Baker McKenzie’s Hannah Luqmani talks career progression, client relationships and walking on chocolate
“The partnership role requires input at multiple levels of the business, from execution and delivery of legal services to sales and managing the client relationships,” says Hannah Luqmani, a newly made partner in Baker McKenzie’s London office. “As a partner, you are a stakeholder in the business. It is your responsibility not only to get the deals done for and build existing relationships with clients but also to pitch yourself to prospective clients as a highly skilled and trustworthy advisor.”
Whenever she can, Luqmani likes to cycle to work in the mornings. “I live in West London, and my route to the office is an inspirational journey through Hyde Park, past Buckingham Palace, up Whitehall and then along the River Thames,” she says. “Our new London office is super snazzy too! Thanks to the hot desking and open plan working, I can sit next to a different person each day, which has been great for me as a new joiner, effectively fast tracking my integration into the team and the firm.”
Since moving to its fresh digs at Bishopsgate, Baker McKenzie’s lawyers have a running joke that they are walking on ‘chocolate floors’. “Our floors are made of sustainable materials which comprise 99% linseed and 1% cacao. So we are basically walking on chocolate” jokes Luqmani.
Having been in the profession for over a decade, Luqmani is mindful about balancing her job with her personal life, where she is a mother of two small children. “My husband and I are a close-knit team and take turns doing the school runs for kids in the morning,” she tells me. “The firm is extremely accommodating whenever I need to be available for school-related events, meetings and performances. I was recently speaking at our London office town hall meeting, and the firm engineered the running order of the speakers to make sure I could get to my daughter’s ballet performance at school afterwards!”
‘Networking opportunities can be unexpected’
A few months into partnership, Luqmani has been spending most of her time building relationships with clients and colleagues. In her opinion, it is important to take a natural approach to networking.
“I keep an open mind about networking,” she tells me. “You will naturally find yourself gravitating towards people you get on with, and actually that can be really powerful because the relationship is genuine and you will be looking to help each other as you progress through your respective careers. For example, another lawyer from a competing firm might not seem like a potential client, but they could well move in-house further down the road or they may stay at their firm and end up with a conflict of interest on a matter and ask if you would like to represent their client instead!”
There is also lots of internal networking at Baker McKenzie. “I recently attended our EMEA partners’ meeting in Frankfurt which was such a fantastic event bringing together clients and colleagues from the EMEA region,” says Luqmani. “We had many opportunities to showcase to our clients our international team of lawyers and deep bench strength in multiple jurisdictions . The firm also invested in us with workshops where Baker McKenzie partners could build on skills like collaboration and cross-selling. It was also a great opportunity to meet my peer group of partners who have joined the ranks this year. I’m certain that building those relationships will prove very helpful to me in future – I’ve always found that networking with peers was valuable for my career progression.”
‘Your journey to partnership starts on day one as a trainee’
Making partner does not happen in a day, but is the result of years of learning and hard work. According to Luqmani, the relationship-building skills needed for partnership start being developed early on in your career.
“Most people do not realise this, but your journey to partnership starts on day one as a trainee,” says Luqmani. “You start managing relationships right from the get go. For example, you might be staffed on a due diligence project, working in a team with other trainees from different departments and then collating sections of a legal due diligence report which you have been asked to present to your supervisor. In that case, when you present the report to your supervisor, you should already be thinking about what your supervisor needs to know in order to present your report to the client.. And then hopefully you will get to see the interaction that your supervisor has with the client and learn about how they manage that relationship.”
Looking at things from a client’s perspective proves very helpful in driving relationships fruitfully. “My clients in private equity are professionals who also have their own clients (being their investors). Therefore it is helpful to understand the kind of pressures they are themselves under,” Luqmani tells me. “Since our clients have their own clients, the main reason why they expect high quality in our work is because their clients expect the same from them. Being sensitive to this fact helps us understand their concerns better.”
There is a lot that junior lawyers can add to the team too. “A trainee needs two things to be successful — legal potential (which will develop into technical skills over time) and dedication to their work (which is an essential quality from the outset). A high performing trainee really cares about delivering top quality output, and will seek to improve their legal skills in order to achieve that quality. If you are technically skilled and dedicated, clients and colleagues will start to look to you when they need help!” explains Luqmani.
“When you are on calls with clients for hours and hours each day, sometimes for months on end, they are really seeing you under a microscope! In general, they will be forgiving if there is a legal point you don’t have knowledge of at the moment you are asked about it, especially if they can trust that you care enough to find out and come back to them. But if your level of enthusiasm and commitment to work is low, they will start to worry that you don’t really care and then they will start to doubt your technical ability too..”
Luqmani also shares her top tips for those applying for training contracts at Baker McKenzie. “My top advice is to be yourself at all times. At Baker McKenzie, we proudly value inclusion and diversity and we are always encouraged to bring our whole selves to work. No matter who you are or where you come from, just be yourself because the only thing we are focussed on is your talent and that you will feel happy here.”
Staying resilient during the early years of your career is another important attribute.“Your career will have highs and lows but you should remember that it is a long one which likely will have twists and turns. There will be lots of chances to improve moving forward, and your ability to grow is invaluable,” says Luqmani.