“Roll your sleeves up”: Two top lawyers on building trust with clients and colleagues

by Mackenzie McCarty19 May 2014
Building positive “chemistry” is crucial for legal professionals – whether it be between in-house lawyers and their executive team, or between private practice lawyers and their in-house clients.

Speaking at last week’s annual CLANZ conference, MBIE chief legal advisor, Ann Brennan and ANZ group general counsel and company secretary, Bob Santamaria explained how they’ve managed to build trust in their respective roles.

“Trust is the absolute cornerstone in an organisation, but it has to be earned,” says Brennan, who arrived at the agency amidst its creation in 2012.

“Anyone who has lived through a merger knows that it’s very challenging,” she says. “Teams were split and my strategy was to let everyone know I was there to help. I quickly worked out who the key people were and asked them what their needs were and how I could meet them...Relationship-building was crucial.”

Santamaria says his experience working with three consecutive chairs at ANZ in Australia has taught him the importance of ensuring the key stakeholders know that you’re there to help.

“Before my induction [with recently-appointed ANZ chair David Gonski], I asked myself, ‘What’s going to build his confidence in me?’.”

Santamaria then compiled a list of the information he thought Gonski would find useful and supplied it in an email prior to his induction, along with a description of the issues which were of particular concern to Santamaria from a legal perspective.

He says this preparation allowed for a highly informative and effective induction, where Gonski and Santamaria were able to nut out exactly what was important – and what they needed from each other – in a short amount of time.

However, Brennan and Santamaria’s advice isn’t just relevant to in-house lawyers dealing with non-legal staff. The pair say that, particularly for junior lawyers in both work environments, it’s good to put your hand up for work you see as insignificant.

“You’re going to be the repository for everyone’s gripes,” says Santamaria. “But, especially if you’re young, roll your sleeves up. Put your hand up for menial tasks because, bit-by-bit, you become the go-to person.”

When you’re new in a work environment, Brennan says people are likely to judge you on what you do, rather than what you say.

“People will ask themselves, ‘Do you keep confidences? Are you competent?’,” she says.

Finally, Santamaria believes showing respect and building rapport are vital to building trust with those around you.

“Some of my team grumble about not getting proper say [at meetings], but you need to earn it,” he says.