Paul Christopher, who is the Hong Kong managing partner of offshore firm Mourant, joined the firm in 1999. Christopher also leads the corporate and investment funds team in Asia. He regularly advises on corporate matters including investment funds, mergers and acquisitions, joint ventures and the restructuring of companies and structures.
ALB: Tell us about your role. What does the average day look like for you?
Christopher: I am managing partner of our Hong Kong office, and also the local practice group head for our corporate and funds team. This means I wear a few hats – I'm involved in running the office on a day to day basis, I manage an excellent group of fee earners and business services staff in the corporate and funds team. The roles are strategic as well as also very hands on and practical.
A typical day for me involves waking up early and taking my dog for a walk. I live in Stanley and appreciate getting in the fresh air to exercise and think through the day ahead, but also take some time for myself. As we deal with the Cayman Islands and BVI it's important I'm online as early as possible to pick up any urgent emails they've sent over at the end of their day.
During the course of the week, there will be a limited number of internal team meetings, a majority of which is spent with clients and typically involves coffee somewhere near the Landmark where our office is located, or lunch in Central if face to face meetings are permissible. However, Zoom calls and webinars are now part of all of our daily lives. Developing business for the office as a whole and supporting my fellow partners (and staff generally) is an area in which I invest a lot of my time.
Our working environment has changed significantly since COVID-19. Ensuring our employees are safe and well, and have the tools they need to do their jobs has never been more important. This side of the role has been at the forefront of this year. It is vital that we adapt to the business environment and our clients' changing needs.
I value the importance of fitness, both mentally and physically and ensure I fit in a workout a few times a week. During the rugby season, I will have training in my calendar, whether I make it or not depends a bit on my day. Once I'm home, I occasionally have calls with our offices in the Caribbean and Channel Islands; however, I make it a priority to spend time with my wife and two teenage children.
ALB: What have been some of your highlights from your time in charge? And what are some leadership lessons you have learnt?
Christopher: I arrived in Hong Kong almost ten years ago to set up the Mourant office in Asia. It was a greenfield site and my role was to build a team and be the Mourant "DNA" having worked for the firm for several years before that. The office has grown from just me to an office of almost 50 people. I'm incredibly proud of the work we have done and continue to do, and I could not be more proud of the amazing team we have and of course our clients.
In terms of leadership lessons, being open-minded and giving people opportunities is important to me. This has led to a diverse team and we are proud of our 60 percent ratio of female to male partners in Hong Kong. We have a fantastic entrepreneurial spirit at Mourant, and this is something we try and encourage in all our people. It's important everyone has a voice and the autonomy to operate, which I think really makes our team members feel part of the firm and valued.
By having a vision and explaining this to each of our people from the outset we aspire to be a credible and authentic office –we hope this sets us apart from our competitors.
ALB: How would you describe your strategy for the office?
Christopher: Our strategy for the office, from the outset, has been to establish ourselves as one of the leading offshore firms in Asia. People are the lifeblood of any organisation and in the early days, our focus was on (and continues to be) recruitment and attracting talented and motivated lawyers and people who have a genuine interest in growing a business. This is not an opportunity offered at every law firm, but is very appealing to those who understood the opportunity and we wanted to attract those who wanted to be a part of that.
In terms of my work and clients, my background was in corporate work and investment funds particularly in private equity and private equity real estate sectors which was also the original focus for our work in the early days and we are known for our work in those areas. Whilst this still remains the case today the office is regarded as having probably one of, if not the, strongest banking and finance teams in the region, as well as a very high-quality restructuring and litigation offering. We are globally one of the largest offshore litigation practices.
ALB: What are some of the big challenges the firm has been facing in the past few months, and how are you looking to tackle them?
Christopher: Like most firms, adapting to this new COVID-19 era has been an unexpected challenge, but I'm pleased at how quickly and seamlessly we have adapted. We are concerned that mental health issues may start to surface in a prolonged challenging environment and are keen to try and get ahead of it and support that.
Like many firms, adopting agile working hours and empowering our people to work when and how they choose has raised some questions for us on the future of our working habits and office space requirements. With our lease ending next year, it is quite a challenge to determine what future working may look like whilst weighing in considerations such as the future shape of the team.
ALB: How important is law firm culture, according to you? What kind of internal culture are you looking to foster?
Christopher: At Mourant, we understand that our people are fundamental to our success and to achieving our shared ambition. Being ambitious for our clients and our people is part of our culture. Our aim is to do the best work, for the best clients.
We have a “one-firm” culture across our offices, a clear vision and strategy and a strong sense of common purpose. We believe that nurturing a culture of inclusivity and mutual respect is the right environment for our colleagues to meet their full potential. We want to create an environment where people can thrive.
ALB: Where would you like to see the firm five years from now?
Christopher: I see the office continuing to have a strong presence in Hong Kong and attracting the best clients and perhaps with other offices in the Asia region. My wish is for the team to continue enjoying what they are doing whilst delivering high quality, interesting work for great clients.
ALB Conversations is a weekly series of in-depth Q&As with leaders of law firms and in-house legal departments across Asia. If you are a managing partner or general counsel based in the region who is interested in being a part of this series, please send an email to email@example.com.