“A good lawyer tells you how to do it” – Life After Law with Tim Freshwater
This week we were joined at BCKR by Tim Freshwater.
Since leaving the law, Tim has held a variety of non-executive roles, here in the UK and in Asia. He currently chairs Goldman Sachs Asia Bank, is the SID at Savills PLC and is a NED on the boards of Hong Kong Exchanges & Clearing, Swire Pacific and Chelsfield Asia Limited. Tim is also a Senior Advisor to the Brunswick Group, the corporate communications firm.
Tim’s mix of advisory and board work across two continents and cultures will allow members to see how lawyers can reinvent themselves to take advantage of the opportunities that present themselves.
Here is a summary of what he had to say;
Tim started by saying how lucky he had been in his career. He would not have retired from his 30-year career at Slaughter and May in the mid 1990s, if it had not been for his Hong Kong experience with the firm which he greatly enjoyed and which gave him two canvases to play on. This led him into a change of career, joining Flemings at the age of 51 and, subsequently, Goldman Sachs. His composite CV has meant that at the age of 72 he is still fairly busy and broadly, based in Hong Kong.
He now has 3 public NED roles:
• The Hong Kong Stock Exchange
• Swire Pacific
He is also Chairman of a small bank in Hong Kong.
Moving away from law relatively early gave Tim a new career path. When he left S&M, no partners had an outside role (in contrast to the 1960s). Now firms are a bit more flexible about allowing partners to take on outside interests.
The prejudice against lawyers is hard to overcome – so taking on roles whilst in practice will give you a vital track record. Headhunters and hostile chairmen tend to think lawyers tell you what you can’t do. Whereas a good lawyer will tell you how to do it! Remind headhunters of this.
Lawyers need to find a way of inserting themselves into the committee structure – but these roles are limited. Headhunters be reticent to offer up lawyers to RemCo – Tim’s experience is that they sometimes prefer people with an HR background [but other lawyers have had significant success on the RemCo.]
What do you look for in a NED when going through the appointment process?
• People you can trust
• A business you can understand
Are there any sectors you would avoid?
• Those with litigation risk such as tobacco or an airline
• Banks – the complexity of the business means that you need to have complete trust in the people in it
What do you do about D&O cover?
This is essential – and is usually provided through the company. It is the one document he reads carefully. You should always reserve the right to get independent legal advice at the cost of the company.
Do people still regard you as a lawyer?
Yes – most of his close contacts know him as a lawyer but this is leavened by the knowledge that he has had wider experience since he retired.
Most opportunities he has had have come through clients which he knew while he was in full time legal practice.
It is curious that very few banks have taken lawyers onto their boards (particularly post 2008). Regulators seem to have deep seated prejudices against lawyers. They would prefer people with demonstrable financial acumen – strange in an era of focus on controls and governance.
Lawyers are still regarded as people who haven’t managed businesses but this is just not true. Again, make that known. More generally, there is very little external interest in how law firms are organised notwithstanding the outstanding success of City firms in recent years. Having said that, as a group, law firms have not been successful at informing the outside world about the scale and success of their business.
Lawyers have also, in general, been slow to embrace modern management principles with many thinking that taking on management responsibilities in a firm is for unsuccessful partner lawyers. Lawyers don’t tend serve themselves well.