separate business professionals and lawyers, but we try to focus on everyone as one team.

You were recently recognized as one of the top 100 employers in Canada. What does that mean to you?

Our entire organization is incredibly proud of that. We have received that recognition for two consecutive years, i.e. 2022 and 2023. This accolade speaks to our ongoing commitment to our people.

Earlier this year, we ran a firm-wide engagement survey, which provides valuable feedback and data from our people about what we're doing well and where we can make improvements. As a leadership team, we're committed to listening, taking that feedback, and making it actionable.

A big part of employee engagement relates to mental health. Tell me about your “Discussions to Disrupt” program.

It aims to de-stigmatize and demystify through open communication about things that aren't often talked about openly, particularly in a conservative profession like legal.

We have leaders and other people who share personal experiences. Mental health affects all organizations, so this program aims to create familiarity and demystify these topics.

It also doesn't have to focus only on mental health. We have leadership participate and create examples of a collaborative, inclusive environment to discuss these topics.

Diversity and inclusion are also big topics. In 2022, you announced the appointment of a director of inclusion, diversity and equity – tell me about that.

At Dentons, we prioritize inclusion, diversity, equity and accessibility. Our commitment to ID&E is driven fundamentally by our belief that people are inherently worthy of respect, safety, encouragement, and support.

We created the new role of the Canada Director of Inclusion, Diversity and Equity. Kim Grange occupies that role and is doing a fantastic job. Most importantly, she spearheaded and led our ID&E strategy, a subset of our overall firm strategy.

It's called “Belonging at Dentons.” The strategy is a vision to truly embrace the power of different experiences and backgrounds to create a vibrant, connected community where we can best serve our people and clients. Under Kim's leadership, it's been an enormous success and well-received at the firm and with our clients.

When you started in the CEO role, you made a concerted effort to meet with many clients. How is that going?

Our client experience is critical in the legal profession. To achieve exceptional client experience, you need to listen to your clients. We conducted an independent and in-depth client listening survey to gather feedback from our clients; we enhanced this process again this year.

We must be responsive to client needs. This gives us a robust amount of data and feedback that we can use. I also met personally with 60 clients last year, and I'd like to enhance that number materially this year.

Last year, you were recognized as Managing Partner of the Year at the Canadian Law Awards. What did that recognition mean to you?

I was grateful, but I was only up for that award because of the phenomenal team at Dentons. It's an individual award, but the calibre of my team drives it. I encourage leaders across the country to look into it and invest in it because it's a real accolade, but it's a proxy for the people around you.

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