Chair and Senior Partner, Herbert Smith Freehills
Rebecca Maslen-Stannage, Senior Partner at Herbert Smith Freehills
Can you tell us about your journey to Oxford?
My Rhodes Scholar father had met my “Oxford local” mother at Oxford. I had ambitions of becoming a judge. I had been associate to Justice Geoffrey Kennedy of the Supreme Court of Western Australia who had also studied at Oxford - as had the Chief Justice, David Malcolm - so it seemed to me that was the perfect judge pedigree. It felt to me like all roads led to Oxford and I was determined to go there and study the BCL!
You are one of the leading voices in private & public M&A, equity capital markets, and corporate governance. What led you to these areas of practice and how do you feel the BCL and your wider studies prepared you for them?
When I returned from Oxford I continued what I thought was my litigation destiny. The critical thinking and analytical skills I developed in the BCL served me well and I became a litigation partner in Perth. I then made quite a dramatic change (for a lawyer), of city and discipline to become a corporate M&A partner in Sydney. My BCL skills have stood me in equally good stead on the transactional side. Defending a position to a sceptical investment banker or hostile takeover bidder is a piece of cake compared to defending a legal argument in a Jeffrey Hackney tutorial.
What challenges do you think the legal profession faces with regards to increasing diversity, inclusion and representation, and what would you like to see done?
For decades now, the partner population in the legal profession has not looked like the graduate intake. At first everyone thought that changing was just a matter of time as those junior lawyers worked their way up the seniority levels. But in fact it didn’t happen naturally. We have become a lot more proactive with unconscious bias training, talent identification and development programmes and targets to turn that around. I think we are now on a good path where that work is creating tangible change at the top and it is a matter of keeping up that intensity of effort.
As the first female senior partner at Herbert Smith Freehills, how would you define your approach to leadership in the legal profession?
I have a high engagement, non-hierarchical leadership style. I look to establish an environment where everyone feels confident to bring their whole self to work and to express their ideas and views.
What advice would you give to young lawyers today at the start of their careers?
Don’t see your career as something that happens to you which you can’t control. See yourself as the person driving your career. Speak up with your ideas and thoughts and personality. Engage your supervisor and team on your ambitions and ask what you need to do to achieve them. Actively seek and listen to feedback and advice. If you do that and combine it with energy, resilience and positivity, you will get there!
Who inspires you?
The incredible junior lawyers I am lucky to work with. They are a lot more confident than I was at that stage of my career, are incredibly keen to learn and to be challenged, and they consistently show they can deliver on that challenge. I love their positive energy.
Which Oxford scholars (if any) live on your bookshelves?
Even though it’s not a legal topic that comes up a lot in my day job, I have my Oxford copy of Professor Peter Birks’ Unjust Enrichment in my office. I do feel nostalgic for my days at Oxford and was very honoured to meet Professor Birks in Perth before I went to Oxford and then have the privilege of studying with him.