Diverse thinking: My peer group provides support in my leadership role, it’s like having a de-facto board of directors
For any aspiring female lawyer, breaking into the heavily male-dominated legal arena is one of the biggest hurdles to overcome.
Yet that’s just what Serina Pace did, through a combination of sheer willpower, perseverance and the courage to trust in her own convictions.
Today, Serina heads one of South Australia’s top boutique law firms, Pace Lawyers, as its principal practitioner. Having started the practice herself back in 1998, she has enjoyed watching it grow and prosper under her able leadership.
What were some of the main obstacles she personally faced over the years?
‘I think one of the challenges was definitely gaining clients’ trust in a male-dominated profession,’ she says.
She explained that while there are a lot of female lawyers in Australia, the numbers dwindle when you look at the upper hierarchies where key decisions are made.
Therefore, forging meaningful relationships in which both parties receive value was key to overcoming this barrier, and providing exceptional service was how Serina achieved this.
‘Certainly in our industry you need a really quality service offering, to attract and keep those clients. We don’t want to be seen as discount lawyers, that’s not in our bag.’
Serina also points to her practice’s strong community ethos as one of the underlying drivers of its success.
A large part of its early growth was enacted through conducting pro bono work in the community, and in fact, this remains a core part of the firm’s operations. Part of every lawyer’s KPIs is measured as a certain amount of pro bono work each has to carry out every year.
What is the philosophy behind Serina’s leadership?
‘Don’t be afraid to become a ‘Yes’ man,’ she says.
‘Not in the sense of agreeing all the time with your peers or staff, but when someone comes to you with a problem, instead of saying ‘We can’t do that’, turn your thinking around, be positive and say ‘Yes, we can’.’
She also stresses the importance of staying true to your individual values.
‘Bring your values to work. I run the practice like a big Italian family because that’s my background. We settle our disputes with a lot of noise and a lot of food at the boardroom table, People value that honesty, and I always say don’t be afraid to bring your personal values to the boardroom. I think it inspires others to follow you.’
Such philosophies have allowed Serina to gain recognition for her astounding leadership in recent years. Just last year, she scooped the Telstra Business Women’s Award in the Business Owner SA category.
She also believes her years of TEC membership have contributed to her personal and business success.
‘It’s given me support in my leadership role with the business – essentially I am a self-practitioner, and it is good to sort of have a de-facto board of directors through TEC.’
‘As with anything in life, what you get out of your TEC group is entirely proportional to what you put into it. Once you invest in and make the effort, you find you get back tenfold in terms of management and leadership support.’