Freshfields' Leadership Programme

The Freshfields’ Leadership Programme has prepared a generation of experienced partners for the firm’s most senior leadership roles.

Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer is a leading global law firm, with over 400 partners and 2800 lawyers, operating in 150+ countries. The firm has grown to its present scale through a combination of organic development and acquisition/merger.

executives networking

To date, 25% of partners globally have been through the programme, equipping them to take on new responsibilities as and when they emerge.

Target participants and objectives

The Freshfields Leadership Programme was created to support the next generation of senior leaders with at least 5 years’ experience as partners, who the firm is expecting to take on a senior leadership role in the near future. The aim is to prepare them for these new roles by inspiring behavioural change in three areas:

  1. Maximising contribution - Maximising their contribution to leadership immediately - appreciating the impact they can already have and taking the initiative from where they are rather than waiting for an appointment
  2. Collaboration - Collaborating more effectively with colleagues right across the firm - for which reason the classes are deliberately drawn from a diverse group across different Practice Groups and offices
  3. Personal development - Placing a greater priority on their own personal development - not just in specialist technical knowledge, but also in self-awareness, health, and leadership effectiveness

What really impressed me was the attention to application, with such an emphasis on finding simple, practical ways to make sure that our partners try out new approaches and ideas for real, back in their day jobs.

Sarah Harper

Global HR Director, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer

À la carte

The programme encompasses two residential modules at Oxford, supported by personal coaching and psychometric analysis.

Designed for experienced professionals, the agenda introduces partners quickly to a wide ‘a la carte’ range of ideas, models and tools, enabling them to determine those which resonate most with them, and thereby choose for themselves the areas where they devote most personal time and attention. 

Sessions cover topics such as personality, communication, decision-making, team dynamics, mind-set, team alignment, health, lifestyle, and influence. The delivery style is deliberately varied, including competitive gaming, debating, meditation, role play, analytical diagnosis, and conventional lecturing; the emphasis is less on showing and telling, more on trying things out.

Graham Wright, Associate Fellow and Programme Director, reflects 'Experiential learning is vital on this programme. Lawyers are inherently sceptical; their training tells them not to take anything at face value, but instead to challenge and question - and nothing is more open to challenge than a new leadership theory. Our job is to get them to suspend disbelief momentarily and try something new - that way, their judgement is so much better informed. You learn to ride a bike by trial and error, not from an intellectual understanding of gyroscopic theory.'

Designed for impact

Ultimately, what matters is the extent to which the time invested translates into positive changes in approaches and behaviour with clients and colleagues.

Several techniques are used to maximise this impact:

  • Soliciting opinions from colleagues and clients before the programme to increase self-awareness, identify areas for development, and set expectations of response
  • Opening session translating the firm’s commercial drivers into priorities for partner behaviour
  • All sessions designed to draw out simple, implementable first steps
  • Frequent reflection and discussion in the room about application of the relevant topic to specific situations in participants’ business
  • Commitment to specific personal and team actions in front of the group
  • 1:1 discussions with the Oxford Programme Director before, during and after the programme to hold each participant accountable to themselves

Reviews undertaken several months after the classroom sessions reveal evidence of multiple behaviour changes: improved delegation, more attention to team dynamics, new approaches to communication, better listening, practicing meditation, avoiding distractions, taking on challenges, and sustained changes in exercise, diet and working hours. But more important is the evidence of the resulting impact at a granular level: greater confidence, new roles taken up, associates retained and taking more responsibility, improved teaming across boundaries, wasting less time responding to emails, winning new business, and having more energy.

'It has been incredibly helpful. I have surprised myself by sticking to all the commitments I made on the programme. As a result, I feel less stressed and my colleagues have noticed. My team found it weird at first when I started asking them about their feelings, but now they love it - we are much closer and I get much more contribution from everyone, including the most junior.'

 - Programme participant