The changing face of legal leadership in Ottawa

Editor's Note

This article originally appeared in the November edition of HR Update. Read the full publication here.


The legal profession is about to undergo unprecedented change, and law firms are working hard to stay ahead of the curve.

For Nelligan O’Brien Payne LLP, that meant looking outside the profession when recruiting its chief operating officer. Instead of going the traditional route of hiring a lawyer to oversee the firm’s Ottawa office, the company brought in top talent from the tech sector. And, for a profession that is steeped in history, it was seen as an incredibly bold move.

“I bring a new perspective – a different set of eyes to any problem or any issue,” explains Mia Hempey, Nelligan O’Brien Payne’s chief operating officer. “I was really impressed by how innovative the firm was to see the value of bringing a business person into the role who had no legal industry experience.”

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At 48, Hempey is one of the youngest members of the firm’s executive team, and she brings with her a keen ability to navigate disruptive change and empowers others to embrace it.

In the legal sector, that change means updating the billable hour structure to make it more client-focused, breaking down the silos that exist between the legal team and support staff, succession planning and embracing new technology.

“Lawyers are professionally trained to analyze risks, so they look at all the risks that are possible in every situation,” Ms. Hempey says. “Whereas I come with an entrepreneurial background, and I look at the probability of risk. I can make a timely decision with limited information, and once I make that decision I throw my energy into making it a success.”

One of her biggest priorities for the next year is working to incorporate millennials and their working style into the environment.

“You really have to take a different approach to managing millennials. They want to understand the purpose and why you are asking them to do something,” she says. “It may take a little more time and patience to explain and provide the detail they require, but it’s worth it.”

Moving beyond hierarchical systems

Down the street at another law firm, McMillan LLP is also revamping its team.

As part of a national initiative to reflect a younger demographic, the company appointed 40-year-old Martin Thompson as its office management partner in January 2016.


“Certainly it can be a bit stressful being in this position at a young age, but I very much welcomed the challenge,” Mr. Thompson says. “For this role, listening skills are very important, and I have always been a proponent of listening when people are talking, as opposed to just preparing to speak.”

Mr. Thompson sees the composition of the office transforming, moving away from the traditional hierarchical system to a more horizontal management style that is focused on collaboration and teamwork.

“You need to be able to connect with everyone on the team,” he says. “And understand and respect the unique role each person plays and how it all works together.”

One of the biggest challenges facing Mr. Thompson is the constant struggle to find that perfect balance between his work and his home life. With two young daughters, he has made it a priority to schedule dedicated family time so he can be there for the girls’ dance recitals and ski lessons.

“It’s tough to set those boundaries, especially when you are connected pretty much all the time,” Mr. Thompson says. “You really need to carve out that time so that you can be fully present. It’s required some discipline, but the benefits are significant.”

This article originally appeared in HR Update. Read the full publication below:



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