Redefining the future of law - meet Lerisha Naidu who inspires change.
By Lehlohonolo Lehana.
Recently appointed Managing Partner of Baker McKenzie in Johannesburg, Lerisha Naidu, plans to implement a new way of working in the legal sector, ensuring that all contributors to the working environment are able to show up as their true selves. Naidu started her career wanting to be a human rights lawyer and an advocate for change, but soon came to understand that the transformative project was not confined to NGOs and civil society groups, and that such change could be achieved from within the corporate sector.
Commenting on her new role, Naidu said that her appointment "felt like a milestone for the future of the new lawyer - the innovator, the creator, the lawyer that journeys with clients, walks the talk, cuts out the fluff and gets to the point, shows up, and can be vulnerable and human."
Naidu notes that as managing partner, she will "work towards actualising a space that I had hoped for at the very beginning of my career – one that embraces and encourages our truest and best selves, creating an environment out of which we will deliver teams of world-class lawyers to our clients and conscious contributors to our society."
Alongside the new management committee appointments - Johan Botes, Partner and Head of the Employment and Compensation Practice, and Marc Yudaken, Partner in the Corporate/M&A Practice, Naidu will lead the Johannesburg team through a complex and changing legal environment, with a priority task for the leadership team being to ensure that they "uncompromisingly walk the talk".
"Organisations can distil values and elevate them to a frame on the wall, but without living them, there is very little worth (and even potential damage) in having them to begin with," she says.
The values with which the new management team will lead include respect, transparency and accountability, integrity and honesty, compassion and empathy, client and people-centricity, passion, collaboration and teamwork, social responsibility and conscience, authenticity, friendship, inclusion and belonging, innovation, drive, ownership and agency, global citizenship, empowering others and humility.
"There is overwhelming consensus that a values-driven culture is core to our business success," Naidu says.
Botes notes that employees look to their managers and their organisations to demonstrate through their actions that they share the same values. The modern workforce demands that their employer's activities match their ideals, including that they operate in a way that is sustainable and provide benefits for the environment, local economies and the surrounding communities. The pandemic doubled down on this focus on corporate citizenship and businesses have had to ensure they identify sustainability risks and opportunities in every part of their business strategy, including in workforce planning.
Botes explains that from an employment law perspective, the ideal of a fulfilled and thriving workforce is not just a goal in legal sector. "Employers across the continent are grappling with finding optimal staffing solutions for recovering businesses. Many businesses are keen to see employees returning to the workplace, with a large number (especially in the professional and business services industries) sensing an opportunity to attract and retain sought-after talent by redefining their post-pandemic workplace policies."
He explains that that attracting the right talent, particularly requires responsible leadership and increasing transparency. As part of this, he says that inclusion and diversity policies have become an indispensable part of doing business.
"Diverse teams enable the weighing in of diverse perspectives and an overall enhanced service to consumers of legal services. Diversity, inclusion and meaningful transformation is not only the right thing to do, but is also integral to business success, particularly in light of local empowerment imperatives and employment equity objectives. An I&D programme breeds creativity, encourages a greater range of views and helps lawyers to respond better to the needs of its clients and the communities in which they work. Quite simply the sustainability of the large law firm model relies on I&D being central to its strategy," he says.
Naidu adds, "Baker McKenzie operates in 77 offices in 46 countries, and over 6,000 lawyers worldwide - it exemplifies diversity simply by existing and leverages that diversity by tailoring its approach to leading, lawyering and contributing in the jurisdictions in which it finds itself. My appointment exemplifies just that. It is an honour to have the backing of the global firm, a bold step towards change agency and meaningful differentiation as we chart a renewed African presence."