Kathleen Harris

Kathleen Harris

Managing Partner at Arnold & Porter, London

Kathleen Harris is managing partner at Arnold & Porter, London, and co-chair of the multinational law firm’s anti-corruption practice. She shares her daily routine with The Brief.

The morning routine

I tend to be up early as I enjoy taking my dogs for a walk to start our respective days. Getting out there and enjoying the fresh air with them is a good way to start the day. It gives me time to think, albeit it is less enjoyable when the weather is bleak.

Then it’s breakfast and time to get ready for the day ahead.

I have a one-hour commute to work, which is never particularly enjoyable, but it does give me time to enjoy a good book.

I, along with my colleagues at Arnold & Porter’s London office, have the benefit of being based in Tower 42 in the City, so the impressive views across London await us each morning. I suspect when I have finished my working life, I will always remember the glorious views.

I like being in the office and being face-to-face with colleagues and clients. In lockdown I was very aware of how tough it was for the younger generation at Arnold & Porter, who sometimes learn more organically, and those opportunities of talking things through informally could be missed.

We still have flexibility at Arnold & Porter, which can work as long as the culture of the firm is embedded into the staff.

When I think back to the early stages of my career, finding good mentors helped immensely. Some of those opportunities might have been lost over the last two years, so I’m particularly keen to make sure those lawyers and staff beginning their careers with us have the support they need.

In such a competitive market for talent in the legal sector, it’s more important than ever to ensure the new staff know they can develop here at Arnold & Porter and we are always working to enhance our culture.

The meetings

Once at the office, no two days are the same. A lot depends on what I am doing within my practice and also whether issues arise within the office.

I tend to hold regular management meetings. These are partly for me to provide assistance when needed but it’s also a platform for us to discuss key issues such as diversity, equality and inclusion, marketing and business development, as well as the welfare of staff.

I believe these are vital agenda items for any business. The legal sector has come on leaps and bounds when it comes to wellbeing and looking after our mental health, though it’s not perfect.

What is important is contributing to the changes in a positive way. Discussing how we can keep wellbeing top of the agenda in our own firm is important to me and should be to any managing partner and their team.

I know it is always difficult to manage expectations and you may be met with negativity, but that should never deter you from trying. We all know change is challenging, even change you want, so listening to others and remaining focused on the right developments is key.

Here at Arnold & Porter, our strength is our transatlantic relationship with our colleagues who are based in the US. We are more than a London firm and more than a satellite office for an American legal giant.

A lot of our work involves collaboration with our US colleagues, whether that be on securing deals for our clients, negotiating contracts to roll out vaccines globally for our life sciences clients, or whether we are assisting a US business setting up its operations in the UK with employment and data law advice, there’s often a transatlantic element to it. Ensuring we talk to our US partners and to each other here in London is vital in making that joint working run smoothly.

It can be difficult to manage the internal meetings and discussions, but I believe it has a useful purpose and we wouldn’t be able to manage without them. I accept sometimes the diary becomes packed and you don’t know how you will get any other work done, but credit goes to my team who help me manage my time very well.

The clients

Being a managing partner requires considerable focus on the management side of the firm, strategy and so on, but I’ve never lost sight of the fact I am a lawyer first and foremost, so it’s vital that I manage my workload well.

I make sure I am focused on client work, whether that be researching for a client case, drafting, attending conferences or being there for team meetings. I’m a white-collar crime specialist and although I head up a firm which covers a number of practice areas, including life sciences, commercial litigation, privacy and data law, employment and more, being at my own team (corporate crime) meetings is a must. It's about putting our clients first.

Inevitably, client work can involve breakfast, lunch and dinner meetings too. Talking to clients in a less formal environment has its benefits because you tend to relax more, and that makes dealing with the difficult issues more manageable.

The end of the day

For me the end of the day is always time to relax and do my best to focus on things that don’t involve work – even if that end of day is very late! Inevitably, because of the work Arnold & Porter does on a transatlantic basis with our colleagues in the US who are several hours behind us, there are the odd emails and calls later in the day, but overall, after work is a time when I can switch off and distract myself with family, friends or the odd Netflix box set.

That doesn’t mean putting my feet up. I always like to keep busy even away from work. I am always renovating something or am in the garden or walking the dogs.

Relaxation for me doesn’t necessarily mean doing very little! This doesn’t mean I am a workaholic but I do enjoy being focussed on something.

With that in mind, I have to make sure I have time to see friends, and we have a First Thursday Club in the diary when I meet with my friends for dinner each month. It’s something I always look forward to and hopefully a trend we’ll carry on well into the future.

It’s a cliché to say that no day is the same in a job, but in my role at Arnold & Porter that could not be more accurate. I’m fortunate enough to be in a job I truly enjoy and don’t mind getting up early in the morning to commute to.