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Building Strength, Confidence and Well-Being

Gen-Y comes through, again. . . and makes light of darkness

Posted in Australasia, Leadership, Personal Effectiveness

Pollinate Energy a small social enterprise start-up and brainchild of a group of young Gen-Y Aussies has found a way to get inexpensive light into tens of thousands of Indian homes. Visit www.pollinateenergy.org.

Remembering back to when I helped run large law firms I recall how impressed we often were with the energy, enthusiasm and good ideas that came out of our young people, especially when it related to helping others. We’d heard all the stories and media reports of the so-called ‘me’ or ‘my’ generations but in practice found the opposite was generally true.

On this theme, some months back I posted an article about the things we learn from young people (involving my son and his best mate, and the funds they had raised cycling and mountain biking for a charity) – well, it turns out the story had an even happier ending, as they went on to do a third ride and managed to reach their target of $100 000 for Youth Focus, a charitable enterprise in West Australia which supports young people at risk of suicide.

Here is another story (on video) to warm the cockles; about a small start-up called Pollinate Energy, the brain-child of a few young Aussies, who have found a way to get inexpensive light into countless households in India, as well as provide employment to others. Gen-Y comes through, again. . . . . and is definitely making light of darkness.

Sean Larkan, Principal, Edge International

Open Plan offices and Darwin’s natural selection bring unexpected law firm benefits

Posted in Business Models, Change, Culture, Management, Partners, People Strategy, Trust & Respect, Uncategorized

Open plan offices are not new, even for law firms, and no doubt there are a couple of examples in your region. The jury does still seem to be out though in regard to the pros and cons.

While there are those who proudly espouse the virtues of ‘open plan’ with benefits like:

It seems open plan offices can have some unexpected benefits, like selecting out the ‘dickhead’ factor. (image courtesy of BFX NZ)

  • better staff interaction;
  • everyone seen to be on the same footing;
  • more work gets done, etc.

others think they are a crazy idea. Arguments against tend to revolve around confidentiality, the need to work in peace, no interruptions and so on.

I did some work for a firm recently which has adopted an open plan for its new premises. The partners were quite open about their motivation – to save costs and make more money. Of course, they also hoped it would be okay for them, and for their people. On balance they felt everyone would just have to make the best of it.

Turns out it has gone straight to the bottom line with improved profitability. There has also another benefit which they had not anticipated which, with the benefit of hindsight, makes some sense. The managing partner gleefully confided to me the unexpected outcome – the ‘selection out’ of dickheads. Almost a case of Darwin’s* theory of natural selection.

The open plan office scene is just too tough for these difficult customers we have all experienced – their bad behaviours, thinking and attitudes are just too obvious to everyone around them. In an open plan there is no-where to hide. They can’t carry them on behind closed doors or slinking down passageways. Without anyone saying too much, natural selection takes its course and they move on rather than the staff around them having to resign to get away from them.

Continue Reading

Don’t let nimbler law firms bake your cake and eat it!

Posted in Australasia, Brand, Leadership, Legal Profession, Personal Brand

Each year I carefully review Interbrand’s excellent report on the top 100 global brands. No professional service firm brands feature there so you may well ask, what relevance do these largely commercial or corporate brands have for law firms? The reason I do is that Interbrand provides useful summary reports as to why these brands consistently outperform other brands and grow in value and we can learn from them.

Message from the top global brands – simply carrying on as we always have and hoping it will suffice, won’t work – nimbler brands will bake our cake and eat it – Sean Larkan, Edge International

First though, a few quick pointers in regard to brand (which are expanded upon in my book (no plug intended!)):

  • our brands are what other individuals think, not what we think (based on principles developed by Marty Neumeier in the Brand Gap);
  • we need to ensure that what we say we offer, we actually deliver (brand fusion™);
  • there are at least three types of brand we should be aware of – organisational brand, individual brands and our employment brands – each have their peculiarities and potentially, great value;
  • building a high value brand takes a whole bunch of highly talented people working together as a team i.e. your whole firm, legal and support.

Here are the points from the Interbrand report which I thought would be of interest to law firms:

  1. through the influence of social media brands are increasingly shaped by clients and others, and less by organisations themselves;
  2. design is no longer low priority – it is now the key to a brand’s appeal;
  3. corporate citizenship is no longer a nice to have or ‘add on’ but a palpable ethic that must weave right through an organisation and radiate outward – some law firms are doing a great job of this;
  4. a message we have heard before, but a reminder that the marketing rules have changed – the consumer’s voice now carries much more weight;
  5. simply carrying on as we always have and hoping it will suffice, won’t work – nimbler brands will bake our cake and eat it;
  6. something else we have heard often enough before but don’t really seem to heed – the new world involves engaging actively with our clients;
  7. as Apple (presently the top global brand – a cool $100b) has taught us,
    • brands can change lives, not just with products, but through an organisation’s ethos; 
    • brands can enable us to do more, more easily, and for us to truly experience and believe this;
    • customers value a company with a reputation for revolutionising how we work and communicate;
    • it as an organisation thinks differently, which we like, and seems to deeply consider the customer experience (us);
    • . . . . . thereby building trust and charisma, resulting in a leading brand for which users feel there is no substitute (i.e. charismatic);
  8. As a result brand is more than ever, a top leadership issue, not something to simply be delegated to marketing;

In an upcoming article on ‘NewLaw’ my colleague Jordan Furlong and I will highlight a number of law firms (mainly small and mid-tier) in Australasia who are doing something different and often special in the way they deliver service, and clients seem to be responding. I believe a number of them are well down the road to following some or all of the principles set out above.

I would value your thoughts and comments!

Sean Larkan, Principal, Edge International

 

Edge International Communiqué May 2013 – Firm Core Competencies, Budgeting as a Strategic Issue & Lateral Partner Integration

Posted in Financial management, Legal Profession, Management, Partners, Strategy

In the May edition of Edge International Communiqué Edge partners highlight three key focal points for legal leaders:

Nick Jarrett-Kerr in ‘Core Competence and the Competitive Edge  considers three vital attributes that make up the core competence of a law firm,which he argues goes way beyond mere ‘competence’ – it:

Nick Jarrett-Kerr on the core competence of firms (Sean Larkan, Edge International)

  1. must imply sustainable value, in other words sustainable competitive advantage over the long term, something which firms have real difficulty focusing on and building;
  2. should enable a firm to outperform its rivals, usually through specialist skills, tailored solutions and know-how resources; and
  3. must have strategic importance and so be strategically valuable and should help the firm in a number of different ways to out-perform rivals.
LLB views:
I like Nick’s treatment of this concept which we tend to bandy around without really carefully considering the implications. The first core competency around sustainable value can also be addressed by getting partners to think differently about their role and to focus them on building the long term, fundamental capital fabric™ of the firm as a key pre-requisite to carrying out their roles. Very few partners do this; those that do differentiate themselves and their firms. I think the second and third competencies can be tackled (at least in part) via a strategic treatment of brand – understanding brand in all its key forms and implementing a brand strategy which builds charisma i.e. a brand for which there is no substitute. This will strengthen and differentiate a firm in all the ways Nick highlights.

Sean Larkan reasons that some key financial activities are so strategic as to require active leadership involvement. Some are obvious, others not so. They do provide wonderful opportunities to stress-test many aspects of the firm’s operations. (Sean Larkan, Edge International)

 

The author in ‘Financial Budgeting Is Strategic: Leaders, Get Involved’ urges a more active role for leaders around some key financial activities and for a start a health monitor should be placed on the budgeting process and the firm’a approach to budgeting. It is a terrific opportunity to do more than simply get the numbers together - a time for leadership communication, listening, coaching, and focusing your people on the key thinking, behaviours and processes that are critical for success, as well as aligning strategies within your firm, all with a view to supporting the overall firm vision and strategy. It is also about building true accountability on the part of partners. Done well, budgeting is also a fantastic stress tester of so many activities in a firm.

LLB views: since writing this short article I have come across a few situations where firms clearly do not regard their key financial processes as strategic – once a competent CFO or finance manager is in place ‘its in good hands’ and nothing more needs to be done. Maybe technically, but certainly seldom in the sense outlined in this article. It is a golden opportunity to do something special using what is after all one of the most common of all processes in any firm.
Michael White in ‘Lateral Partner Integration‘ focuses on a vital area – what a firm and its new lateral needs to do, together, to achieve ‘success’ in relation to the hire? This is important, as a track record of getting this right can help with later lateral hires down the line.  He outlines some very interesting and useful steps that should be taken by a firm to ensure success in an area which is often fraught with risk and uncertainty both for the firm and the new lateral. It is also something which firms tend to leave to sort itself out as it goes along.  
LLB views:  a little like merger discussions and agreement, lateral hires often get a lot of thought and energy in the lead up to and finalisation and announcement of the ‘deal’ but unfortunately, little structured thought and management in the aftermath, the so-called ‘golden hour’ (you may also like to read this EIC article on the post merger golden hour).

Mike White highlights key things that both the hiring firm and a lateral hire partner need to consider and implement to ensure success for both parties. (Sean Larkan, Edge International)

Post merger implementation is such an important part of the success of mergers and I think Mike has highlighted a very important point here – to place the same sort of emphasis on lateral hires. After all, they cost a lot in time and money to put together and there is invariably a great deal riding on a successful outcome both for the firm and the lateral – so much so that neither can afford for it to fail.

Sean Larkan, Partner, Edge International

Sciaroni and Associates the new business and legal advisory in Laos

Posted in Legal Profession, Management, Strategy

A long-standing powerhouse in providing legal and business/commercial/corporate advisory services out of Cambodia and Myanmar (since 1993), Sciaroni & Associates has announced  the opening of its Laos office.

Sciaroni & Associates, a long-standing provider of business, corporate, commercial and legal services in Cambodia and Myanmar has announced the opening of its office in Laos (Sean Larkan, Edge International)

Daniel Noonan heads up the office. Daniel has been advising on foreign direct investment, mergers and acquisitions and commercial regulatory matters for the past 5 years.  Prior to joining Sciaroni & Associates, Daniel had several years’ experience working for Baker & McKenzie in Vietnam. In Laos he worked for an international law firm advising investors entering the country as well as existing business operators.  Daniel studied law in Chicago and in Tokyo and is admitted to the Bar in Illinois. He speaks English and conversational Japanese. Email: dan@sa-asia.com

Since economic integration with ASEAN and the WTO, Laos has experienced strong economic development and has one of the region’s highest GDP growth forecasts for 2013. As a result, the country’s developing and increasingly diversifying economy offers unique business opportunities for investors. Continue Reading

Women lawyers in Australia – how you can possibly help

Posted in Australasia, Culture, Diversity, Leadership, Legal Profession, People Strategy, Trust & Respect, Values

The President of the Law Council of Australia today published a column in the ALMJ along the lines of the title of this blog post – as a request was made for readers to complete an important survey, and given the importance of the subject-matter and the tight time-frame I have taken the liberty of repeating the column verbatim below. Links to the surveys have been provided. [See also the recent LLB post referencing Jordan Furlong's article in the latest Edge International Communiqué on this subject]:

You can possibly help women lawyers in Australia by completing the surveys referenced in this post – please see the clickable links (Sean Larkan, Edge International)

“In my first column for the January edition of the Australasian Law Management Journal I referenced addressing the high attrition rates of women lawyers as a priority for my tenure as President.

Since this initial column, the Law Council has made significant progress in this regard. On May 6, the Law Council officially launched the National Attrition and Re-engagement Study (NARS). Research shows that there are significant gaps in diversity in more senior roles in the legal profession. Although women are graduating with law degrees and entering legal careers at higher rates than men, significantly fewer women continue into senior positions within the legal profession.

The Law Council of Australia has engaged Urbis to undertake a national research study to address diversity within the legal profession. Through this study, the Law Council is seeking to obtain quantitative data and confirm trends in progression of both male and female lawyers, and produce a report outlining practical measures which can be implemented to address the causes of high attrition rates among women lawyers, and re-engage women lawyers who have left the profession. Continue Reading

Get Tough on the Little Things and Impact the Big Things

Posted in Culture, Leadership, Management, Personal Effectiveness, Professional Service Firms (PSFs), Values

Sometimes leaders  need to be tough on some of the little things. These can have significant ramifications which are not always immediately obvious. However, because the benefits are not obvious, or seem unimportant at the time, many leaders don’t address them, also possibly feeling that they don’t want to be ‘petty’.

However, as we saw in New York between 1993 and 2001 when Mayor Giuliani tackled the horrific serious crime rates in that metropolis – he surprised everyone when he focused first on petty crime. The result was that big crime was reduced by over 50% to the point where it became relatively safe for womenfolk to walk down the streets. The same can apply here.

Meetings are just one of the examples of where addressing a few little things can have a big impact elsewhere. Allowing partners to consistently be late for meetings, fiddle with mobile devices or take calls, even if done quietly, is tantamount to what is depicted here; chaos, rudeness and ultimately will cause a break-down of communication and respect. Leaders need to nip this in the bud and set the example in doing so as it can have all manner of (positive) impacts around a firm. (Sean Larkan, Edge International)

What are some little things which at first blush don’t seem to warrant making a fuss over? Let’s take meetings as an example – for instance, allowing:

  1. people to be consistently late for meetings;
  2. people to get away with simply not turning up and not notifying anyone in time or giving a reason;
  3. the checking of emails or searching the net on PDAs;
  4. people to keep their phones switched on, take calls or walk out to do so;
Just one example, but it is surprising how common this is in many firms.

What message are being sent by the transgressors? Continue Reading

How Leaders can Track Actionable Emails and Electronic Media

Posted in Leadership, Management, Personal Effectiveness, Professional Service Firms (PSFs)

The life of a leader of a modern day law firm is full of variation, challenges and finding time to do everything. One of the toughest things for leaders to keep up with is attending to the small items – tracking and following up on actionable emails and other electronic or computer-generated items – those important, single emails you know you have to respond to or follow-up in some way but which are not attached to a particular project. Or it may be an important article you must track or send to someone else.  Leave these for only a day or two, or a weekend, and it quickly becomes very difficult to remember them.

One needs a simple system to track these elusive, important items.

Leaders need to develop a system to manage following up on the dozens of important, single items that crop up and need attention – via email, a web article, a tweet or a LinkedIn enquiry (Sean Larkan, Edge International)

Over time, all of us have probably worked up some or other system to try to do this – if they are anything like the ones I have tried, they are probably a bit hit and miss and sometimes more trouble than they are worth – this in turn creates its own pressure as you are always worrying that you may have overlooked an important item.

When I used to help run large law firms one of the things I used to say to new lawyer recruits on the subject of  ‘what it takes to succeed in a  law firm?’ is that I had seldom come across a successful practitioner who was not accessible, responsive and reliable (‘ARR’). I think this applies equally to leaders – that is why leaders need a simple system for following up emails and other electronic items that cross their desks. Continue Reading

Many firms seek pre-eminence; few realise there is a price to pay

Posted in Brand, Partners, Strategy, Values, Vision

Many law firm partners want their firm to either be pre-eminent or to seek pre-eminence. Few realise that there is a serious price to pay.

Look at the vision statements of most firms and chances are you will find words like ‘successful’, ‘leading’, ‘premier’, ‘top’ or similar. Nothing at all wrong with that. But the key thing to realise is that to seek and achieve such lofty visions takes serious commitment, both at the top and throughout a partnership. Without that understanding and buy-in from all partners, leaders and managers in a firm, any visioning or strategy process will be flawed from the core and likely be doomed to failure.

‘Pre-eminence’ – ‘yeah, that sounds good, let’s go for it’ one will hear law firm partners say, but how many realise that there is a price to pay for such lofty visions? The reality is that most firms seek pre-eminence or some version of it. However, if they are truly serious about such a vision, they must realise it takes enthusiastic and consistent commitment and adherence by a majority of partners to a wide range of key things. The firms that manage to achieve this rise to the top and stay there while others muddle along.  (Sean Larkan, Edge International)

What then is this price to pay if you seek such status? In essence it goes to the heart and core of everything you do in the firm but here is a framework of some key things that I feel will be an essential part of any such quest:

  1. Leadership: strong, trusted leadership, not just at the top, but throughout the partners and managers, and a proper understanding of leadership and how it can be fostered and developed;
  2. Direction and Vision: clear direction from the key leaders and an agreed vision bought into and understood by all as to where they want the firm to go and what they want it to be. This takes a very clear understanding of ‘basics’ such as which practice areas, industry sector areas and geographic areas will be focused on and how the firm will differentiate itself through particular ways of delivering service; Continue Reading

Old dogs can still play while the young guns surf

Posted in Leadership, Legal Profession, Management, Marketing, Social Media, Trust & Respect

Many of us who were lucky enough to be part of successful law firms of 20 years or so ago will recall how, in each of those firms, a couple of partners stood out for having impeccable client development and relationship skills. At the time we probably  assumed it was just the way things were done. There’s something in that, but in fact we were witnessing and experiencing a combination of terrific talent, something of an art form, at work, combined with hard work, commitment, genuine interest in others (mainly clients) ahead of own interests, keeping in touch, remembering important occasions, sending them snippets of useful information, and so on. This was old style business and client relationship development at its best; quite an art. The question is; is this a dying art?

Internet-related marketing activities are getting a lot of attention, quite rightly, but as practitioners have only so much time available for marketing, there appears to be an opportunity developing to selectively revert to old marketing practices. As lawyers have moved away from more traditional relationship building practices they may be leaving a gap for a return to old tried and trusted methods. (Sean Larkan, Edge International)

Many of us have said or heard said how clients no longer like to be lunched or invited to too many social functions. A quick coffee has become the new ‘client lunch’. Anecdotal evidence suggests however that some clients may be missing the more personal touch of old. They also, it seems, like the trust and closeness of these personal relationships that are steadily built up and strengthened over time.

Law firm leader Scott McSwan of Queensland mid-tier McKAYS feels there has been a shift – he has always been willing to try innovative new ways of delivering service or differentiating his practice or firm (he was one of the first practitioners I knew who geared up a matrimonial practice to 10 to 1) – when he mentioned he had picked up on changing trends and a possible gap he felt existed around building client relationships I took note: ’lawyers now have ever more kinds of marketing activities to manage, undertake and keep track of – particularly via the Internet and using social media channels. However, everyone has only so much time to do non-billable work and the more time that lawyers give to these other kinds of marketing, the less time they have to give to the more traditional kinds of marketing like client relationship building!’

And what are some of these new marketing avenues which are getting attention? Continue Reading