After beginning his working life at a successful start-up, Matthew Dyer started his career in law at DWF before joining Simmons & Simmons, where he was an associate part of the information, communications, and technology team. Early on in his career, he was once faced with a young associate’s nightmare.
“A partner at the firm was going on a holiday and told me about a sizable matter that might kick off,” Dyer recalls. “He said it shouldn’t come up while he was away but if it did, I’d need to manage it.”
Of course, it came up. Suddenly, Dyer was left to serve as lead on a significant commercial transaction and to take on responsibilities he wasn’t sure he was ready for. While it was a daunting task, he handled it successfully, and those kinds of sink-or-swim situations are the ones he looks back fondly on today.
Those moments not only exposed him to challenges that strengthened his abilities as a lawyer and helped instill the confidence he’d need to succeed in his career, but also allowed him to develop guiding principles that continue to influence the way he approaches his in-house responsibilities today as head of legal at Dyson.
“When big challenges arise, I’ve learnt to keep a cool head and think logically. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed.” he shares. “I’m a big fan of writing action plans to capture and prioritize what I need to do, and I find that this helps me to maintain my focus and remain calm.”
Dyer brought that level of composure to Dyson in 2018 as a legal counsel within the global operations division, where he advised on a variety of commercial contracts in a fast-paced environment. Since then, he’s been promoted twice, has been involved in significant business and technology transformation projects, as well as other high-stakes matters, including Dyson’s decision to terminate its relationship with one of its biggest third-party manufacturers in 2021 due to forced labor concerns.
His drive has long been celebrated by his partners, both inside and outside Dyson. “Matt has partnered with [Herbert Smith Freehills (HSF)] on a number of business-critical mandates—both contentious and noncontentious—and in every instance, Matt has shown unique legal insights, enthusiasm, and complete dedication to the matter at hand,” says Philip Pfeffer, partner as HSF. “I know I speak for everyone at HSF when I say that it is an absolute pleasure and privilege to work with Matt and his colleagues at Dyson.”
As Dyer’s roles and responsibilities have evolved during his career, so has his leadership philosophy. While private practice taught him how to be resilient and to be an expert negotiator, the transition to an in-house environment and his expanded people management role, in which he now manages a team of seven lawyers across two continents, has taught him the value of inclusive leadership.
“Everybody brings different strengths, perspectives, and experiences to the table, all of which help us to be an effective team and optimize the legal support that we provide to our stakeholders. I really value the input of my team, and I try to promote an environment in which every member of the team has the opportunity to contribute and feels empowered to do so,” Dyer says.
Dyer’s career advice for young attorneys is to gain experience in a nonlegal business setting—whether through a nonlegal role in a business or a client secondment.
“That helps you understand what clients are looking for from their lawyers. There can be a disconnect between what a lawyer thinks that their client wants, and what the client actually wants—or needs—and being able to understand the latter is a really valuable skill,” he says.
He also advises them to seek opportunities to get out of their comfort zone.
“Learn everything that you can from them—success or failure,” Dyer says. “There might be an element of ‘sink or swim’ in some of these scenarios, but most people discover that they can swim, and those experiences help you to develop the mental resilience that you’ll need as you progress your career.”
Balance and Respect
Long hours and demanding workloads are both norms in the legal world, but there are healthy ways to navigate these challenges. Matthew Dyer notes that lawyers often underestimate the value of a healthy work/life balance.
“We need to work sustainably and make time for ourselves outside of work if we’re going to be able to perform at our best and remain resilient to the challenges that we face on a regular basis. I encourage this within my team, and I make an effort to respect work/life boundaries and support the team to maintain sensible working hours. Achieving the right work/life balance is something that I’ve been on a personal journey with during my career! Obviously, there are occasions when lawyers have to go the extra mile, but by treating these occasions as the exception rather than the norm then we can respond to them more effectively when they arise.”