Ian Mann took over as Asia managing partner of offshore law firm Harneys just about a year ago. In an interview with ALB, he reflects on the past 12 months, and outlines his plans for the firm.
Asian Legal Business: What were some of the key objectives you laid out for Harneys when taking over as Asia managing partner?
Ian Mann: My key objective has been leadership training – both formal and mentor-driven – at all levels for both our innovative lawyers and our excellent operational staff in equal measure. Leadership training has focused on four pillars of leadership namely: decentralized decision-making, empowering partners in practice group areas, permitting our operational C-suite to flourish, and engendering a culture of ownership over balance sheets. A new C-Suite now manages the operational, IT, BD, marketing, finance, HR, innovation and market-watch divisions of our business without the old-fashioned hierarchy of reporting to lawyers. Importantly, they have vast decision-making responsibilities that affect the firm globally, and we have brought expertise from other industries to enrich our operations. The results have been startling and profound. A new cultural energy has emerged and built our capacity to levels of unprecedented resilience. Law firms often see themselves as markedly different to other businesses since, of course, they are regulated professional bodies. However, there is certainly a lot more to be learned about the success of a law firm from other types of business, rather than other law firms.
ALB: What have been some of the biggest achievements for Harneys in Asia in the past year?
IM: We are immensely proud of the growth of our Shanghai office, which of course has included a focus on providing offshore law advice in a convenient, culturally sensitive and locally adaptive manner. As a brand-new technique for growth enhancement, Harneys for the first time rolled out a strategy to build durable relationships with talented local Shanghai start-ups, usually at their pre-A and Early A financing evolution. This has allowed Harneys to contribute meaningfully to the early corporate and finance structure, which in turn drives considerable long-term benefits, including access to international money markets.
ALB: What have been some of your biggest challenges in the role?
IM: The challenges of being an effective leader cannot be overestimated. Modern leadership in a law firm is legitimatised through a scrupulously fair and open internal democratic processes. My main effort is to develop superlative consensus-building skills among partners using effective communication skills. This is probably a paradigm deeply felt, if not always openly expressed, by most managing partners. One of the biggest challenges is that effective communications cannot succeed in isolation since time must be invested to build trust with co-workers. In the lives of busy lawyers, team building can often be wrongly subordinated to the pressures of client work. The balance is nearly impossible to find in any given month.
ALB: Hong Kong is currently going through a period of upheaval. What impact are you seeing on your work as a result of this?
IM: Hong Kong’s upheaval is a deeply harrowing and sorrowful narrative, no matter what one’s political persuasion. However, Harneys is “long on Hong Kong” and continues to double-down on its investment in the city. People forget that Hong Kong has bounced back from tumultuous events time and time again in its history: the Japanese occupation (1941), the 1956 riots, the 1966 riots, Black Saturday (1983), Black Monday (1987), the Asian Financial Crisis (1997), George Soros’ currency attack (1998), SARS (2003) and the Umbrella Revolution (2014). These events have created the optimum ingredients for a Darwinian manifestation of strength and resilience, both human and economic. The impact of the most recent events in the long term is uncertain, although short-term economic depression appears to be manifesting itself in non-legal services sectors of the economy. This may well change in the medium to long term. There may also be a lethal combination of Hong Kong’s troubles with greater troubles stemming from the U.S.-China trade war, Brexit and a global economic recession, which will be bad news for all of us.
ALB: What are your plans for the future?
IM: It has become an open secret that we are seeking to open two further offices in Mainland China to offer full-service offshore law locally. The application process is time-consuming and has regional idiosyncrasies, but certainly gets easier second- and third-time round.
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