With over 20 years' experience working with lawyers and risk management professionals across Europe and Asia-Pacific, Lesley Hobbs, Director, ElevateFlex, is a NewLaw veteran. Frazer Baron, Marketing Associate, got the chance to talk with Lesley about her journey to becoming one of the leading business development professionals within the APAC NewLaw/law company/ALSP sector.

Let’s start with your background.

I am British (from North Yorkshire) but spent my formative years in Bangladesh, The Gambia and Malawi. I returned to the UK for boarding school, and my parents then moved back as I entered my teens.

My legal career started in London with a small West End law firm. After qualification, I joined the Legal & Compliance team of leading merchant bank Rothschild where, after two-and-a-half years, I finally admitted to myself that I didn’t want to be a lawyer anymore.

I kind of fell into legal recruitment like many ex-lawyers. I joined the company that had gotten me my role with Rothschild, and from Day One, I was focused on in-house legal recruitment. From there, I joined Hays Legal. I wanted a company that had international ambitions, as my long term plan had always been to work and live overseas. I relocated to Hong Kong in 2007 to help Hays Plc grow its APAC in-house legal recruitment desk.

After 13 years of working in legal recruitment, though, I was looking for a change. I started exploring business development opportunities within law firms. AdventBalance (now Lawyers On Demand) was looking to launch in Hong Kong in 2013. I quickly helped them create a multi-million-dollar business there. Fast-forward to February 2018, I then set up my flexible lawyering firm Cognatio Law Ltd.

What was your path to working at Elevate?

I first came across Elevate in early 2018 when I spotted a headline on the newly-launched Hogan Lovells and Elevate partnership. I remember thinking, “Why aren’t they in Asia?” By chance, I had booked a vacation to Europe over September 2018. I reached out to John Croft to connect in-person during my trip. As we sat having a working breakfast in some Covent Garden hotel, I remember thinking, “I should be working for them, and I can be their person in Hong Kong.” John later told me he had thought the same, and said he had nearly made me a job offer there and then!

It was a no-brainer to become part of their expansion journey. We announced Elevate’s acquisition of Cognatio in early 2019.

What attracted you to join Elevate, and what do you find most challenging about your role?

Elevate’s global platform is the first thing. Having the opportunity to bring Elevate’s other business streams to Asia, such as consulting and contract lifecycle management, is also something that appeals to me.

One big challenge is helping to make the law company model part of the mainstream in Asia. The traditional partnership law firm model is still very much the norm here. Singapore is further along in this regard, and a couple of players have set up down there as foreign registered law firms.

What do you enjoy most about your work? 

I have always really enjoyed being part of a company in the growth stage. It has also been great to watch the APAC legal and business communities embrace the law company model.

Do you think COVID 19 will continue to impact the legal industry?

I don’t believe that COVID-19 will have a negative long-term effect on the growth of the law company sector. It has and will continue to affect how and where we are working. The work-from-home culture is very much in its infancy in Asia.

What qualities do you look for when hiring lawyers that can’t be included on a resume?

Most customers only want lawyers who have trained in and worked for international law firms and gained in-house experience from a brand-name company.

As for soft skills, they need to be adaptable and have a troubleshoot mentality. Chinese language capabilities (Cantonese or Mandarin), an Asian legal qualification and working experience, and a demonstrated commitment to this region are also important

What’s next for you?

I plan to help keep expanding the law company offering in Asia and widen the platform out from just flexible lawyering.

If you could send a message to yourself ten years ago, what would you tell the younger Lesley?

Buy more property, follow your passions, write a book, and enroll in a photography course.