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Alumni matters: WHY I CAME BACK

Aaron White and Lena Naris

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AARON WHITE 

After finishing my first undergraduate degree, I joined the police service in Australia. There, I spent quite a lot of time preparing briefs of evidence for Court proceedings and giving evidence in Court, which piqued my interest in the law. I studied an undergraduate law degree law part-time for five years whilst working full-time in the police service.

After qualifying and joining another law firm in Australia, I wanted to move to London and broaden my experience as a lawyer. I decided to join Herbert Smith (as it then was) because I felt that it offered a great platform for me to develop my expertise and experience in international transactions and projects in the TMT sector. My interest in telecoms and technology was ignited during one of my training contract seats in Australia.

I left the firm in 2010 to work at global communications company Telefónica, which was (and still is) a key client of the firm. Working in-house was a wonderful experience, taking me to all corners of the globe on some super-interesting deals, and it has served me very well as a private practice lawyer.

I returned to the firm in 2017 for four key reasons. Firstly, it was a fantastic opportunity to work (again) with people from a diverse range of backgrounds who are super-intelligent, innovative, energetic, collaborative and committed to delivering first-in-class client service – and are also a lot of fun to work with. Secondly, I admired the firm’s commitment to fostering a diverse and inclusive culture. Thirdly, pro bono work is in the firm’s DNA, and the opportunity to do interesting and challenging pro bono work was a key consideration. Finally, I was impressed by the firm’s thinking around using technology to enable it to be more agile and efficient, and to provide better service to its clients.

“Working in the technology and telecoms sectors is constantly challenging, particularly with the need to keep up with the huge pace of change.”

Compared with my time originally with the firm, the main change I would point to is that when I came back it had become a fully integrated global law firm, following the merger with Freehills in 2012. The merger and industry changes have also led to a much stronger focus on financial performance and productivity. Whilst the firm always had a very strong culture, coming back, I observed that it was much more focused on fostering a culture of excellence, innovation, high performance and discretionary effort, and rewarding people who consistently demonstrated those traits.

Working in the technology and telecoms sectors is constantly challenging, particularly with the need to keep up with the huge pace of change. But it is also one of the things that makes working in these sectors so interesting. You are constantly challenged to design creative legal solutions for new technology where the law may not always be in step with these innovations. For a lawyer, that is exactly the place I want to be – to have to come up with innovative solutions to problems that have not been thought of before.

Our Digital Law Group, which has been set up specifically both to deliver service more efficiently but also to sell technology-based products to our clients to help them in their business, is truly groundbreaking. I can give a couple of examples of products we have developed to assist clients. One is a contract review app to reduce the burden on a client’s in-house legal team who were regularly receiving a large volume of similar contracts to review. The second is an end-to-end process for an in-house team, from instruction through to closing on matters, to help them optimise their e-billing and identify requirements for new solutions to enhance efficiency and generate better data.

Being a partner now, I am also relishing having management responsibility. I like to help develop other people. I was helped a lot (and still am) by some amazing managers, leaders and mentors at the firm, so I like to pay that forward where I can. On mentoring specifically, I really get a lot out of the reciprocal flow of giving and receiving; it’s most definitely not a one-way relationship.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, working at the firm gives me opportunities to change the world for the better. I can illustrate that with an example of an infrastructure project I have been working on recently. At its heart is a project to bring internet connectivity to people globally including, for example, in Africa, which is currently the least-connected continent with only a quarter of its 1.3 billion people connected to the internet. It is the opportunity to work on transformational projects like this one, which have positive impacts on communities in terms of access to education and healthcare, where I think I am playing a small part in making the world a better place.

LENA NARIS

I had always wanted to be a lawyer, following in the footsteps of my father. After I graduated from Sydney University Law School, my first job was with the Director of Public Prosecutions. I spent a year prosecuting criminal matters for the State, before becoming Associate to Judge Payne in the NSW District Court predominantly in country NSW. I loved this work, however I realised that I wanted to explore the broader world of commercial law.

In 2007, I joined Herbert Smith Freehills in Sydney as a junior solicitor in its Construction and Projects Team, where I worked for Toby Anderson and Amanda Davidson. One of my undergraduate degrees was economics with a major in geography, specifically human geography. The natural link between my interest in the built environment and how cities are developed blended well with my litigation experience. I was offered a role that straddled both the disputes and transactional matters, eventually transitioning full time to the transactional side as I really enjoyed being at the inception end of projects.

I remained with Herbert Smith Freehills for a few years until I was drawn to work in the UAE, which was in the middle of its then construction boom. I was there for nearly four years before moving to Hong Kong for a further two years. I moved back to Australia in 2013, where I took on a role an another large firm.

I’ve always actively enjoyed and undertaken pro bono work with every firm that I have worked with. At the end of my time at this previous firm, I was invited to join The Hunger Project to assist in-house with its legal and development matters, as they did not have an in-house presence at the time. The Hunger Project does incredible work in Africa and Asia, helping to empower and transform impoverished communities, through education, microfinance, agriculture and health, so that communities, and in particular women, can build knowledge and resources to break the poverty cycle.

Amanda Davidson, having remained in contact throughout my career and since departure from Herbert Smith Freehills, invited me to join her newly-established construction law consultancy practice. I worked with Amanda until the birth of my son, and following a period of maternity leave, re-commenced working with TeamSource, Herbert Smith Freehills’ flexible workforce community which places legal consultants with clients. I found out about TeamSource through a good friend and member of Herbert Smith Freehills, and thought that this was a great way to continue my career as a lawyer, whilst retaining the flexibility to be a mother.

“Renewable energy is the future, and I’m proud to be a part of this sustainability.”

Through Toby Anderson, I was placed with a renewables company, RES Australia, where I have been ever since. RES sources land to develop renewable energy projects, covering wind, solar and battery storage. As one of the in-house lawyers, I advise the business on a range of issues, including from the development phase, through to project close, and then beyond in an asset management capacity. It is a fantastic space to work in. Renewable energy is the future, and I’m proud to be a part of this sustainability.

This has been such a positive working experience. From the way the secondment was arranged through to the work I am doing and the RES community. The connection with the firm and with Toby’s team works incredibly well. We have excellent lines of communication, founded on a long history of knowing each other well. I understand how the team works, and, now knowing RES well, act as an effective bridge.

The working arrangement has also worked well during the pandemic, which is extremely flexible, accommodating and adaptable. My contract continues to be renewed, and I have been able to slowly increase my working days.

Naturally, I am a big supporter of TeamSource. It is a very valuable resource, both for the firm since it can call upon extra resources and also for the lawyers, particularly women, who can continue their careers working on top-tier projects with an element of flexibility.

Herbert Smith Freehills has been a constant throughout my career, high-quality, professional and approachable at all times. It has been an extremely positive, happy and supportive working experience. HSF has always been a warm, welcoming and comfortable place, and I am excited and grateful to be a part of its community.

About Teamsource

Since 2015 TeamSource, Herbert Smith Freehills’ Australian flexible workforce community, has been connecting HSF Alumni and other skilled lawyers with some of the most indemand legal opportunities in Australia. Working alongside some of our largest global clients and award-winning teams, as a member of TeamSource you gain exclusive access to in-house and private practice assignments that rarely reach the wider market, providing you with the platform to select the type of experiences you want as a lawyer. If you or someone you know would like to learn more about joining the TeamSource community, please email TeamSource at TeamSource@hsf.com for a confidential conversation.