In December, Herbert Smith Freehills named Hong Kong-based Asia managing partner Justin D’Agostino as its next chief executive officer. After the holiday break, D’Agostino sat down with ALB to talk about the evolution of the market, the recent unrest in Hong Kong, and the importance of D&I.

 

ALB: You’ve been with HSF for quite a while. What are some of the ways you’ve watched the firm evolve during that time?

D’AGOSTINO: Over my last decade working in Asia and heading the Asia practice, our platform’s expanded. We’ve opened in Seoul and Kuala Lumpur, launched a new business model in China with Kewei, and enhanced our strong relationship with our associate firm in Jakarta, Hiswara Bunjamin & Tandjung. The Herbert Smith Freehills family in Asia has never been stronger. I’ve also seen a growing and real commitment to innovation and technology. I held a town hall at the end of last year where we looked back at some of the projects from the last few years, and, pleasingly, most of the innovations came from our people. We’ve generated this culture of innovation in the firm where everybody is encouraged to bring their ideas to the table and if they’re good, the firm will back them. That spirit of entrepreneurship has always been in the firm but is now shining. Happily, some things haven’t changed though – great client service, our commitment to legal excellence, and the development of our people.

ALB: We all know diversity and inclusion (D&I) is important, and it’s good for business. What are some of the initiatives in place at HSF, and how do you create a culture internally that supports this?

D’AGOSTINO: D&I is defiantly in the DNA of this firm. It’s real and it’s authentic. We have wonderful networks around the firm that support and inspire, and they create some of our vision. For me, D&I has been important all throughout my career. I started the first LGBT network at an international firm in London in 2007. More than 10 years on, it’s amazing to

see how far we’ve come and how far the industry moved alongside us. In Asia, we’ve focused on three strands – LGBT, gender and, more recently, multiculturalism, with groups that support ability/disability, mental health and wellness too. At the heart of these networks are allies and champions. It’s a real and deliberate attempt by this firm to concentrate on D&I, and I’m very proud of it.

ALB: Things in Hong Kong recently have been tough, both socially and economically. What has the mood in the HSF offices been like, and as a managing partner, how do you ensure the ship runs smoothly through uncertain waters?

D’AGOSTINO: It’s been a tough year for everybody, and we’ve tried not to shy away from that. We’ve got a big office in Hong Kong with a lot of different people; colleagues from mainland China, lots from Hong Kong, and international staff too. Happily, I’ve been over-whelmed by the respect and generosity of spirit shown by everyone in the office throughout this period. The firm’s put in a lot of support through remote technology, dialogue and support services to help our people too. We’ve also under-lined our commitment to Hong Kong – business is strong, our offices here are newly refurbished, and now my appointment as CEO with a Hong Kong home base – which has helped our people feel secure during uncertain times.

ALB: As an Australian-UK headquartered firm, with a growing presence in Asia, where do you see the bulk of your work coming from – and is this likely to change in the future?

D’AGOSTINO: Of course, our heritage is in London and Australia; those businesses remain centres of excellence for us, and they are ever more global and international in their outlook and clients. Asia will continue to be full of growth opportunities and also Europe, where we have a lot of ambition to continue to grow. Our U.S. business is booming too, and our New York office is already delivering on a very aggressive growth plan.

 

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