Seraphim (Sara) Ma: Redefining Leadership in the Legal Services Sector

Seraphim Ma: Redefining Leadership in the Legal Services Sector | Mr. Business Magazine

Leaders in the legal services industry are facing challenges, including technological advancements, shifting client expectations, and heightened competition. To address these challenges, they are pursuing innovation and prioritizing client-focused strategies. Their role is essential in managing complexities, leading strategic efforts, and cultivating a culture of flexibility and progress within their organizations. In a field where credibility, trust, and expertise are crucial, these leaders serve as pillars of stability. They guide their teams through changing environments while upholding ethical principles and providing excellent legal services.

Seraphim Ma, Managing Partner of Baker McKenzie, is a prime example of a leader in the legal service industry committed to delivering impactful work. Her leadership style is characterized by a strong commitment to ongoing improvement. She possesses skills essential to leading a modern law firm and offers specialized legal services to her clients.

From Struggle to Triumph

Seraphim Ma joined Baker McKenzie’s Taipei office in 1990, attracted by its distinction as the first international law firm in Asia, including Taiwan. Before this career move, Seraphim completed an internship at a medium-sized firm after being admitted to the bar. However, the experience was less than ideal due to a challenging dynamic with a supervisor who did not have a lawyer’s license.

Seraphim Ma was assigned to a small office space uncomfortably close to the door, with limited room to move around. The supervisor, on the other hand, had a spacious desk and often disrupted Seraphim’s work environment by slamming the door behind her. This situation hurt Seraphim, leading to feelings of frustration and a blow to her self-esteem. Despite the emotional difficulties, Seraphim was determined to persevere and saw it as a learning experience.

Seeking a workplace that valued employee well-being, Seraphim explored opportunities somewhere else. Through a referral from college classmate Justin Liang, Seraphim found a position at Baker McKenzie, known for its supportive culture. This marked the beginning of a successful career in international law for Seraphim Ma, becoming a Partner in 1997 and Senior Partner in 2004. Her dedication and leadership skills were further recognized when she was appointed as the Taipei office’s Managing Partner in 2021, a significant milestone in Seraphim’s journey.

A Global Legal Powerhouse

Founded in 1949, Baker McKenzie is a global law firm known for serving more than 500 of the world’s largest and most successful companies. The firm has a team of over 13,000 people, including 6,500+ qualified lawyers and tax professionals, who work closely with clients to drive sustainable and inclusive growth. Baker McKenzie’s strong global reach and network of leading local firms allow them to simplify legal complexity, anticipate risks, and identify commercial opportunities across borders and practices.

This has made Baker McKenzie a top choice for many multinational corporations. Additionally, Baker McKenzie was recognized as the world’s strongest law firm for the 12th consecutive year by Thomson Reuters. The firm ranked first in key brand measures such as awareness, favorability, multijurisdictional litigation, and multijurisdictional deals.

The Taipei office in Taiwan was established in 1975 and provides a comprehensive range of commercial legal services to domestic, regional, and multinational clients in Taiwan and the Asia-Pacific region. As part of Baker McKenzie’s global network, the Taipei office offers seamless legal services that are both global and local. It has over 100 attorneys and legal professionals admitted to practice in multiple jurisdictions, including Taiwan, the United States, England, Singapore, and New Zealand.

The credentials of Baker McKenzie’s lawyers in Taiwan are highly esteemed. The Taipei office was recently awarded the 2024 Taiwan Law Firm of the Year by the Chambers Asia Pacific & Greater China Award. It also received the 2023 National Law Firm of the Year by the IFLR Asia Pacific Award in recognition of its expertise.

Legal Expertise across Industries

Under the leadership of Seraphim Ma, Baker McKenzie specializes in a wide range of services. 

The following are the services offered by Baker McKenzie:

  • Antitrust and Competition
  • Banking and Finance
  • Capital Markets
  • Compliance and Investigations
  • Dispute Resolution
  • Employment and Compensation
  • Environment and Climate Change
  • Information Technology and Communications
  • Intellectual Property
  • International Commercial and Trade
  • Mergers and Acquisitions
  • Private Equity
  • Real Estate
  • Restructuring and Insolvency
  • Tax-Related Services

The firm serves clients from a variety of industries, such as consumer goods and retail, energy, mining and infrastructure, financial institutions, healthcare, hotels, resorts, and tourism. Baker McKenzie is headquartered in Chicago, Illinois. It has a global presence with offices in the Asia-Pacific, Europe, Middle East and Africa, Latin America, and North America regions.

Demonstrating the Essence of Firm Values

In leading Baker McKenzie, Seraphim Ma faces the challenge of effectively utilizing the skills and talents of the firm’s lawyers and advisors. Seraphim values the culture of respect and flexibility at Baker McKenzie. The firm offers a supportive environment for legal professionals accustomed to advocating strongly for clients and engaging in lively internal discussions. Within this lively setting, there is an importance on open communication rather than strict order.

Seraphim makes it a priority to have one-on-one discussions with colleagues about twice a year. She understands that the firm’s success relies on the collective efforts of the entire team, including the valuable contributions of senior colleagues who have built a lasting legacy for future generations. Seraphim personally finds the intellectually stimulating atmosphere of the firm to be beneficial for her growth and the development of her leadership approach. She aims to demonstrate through her actions to ensure colleagues understand its essence.

The Roadmap to Stability and Profitability

Under the leadership of Seraphim Ma, Baker McKenzie strategically directed the balance between innovation, stability, and profitability. The firm develops detailed strategic plans to guide innovation goals and ensure financial stability, taking advantage of opportunities in both local and global legal markets through informed decision-making.

The firm invests in technology and innovation to streamline processes and improve client services, as seen in initiatives like “Reinvent.” By nurturing a culture of innovation, employees are encouraged to contribute ideas and prioritize meeting changing client needs with innovative legal solutions.

Adherence to regulatory requirements and ethical standards is a top priority, supported by strong compliance and risk management processes. Collaboration with international networks, legal tech firms, and industry partners further enhances the firm’s innovation efforts.

Regular evaluation of innovation initiatives helps inform strategic adjustments, striking a balance between innovation and financial sustainability. Through this comprehensive approach, Baker McKenzie effectively directs the complexities of innovation while maintaining stability and profitability.

Approach to Employee Development

Since the beginning of Seraphim Ma’s legal journey at Baker McKenzie, the firm has played a significant role in her professional life. She considers herself fortunate to be part of a legal organization that values inclusivity and diversity in the workplace, creating an environment where all individuals can thrive equally. The firm’s commitment goes beyond just words, as it actively invests in the growth and well-being of its employees, nurturing a supportive ecosystem for personal and professional development. 

One example of this commitment is the provision of scholarships for employees seeking advanced degrees abroad. Seraphim Ma herself benefited from this program, receiving a scholarship for her LLM degree at Berkeley in the United States. Additionally, Baker McKenzie has an Associate Training Program that allows associates to exchange experiences across different offices for a year, enhancing their global perspective and enriching their professional growth. These initiatives are based on the firm’s belief that its diverse practice areas and global reach make each individual an essential part of a global team. This collaborative approach encourages close collaboration with colleagues from various international offices, exposing them to complex and innovative cross-border legal work.

Innovating for Growth

As the Managing Partner of Baker McKenzie Taipei office, Seraphim Ma is committed to strategizing and implementing various steps to enhance the operations, reputation, and client base of the company. 

Here are some steps she plans:

  • Embracing Technology: Utilizing legal tech for case management, document automation, and client communication.
  • Enhancing Client Experience: Providing personalized attention and efficient responses.
  • Focusing on Specialization: Developing expertise in specific areas of law.
  • Talent Management and ID&E: Attracting top talent and adopting diversity.
  • Expanding Network: Strengthening relationships for more referrals and collaborations.
  • Improving Efficiency: Streamlining processes and automating tasks.
  • Community Engagement: Engaging in pro bono work and sponsorships for social impact.

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