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Boylan Wells
Boylan Wells

Welcome to your 2021 Alumni Yearbook

A year when resilience and resourcefulness came to the fore to counter the worries and challenges of restrictions on movement, social distancing and life in general.

Although 2020 was ‘a year like no other’, 2021 hasn’t witnessed a rebound to the pre-pandemic normal. In fact, with health, business and travel uncertainties continuing to wash over the world, it’s understandable when we hear of friends and colleagues feeling disoriented and feeling that way ourselves.

Last year, we wrote about Allen & Overy’s overnight transition to a virtual law firm. This year, we can see that many positives have come out of this new way of working. On the whole, our people were well supported professionally and personally so they could make the most of the circumstances in which they found themselves and this allowed the business to continue with minimal interruption.

However, many of us have discovered the hard way that home working has its drawbacks. Without doubt, many of us long for a return to the office environment, for a range of reasons. But that leaves us with a challenge as the world – and consequently the way we work and live in our new environment – has fundamentally changed. How do we adjust to merge the best of the old and the best of the new into something that works for the business, our clients and our people?

The pandemic has caused A&O, along with the rest of the world, to face a unique crisis. There have been many initiatives to try not only to help our staff work from home but also, and equally as important, to help them feel connected and supported. A&O is a world-leading law firm and a successful business and the extent to which we’re able to help our staff, and society more generally, is inextricably linked to this position. We should never lose sight of that.

Covid-19 has undoubtedly had a profound effect on the way firms like A&O work. That’s one of the themes we explore in ‘Hybrid ways of working’. It’s definitely a work in progress whose ideas, initiatives and in-house workstreams dovetail with our focus on sustainability on a global scale, as explained in ‘The transition to a sustainable economy’. There will be challenges and there will need to be flexibility from all, as highlighted by Wim and Gareth.

We also continue our reporting on the impact of diversity and inclusion (D&I) and social mobility work in A&O. A number of D&I networks are now established and are open to alumni. These include A&Out, Race & Ethnicity@A&O, the Society of East Asian Lawyers (SEAL), the U.S. Black and Latinx Affinity Group (BLAG), the U.S. Asian Affinity Network (AAN), and the U.S. Women’s Committee. Details on all these groups can be found on the Alumni Network website benefits page. Alumni membership of the soon-to-be launched A&O Social Mobility Network will also be possible.

Like so many things in life, social mobility is a journey, not a destination. We want everyone, regardless of their background, to be able to build a successful career and achieve their full potential at A&O. Progress has been made but we have a way to go, as we are reminded in ‘A busy year for social mobility work’.

As for our own Alumni Network offerings, it’s gratifying to see how pandemic considerations have spurred interesting new developments. We couldn’t meet face to face, so we decided to increase the number, size and content of the various digital communications sent out to members. Our virtual events included talks with David Morley, Carly Martin, Judith Gill QC, Sietze Hepkema, Shruti Ajitsaria and Tobias Greven; a careers workshop for alumni in seven jurisdictions who are now working in-house; trainee class reunions; a U.S. Law Group reunion; and ‘Alumni Week’, our series of 18 alumni-led events, which was attended by more than 600 members globally. If you missed any virtual events, you can watch recordings (go to the Alumni Network website for details).

As we approach 2022, I hope that we’ll see a return to face-to-face gatherings and with it the joy of reconnecting with friends and former colleagues.

All of this, and more, has taken place online, which means we’re reducing the number of live meetings whilst trying to maintain personal contact. It’s so much easier working with people when you’ve met them and formed a bond. The initiatives that we see offices around the world taking to encourage interpersonal interactions seem tailor-made for a global firm like A&O.

All the same, in 2022 we’re planning to arrange a number of in-person events where you can meet old friends and celebrate milestones, both personal and business. Already, as 2021 draws to a close, we’re seeing a small-scale return of in-person events such as trainee class reunions limited to 20 people. In November, we welcomed 50 alumni to a reception in our Prague office. It was a great opportunity to reconnect with former colleagues and friends, and to showcase our newly built premises at the Missouri Park building located in the heart of the Karlín district.

In 2022, we intend to host the London Retirees Summer Party, the Former London Partners and Directors Reception and a Global Alumni Reunion.

When I became co-chair of the Alumni Network, my old friend Alex Pease told me the Alumni team was very good, experienced and a pleasure to work with. If that sounded too good to be true, it was actually an understatement. Our core team of Stella Ekkeshis, Jenny Enever and Joanna Hughes deserve all the credit and I hope my admiration and appreciation for them is widely shared by all alumni. I’d like to thank Pauline McFerran for her eight years of service in our team. She left A&O in July to move from Belfast to London to take on a new role and I wish her all the very best. I’d also like to welcome Cara McKinstry into the team. Cara joined us in August as our new Alumni Assistant based in Belfast.

A further recognition of their efforts came when our flagship publication, the Alumni Yearbook, was cited by the Institute of Internal Communication in its 2020 national awards programme as the ‘Best channel for members/ stakeholders’ – the second time the team has won this award. The judges called it “a great submission with clear objectives around creating ambassadors for the organisation”. “It was great to see the Alumni Network identifying content of value as part of the planning,” they said, adding they “loved the approach taken and the skills used.” Well done, team!

As we approach 2022, I hope that we’ll see a return to face-to-face gatherings and with it the joy of reconnecting with friends and former colleagues.

Meanwhile, I hope you enjoy this year’s edition of our yearbook.

With best wishes,

Boyan Wells
Co-chair, Alumni Network

Emerging stronger and better from the Covid-19 crisis

Wim Dejonghe and Gareth Price

An interview with our Senior Partner and Managing Partner

With the Covid-19 crisis continuing to impact businesses throughout 2021, Wim Dejonghe and Gareth Price assess A&O’s response and what lies ahead.