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‘A very different role’: Q&A with HSF’s new senior partner James Palmer

James Palmer (Profile) talks to Legal Business about being elected the first senior partner at Herbert Smith Freehills since the merger and what he will bring to the role.

Why do you think you were voted in as the first senior partner of HSF?

I think I’ve got a strong external profile and I’m very client orientated but it wasn’t a slam dunk. It wasn’t me a thousand miles ahead of everyone else and that didn’t surprise me.

How would you describe the race for senior partner?

There is a lot of positivity and unity within the firm at the moment. The election has been run in the best possible tone. It was civilised and professional.

The thing I’m very chuffed about is that the vote was evenly split around the world and not based on geographic lines. Mark Crean, who is a very good friend of mine, had a lot of support in London. I also had a lot of support in Australia. People don’t just relate to their geography.

Mark Crean is a top lawyer and it’s been quite surreal as I get on very well [with the other contenders for senior partner]. Allen Hanen and I met 18 years ago and I was a trainee under Tim Parkes 28 years ago and we are very close.

How executive is the role?

Jonathan [Scott] was elected as senior partner five years ago at Herbert Smith, when it was a very different role. We’ve rebalanced the position so it’s much more about chairing the partnership council. It’s more client facing now.

I would describe the role as more non-executive, I aim to spend around 25% of my time chairing the council. I register a lot of hours, so that’s a lot. The rest of my time will definitely be around advising clients and I’ll be continuing to look after the many multinationals that I already do.

The CEOs, Mark [Rigotti] and Sonya [Leydecker], run the firm and it’s no secret I’ve been a big fan of their leadership. The role of senior partner is more about pushing strategy. There was no one standing against Mark and Sonya with an alternative strategy so the senior partner election was a question of style and personality.

How do you weigh up your new management role with your client work?

I was still very client facing when I was head of corporate for two and half years [beginning in 2010] and I will be now. I’m the formal relationship partner for BP and that will continue. All of my clients are aware that I’ve been made senior partner and I will continue working with all of them. I’ve never worked on my own with any client during my 15 years as a partner, I’ve always enjoyed working as a team so I’m planning to keep those teams involved.

Why did Jonathan Scott retire from the role early?

We’ve got a partnership conference in Madrid coming up this month and Jonathan wanted a successor to be named before that.