When Sam Burrett first started law, he thought he might become a barrister. Upon graduation, NewLaw called, and he joined LegalVision, initially as a graduate lawyer, then as Partnerships Manager. It was a world entirely apart from Suits and Boston Legal, and inspired him to launch the Leading Lawyer Project, a podcast following how top lawyers, legaltech CEOs, and ALSP founders succeed in the changing legal landscape.
Sam moved to Plexus as Associate Commercial Director just as COVID hit, and started his podcast in response. Insights spoke to Sam about his unlikely path to podcasting, what he’s learned along the way, and how he sees the profession evolving as we emerge from COVID.
Conversations with many mentors
“I’ve always believed in the power of conversations to catalyze positive change,” said Sam. “To me, listening to a great podcast can be like having a conversation with a mentor. If we have louder conversations, more frequently, and with more influential people, then more lawyers will be exposed to great ideas. Those ideas might go on to shape the way lawyers interact with their clients and their colleagues, and eventually, shift the culture of the profession.”
Through the podcast, Sam hoped to learn and share what it takes to be successful in the law, and in so doing, contribute to the development of the legal profession.
“I wanted to share ideas about how we could improve the legal industry, how lawyers might get more out of their careers, and how we can better deliver services to our clients. The podcast is about contributing to this conversation.”
Podcasting, and the ideas he’s been exposed to through the podcast, have changed many areas of his life, from personal finance, fitness, to family.
“My hope is that The Leading Lawyer Project might have a similar, positive impact on the careers of lawyers,” said Sam.
Tapping the power of curiosity
In a recent Leading Lawyer Project podcast, Mark Rigotti, the immediate past-CEO of Herbert Smith Freehills, spoke to Sam about the power of curiosity to unlock career opportunities.
“I’m a learner, and I think that’s critical to leadership,” Mark told Sam. “Why does that set you apart? In the current world, fixed thinking isn’t good enough because there is too much change. You have to be a learner - or at least, a learned-learner - in order to succeed.”
Part of this is curiosity involves constantly exploring new opportunities.
“It might be the opportunity to push forward an innovation or technology agenda within their firm or legal function,” observed Sam. “Or it might be an opportunity to grow the firm into a new area of practice, or the chance to upskill in a new area of law that is experiencing increased demand, such as privacy and cybersecurity. Whatever it is, successful lawyers always look for - and capitalise on - new opportunities.”
According to Mark, lawyers who make good leaders also act as a “coach and cheerleader”, which are adjectives you might not normally ascribe to a lawyer.
It’s a sentiment echoed by Genevieve Collins, Chief Executive Partner of Lander and Rogers.
“I quickly realised that my role wasn’t to manage [lawyers],” Genevieve told Sam in her interview for Sam’s podcast. Rather, her role was to encourage her lawyers and put them into positions where they could thrive. When it came down to it, Genevieve saw this as her primary role as a leader.
Finding a passion for the ‘business of law’
Over the course of his career, Sam has entertained the idea of becoming a barrister, a family lawyer or working in startups.
“As it turns out, I have an even stronger interest in the business of law,” said Sam. “I’m most passionate about improving the way lawyers do legal work and the way clients experience legal services. As a result, I’ve been drawn to forward-thinkers and change-makers in the legal industry.
“I’ve was really lucky to experience the way LegalVision is providing quality, cost-effective legal services for SMEs on a massive scale. At the other end of the spectrum, I’ve been able to work with some of Australia’s top General Counsel and legal teams at Plexus, helping create more efficient, impactful in-house legal functions.
“In everything I do, I’m trying to understand how we can create a better legal industry for lawyers and clients in the future.”
Great lawyers focus on relationships
As the profession adapts to COVID, Sam thinks several factors set apart the way that top-performing lawyers and leaders are approaching the constant uncertainty and change.
“Top-performing lawyers are focussed on relationships,” said Sam. “It has never been easier to connect with others than it is now. Online domains such as LinkedIn offer a pathway to making new connections with great people. As the legal industry continues to change, relationships have never been more important.
“The most successful lawyers are those who built great relationships and deliver value to their network. But as legal practice evolves and the economy dips, networks will be critical for lawyers who need to source new and ongoing work opportunities. “
The other common denominator among top performers is a commitment to constant learning.
“Lawyers are great at learning new case law but tend to be late adopters of new technology or ways of practice,” observed Sam. “If we are to continue to evolve, we must expand our horizons beyond the wise words of judges. We must take on the learnings of other professions and business domains. We must question the way things have always been done and look for opportunities to improve. This kind of growth mindset is critical if we are to improve legal practice for lawyers and access to justice for clients.”
Sam was recently named as Distinguished Fellow in Legaltech by the Centre for Legal Innovation (CLI). Read more about Sam’s appointment and the work he will be doing with CLI and the Centre’s Executive Director Terri Mottershead.
You can find episodes of the Leading Lawyer Podcast here.