Five minutes with… Laura Sheridan Mouton, Herbert Smith Freehills

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Laura Sheridan Mouton, the head of US Capital Markets – Australia, tells us about how her path into law was set by a speech about gun control, and the importance of pro bono work.  ​

What made you decide to become a lawyer?

At 15, I developed a knack for competitive [American] high school public speaking in the “original advocacy” category – one highly controversial speech advocating gun control later, and my path was set.  A classic American liberal arts undergraduate degree at a history-steeped college with ivy laced brick buildings, law school in Washington, D.C. and practice at a Wall Street law firm naturally followed.
How long have you worked at HSF and what brought you to that position?
I have been Sydney-based since 2004, and joined Herbert Smith Freehills earlier this year to head up the firm’s US capital markets practice in Australia.  Legacy Herbert Smith has advised on US capital markets matters across Asia Pacific for over a decade.  With my arrival, the merged firm now has an “on the ground” US capital markets offering in Australia. 
I concentrate primarily on Rule 144A offerings of investment grade and high yield debt securities, US private placements, structured debt/securitisation transactions and infrastructure financings.

What’s the most unique transaction you’ve ever worked on/been involved with?
Each deal is significant for the client.  Remembering this important fact, the “firsts” – transactions in which we develop new structures and approaches or adapt financing technologies in contexts outside their traditional application – are particularly rewarding.
If you could invite three people for dinner, dead or alive and excluding family and friends, who would they be and why?
Having just completed a significant transaction executed on an aggressive timetable, the best dinner companions are my husband and two daughters!  But, after time with family, I would be keen to host Margaret Thatcher, Hillary Clinton and Sheryl Sandberg – as long as I don't need to cook!
You’re based in Sydney – where’s the best place to go for a drink and/or dinner after work?
Bambini Trust is a great spot for team and client drinks, but nothing beats the ‘wow’ factor (and fantastic wine list) at Café Sydney.  After 10 years in Sydney, I still find the outlook mesmerising.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given (work or personal)?
“Never forget that a small group of committed individuals can change the world.  Indeed it is the only thing that ever has.”  These words of American cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead resonated with me early in life – and continue to motivate my efforts to bring committed individuals together to make a difference.
Do you have any hobbies/interests outside of work?
My two beautiful daughters, planning elaborate children’s birthday parties and enjoying good wine with good friends.  My recent attempts at abstract painting replicate my four year old’s preschool masterpieces.  However, my ambitious abstract efforts have resulted in some amusing anecdotes – ask me about the 1.5 metre by 1.25 metre canvas I carried home from the shop after a failed attempt to fit it in my car!

Complete this sentence:  If I wasn’t a lawyer, I would be…
A non-executive director.  Having provided a significant amount of pro bono legal representation earlier in my career, my pro bono efforts now chiefly focus on opportunities to contribute at the not-for-profit board level.  In a more restricted and competitive government funding environment, various not-for-profits have recognised the need to diversify their fundraising strategies, and are considering non-traditional funding alternatives, such as issuing social benefit bonds in the Australian debt capital markets.  The perspective we, as lawyers, bring is enormously valuable, as not-for-profits strengthen their governance frameworks and enhance their business efficiency.

What do you think will be the single biggest issue facing the legal space in Australia over the next 12 months?
I actually see achieving true gender diversity in partnership ranks and other senior leadership positions as the single biggest challenge facing law firms  – and many other professions – globally over the next decade.
Law firms are increasingly recognising diversity and inclusion as not just something our clients expect, but a business imperative.  Like a number of law firms, Herbert Smith Freehills has announced a target that by 1 May 2019, women will comprise 30% of the global partnership.  I am encouraged that the current gender imbalance in law firm partnerships – and senior leadership positions across industry – is now being clearly acknowledged, as are the business benefits of greater gender diversity.  But there remains a long road ahead.
If you had Tony Abbott’s job for one day, what would you do?
While I’m passionate proponent of women assuming leadership positions, I can honestly say I wouldn’t want to be prime minister today – I truly hope that by the time Australia’s second female prime minister assumes office we have grown in maturity as a nation.  Politics completely aside, vilification on the basis of any identity (gender or otherwise) has no place in 21st century Australia.

What do you love about your job?
The rush of winning a significant new deal – or, better yet, identifying an opportunity for a client and working with the client to structure a transaction that realises particular commercial outcomes.  The excitement of fast moving transactions and a rapidly evolving regulatory environment.  Daily opportunities to be both technical and commercial, and to develop and deepen relationships.  And the privilege of working in a diverse workplace with some truly amazing professionals, as part of an organisation with a global vision.