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A Chat With Cleary Chief Talent Officer Hy Pomerance

In this monthly series, legal recruiting experts from Major, Lindsey & Africa interview law firm management from Am Law 100 and 200 firms about how they navigate an increasingly competitive business environment. Discussions delve into how these key management roles are changing and introduce the people who aspire to improve and advance the business of law.

Next in this series, Amanda K. Brady and Dustin Laws talk with Hy Pomerance, chief talent officer of Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP. Pomerance, a licensed psychologist, began his career in executive consulting, working with senior level executives on success planning and executive development. After years in a variety of corporate human resources leadership roles, he joined Cleary in September 2018 to lead Cleary’s global legal and professional talent and human resources function.

Q: In your time as CTO of Cleary, what has been most surprising to you?

A: Having come from the corporate world, it took me some time to get a feel for the legal market and in particular the competitive landscape. In eight months, it’s been exciting to learn just how strong the Cleary brand is in the talent marketplace. The firm is a talent magnet — no question. The best young lawyers want to work here and build their skills through the experiences they can get at Cleary. But the biggest surprise was just how passionate our partners are about developing talent. They are deeply engaged in every aspect of attracting, retaining, training and empowering lawyers at all levels.

Q: What talent management practices from your past roles/previous industry experiences have you found to be most valuable to you in your role with Cleary?

A: Executive and leadership development is a critical part of successful talent management at any organization, and Cleary wants to develop the necessary leadership skills to be a successful partner. Another practice I’ve found valuable is multidisciplinary learning strategies. The corporate world uses the 70-20-10 rule, which is that 70% of learning occurs on the job, 20% via reading and observing, and 10% in a formal classroom. Understanding that 70-20-10 strategy allows me to implement best practices in terms of learning.

One more valuable practice that isn't always identified as talent management is about leading change. My experience creating multiyear change journeys for large organizations, not just from a human capital standpoint but from a business standpoint, is important because the legal business is a talent business.

We have to implement change on three levels. First, we have to change the firm's mindset around talent — everything from the investment we make in our associates to how we think about teams and sharing resources. Second, we have to change our skill sets. To be a successful lawyer, you have to understand the business challenges that clients face as well as how to build relationships and become a trusted adviser. Finally, we have to change our Hy Pomerance tool set. The job of lawyers is changing rapidly due to technology, digitization and the commoditization of the business.

Q: What do you consider the greatest challenge you and your firm are experiencing in today’s legal market?

A: The greatest challenge is to attract and retain the best and most diverse talent. There's always been a war for the best lawyers, but the best lawyers used to be defined narrowly — top grades at the top school. I think our challenge is to think more holistically about what it takes to be a great lawyer.

We need to rethink where we recruit. The top five schools are not going to cut it anymore. Diverse talent with the energy, focus and fire in the belly will be sourced from a wider range of law schools. I would love to see law schools take on some of the work to develop lawyers with more business acumen and entrepreneurial capability. In the meantime, it's up to the firms to accelerate development by pushing leadership development at a much earlier stage. We can't wait until they become partners and then decide, “Okay. Now it's time to teach them how to lead.”

Q: What do you enjoy most about your job?

A: I enjoy being part of Cleary’s culture. It is entirely democratic and egalitarian, which fosters a wonderful collaborative environment. We have a strong spirit of getting things done. Every partner has a voice and I love that.

Q: What’s the single most important change you would make to advance the business of law in this increasingly competitive industry?

A: I would enhance the way law students are trained. Law is a business, and in Big Law, your client is a business person. Associates are coming in technically astute but have little awareness of how law is applied. I would look at what the big consulting firms do or even what medical schools do to help young doctors learn how to interview a patient to unpack the symptoms. We need consulting skills from our associates when they first get here.

Q: What attracted you to the legal industry?

A: I was attracted to working with intelligent, passionate professionals, and I certainly found them here at Cleary. No one gets to an elite firm by accident. I respect the work and commitment of those individuals. As a Ph.D., I appreciate what it means to dedicate yourself to years of education to get somewhere. I also love the ownership model of business. I was attracted to working with the owners of a business, which I was missing in the corporate world. A law firm is almost like coming to a family business because you care so much about every aspect of the business.

Q: What does leadership mean to you?

A: Leadership is about bringing out the best in people, teams and the organization as a whole. It's about a sense of responsibility for people and results. It's not about one's position or title or any single “leader”; it's about impact. I call it the servant of the servant leadership model, which means that you’re there to help others be successful. The opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the firm, its clients, or Portfolio Media Inc., or any of its or their respective affiliates. This article is for general information purposes and is not intended to be and should not be taken as legal advice

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