ALB Conversations: Jean-François Harvey, worldwide managing partner and founder, Harvey Law Group

ALB Conversations: Jean-François Harvey, worldwide managing partner and founder, Harvey Law Group

Jean-François Harvey founded the Harvey Law Group (HLG) in Montreal, Canada, in 1992. He completed his Bachelor of Laws Degree from the University of Ottawa and was admitted to the Québec Bar in 1992. Currently a member of the Québec and Canadian Bar Associations, Harvey is an expert in immigration law,  providing comprehensive immigration law services to corporations and high-net-worth individuals.

ALB: Tell us about your legal career so far, and what led you to taking up this role.

Harvey: From an early age and following in my father’s footsteps who retired as a judge in Canada, I knew the path I wanted to take included running my own firm. And so, the day after I was called to the Bar, I registered my own law firm, hence assuming the role of managing partner from Day 1. In the more traditional way, it takes lawyers years of waiting and training to take on the role and the responsibility (good and bad), but I threw myself in at the deep end right away and haven’t looked back 28 years later.

ALB: What have been some of your highlights from your time in charge?

Harvey: I try not to forget our very humble beginning both in Montreal and Hong Kong and recalling the early days makes me cherish how far we have come as a firm.  It was a challenge, but one that I welcomed, and which made me the lawyer and businessman I am today. The highlights from my time in charge would probably be the worldwide growth of the firm (which is still expanding!).

ALB: And what are some leadership lessons you have learnt? 

Harvey: Good leaders are good listeners! Leadership is foremost about people. You cannot lead people effectively unless you take the time to listen to what others have to say. We are in the end of the day, trying to achieve the same goal. Whilst it is my job to give overall office direction (and pay all the bills) it would be a mistake not to seek my colleagues’ opinion not only on the daily challenges they face but also on their more global views as to what the firm should accomplish next. It would be a waste of opportunities not to seek the views of those who continue to build up the firm one brick at a time daily. After all those years, I have clearly become a fan of the bottom-up management style, as opposed to top-down.

ALB: How would you describe your strategy for the firm?

Harvey: We are always willing and looking forward to exploring new markets. That said, having the experience of settling down and expanding to new countries, we also understand the need to do things properly, and to hire as many local staff as possible in our overseas offices. We aim to strike the right balance to preserve local culture and then see how our firm culture can be embedded. This gives us the best of both worlds.

ALB: What are some of the big challenges the firm has been facing in the past few months, and how are you looking to tackle them?

Harvey: COVID-19 has definitely kept us busy and forced us to expand faster than what we had in mind. The demands for our specialisation are greater than ever, which we have not taken for granted but embraced. In my managerial role, I noticed that COVID-19 has increased the need to reassure colleagues as our staff across all offices have seen friends and loved ones in difficult situations and so from the very start we have put new systems in place to ensure safe working environment, and also give flexibility (for instance, to work from home) when needed. 

ALB: How do you feel the pandemic will reshape not just the way your firm operates, but also the legal services industry?

Harvey: As I mentioned, the pandemic has been an engine of rapid growth for us. While we are looking forward to a return to some normalcy, we know the demands will continue to rise as per the last 12 years. The firm’s success during this period would not have been achieved had it not been for its staff and the flexible working which was fully embraced. This is exactly why we have always placed respect, understanding and honesty at the core of our internal values.  The pandemic has not reshaped how the firm operates but it has opened our eyes to the flexibility. Perhaps this pandemic will make the entire legal industry a little more flexible and tech-savvy.

ALB: How important is law firm culture, according to you? What kind of internal culture are you looking to foster?

Harvey: Law firm culture is important but that does not mean we have to adopt it in its fullest. We have a global office culture which we adopt across the offices but definitely not at the expense of the local culture which exists in each office. As long as we can work together globally why fix something that is not broken.

ALB: On that note, how would you describe your hiring and talent retention strategy? What kinds of lawyers would make the best fit for your firm? 

Harvey: There is no set ‘profile’ and in fact, we embrace the unique nature of each of the lawyers and the new ideas and experience they bring to the firm. But when looking to employ new lawyers we do look for lawyers who are open minded, adventurous, ready to travel and solution oriented.   We place value in our lawyers, and they are given the opportunity to grow with the firm. We discuss their areas of interest and, to the extent possible, try to accommodate them. The substance of our practice constantly evolves and so there is a continuous need and expectation that lawyers will update their knowledge and skillsets.  We also think that training is an important benefit to employees and so we encourage all (not just the lawyers) to follow trainings that might help them develop their career. 

ALB: How would you describe your approach to technology? How has the use of tech at your firm evolved since you started at the helm, and what is your blueprint for the next year or two?

Harvey: Like many other firms and organisations, we went from a paper-based office to a paperless one however, we do try to avoid cloud-based solutions due to confidentiality concerns. As for communication, we have a strict policy to avoid email or electronic message when something could be settled with a phone call which not only develops the rapport between teams but avoids any miscommunication. WhatsApp and other apps of this kind have some benefits but should definitely not become a main way of communication.

ALB: What are the keys to succeeding in this market for a firm of your size and focus? What are you currently doing well, and what are potential areas of improvement for you?

Harvey: Open-minded, solution-oriented and never hesitating to question the status quo. Communication is always a challenge especially given the location of our offices however, we maintain an “open door policy” and have ongoing discussions with our staff in order to improve in any way we can.

ALB: Where would you like to see the firm five years from now?

Harvey: Through hard work the firm has grown from strength to strength and as of today we have 22 offices around the world. So, in five years we will work even harder to reach 40 offices, but nothing should ever be taken for granted.

ALB: What motto do you live by? 

Harvey: Do not wake up a sleeping lion. No one is indispensable; cemeteries are full of indispensable people.