Header graphic for print

Legal Leaders Blog

Building Strength, Confidence and Well-Being

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

LEX AFRICA publishes 2013 Guide to Doing Business in Africa

Posted in Legal Profession, Professional Service Firms (PSFs)

The Chairman of LEX AFRICA, Werksmans partner Pieter Steyn, recently announced the publication of the comprehensive and sought after LEX AFRICA Guide to Doing Business in Africa (PDF).

The 2013 LEX AFRICA Guide to Doing Business in Africa – the investors’, business persons’ and professionals’ ‘must have‘ to considering commercial or legal activity in all of Africa. (Sean Larkan, Edge International)

Long a ‘must have’ reference for anyone doing business in or undertaking legal or professional services work in Africa, this unique Guide (PDF) is updated annually and provides a summary of key matters which need to be taken into account when considering doing business in 30 African countries.  LEX AFRICA is the largest and longest-established (founded in 1993) African legal network, currently with members in 24 African countries.  More information is available from www.lexafrica.com.

Sean Larkan, Partner, Edge International

Edge Communiqué: women partners, hiring nouse and social media as strategy

Posted in Brand, Culture, Leadership, Legal Profession, Management, Marketing, Personal Brand, Social Media

In the April edition of Edge International Communiqué three of my partners address important issues and provide insights and outline opportunities for the legal profession:

Jordan Furlong, in Law Firms and Women Partners: You’re Doing it Wrong emphasises that if firms are following typical practices in how they promote women into equity positions they are missing a strategic opportunity and effectively sabotaging their own market viability by:

Too many firms are making a dumb mistake when it comes to hiring and promoting women partners (Sean Larkan, Edge International)

  • wasting vast talent opportunities;
  • overlooking or ignoring what women (half the population) could bring to firms in various ways;
  • a continued reliance only on hours to measure productivity and contribution which short-changes women.

As a result firms are less capable and less competitive. He leaves us with the tantalising idea of the benefits that will be enjoyed by the firm which ‘gets this right’!

LLB view on this issue?

One thing law firm leaders can do much better is to actively communicate with and keep in touch with prospective women equity partners in their firms. Too often one hears of a female partner who, rather than make a fuss, quietly leaves and joins a corporate or maybe takes a break from law, too often lost forever. Also, a multi-pronged disaster for a firm. Maintaining this type of active contact and keeping the communication lines open can avert this type of issue cropping up. It requires a genuine effort from leaders which builds trust, as well as a good dose of flexibility.

In ‘Five Keys to a Successful Lateral Hiring Strategy‘, Ed Wesemann argues that law firm lateral hire strategies often don’t work , due mainly to poor execution, not the strategy itself. He sets out a workable strategy for firms to follow when lateral hiring:

  1. set the bar high enough to ensure you hire winners not losers;
  2. use internal networks to identify good candidates;
  3. do some research around your short-listed candidates;
  4. be in direct touch with candidates – they appreciate this and you will learn a lot more; and
  5. find out what the candidate is truly trying to achieve by making the move to your firm.

LLB view on this issue?
Lateral hiring should be undertaken as the implementation of an agreed strategy. Too often it arises as a partner in another firm or a search executive has approached a partner in one’s own firm. While this can sometimes still result in a happy ending, it can also waste time and divert a firm’s leadership away from the key issues and even the areas where truly strategic hires should be made.

A focused strategy using Facebook’s very own rich data on users can prove to be a boon for carefully targeted business building strategies by law firms (Sean Larkan, Edge International)

Jeff Morris offers a very interesting take on using Facebook strategically to target and engage with very specific potential client groupings in “Strategic Social Media. This is made possible as Facebook has very rich searchable data about their users. This provides a very unique opportunity to target your audience very carefully and strategically, not by talking about or trying to ‘sell’ your firm but by sharing, and doing so with content that users want to read. Jeff throws up some fascinating insights and great ideas.

LLB view on this issue:

Many law firm leaders do not view social media as a strategic tool that firms can use in this way or that they should pay much attention to. I disagree, social media interactions provide a very powerful window into the heart and soul of a law firm (and this is how others connect with us emotionally, which is critical as this is how they assess our brands) and a fascinating picture of a firm, and its all up there for everyone to see and experience. In some respects, a ‘brand offer on steroids’. So, very strategic.

Sean Larkan, Partner, Edge International

 

Silos can be insidious and damaging and come in vertical and horizontal form

Posted in Business Models, Culture, Legal Profession, Management

One often hears partners or legal leaders mention ‘silos’ as an issue in their firm. Mostly, firms struggle to deal with this insidious threat that can, by stealth, undermine much of what is good about a firm and over time, cause extensive damage or block progress.

Also, once they are embedded in the culture and way of doing business of a firm, they are hard to eradicate. Often they arise due to simple failings around fundamental matters such as communication, consultation, trust and respect or lack thereof. Addressing them requires a direct interest and commitment from senior leadership. Failing this, nothing changes.

Silos are insidious; they can develop by stealth both vertically and horizontally and once embedded in your culture and way of doing business, can be difficult to dislodge. Left to mature they can be hugely damaging. The best bet is to recognise the danger, assess your position and start tackling the problem (Sean Larkan graphic – Edge International)

These silos, or what I have termed ‘horizontal’ or ‘vertical’ silos, even rear their heads in the most successful of firms. Only last week while on assignment in New Zealand a senior partner in a blue-chip corporate firm commented in regard to horizontal silos, ‘it is an issue which seems to have crept up on us – too many of our younger lawyers mix and share very well amongst themselves, but mainly within their levels or hierarchies, not above or below. This holds them back and impacts the effectiveness of the group in servicing clients. The problem is that management don’t seem to recognise this and get defensive if it is raised’.

They can even arise in the smallest of firms – I encountered such silos in a highly leveraged and successful south-eastern Asian two-partner firm!

Firstly, Vertical Silos; what do we mean by them? Essentially a body of people within the firm that, notwithstanding position, role or seniority, tend to work somewhat alone and isolated from others. They do their own thing and are characterised by a lack of sharing and communication. This may apply to practice or industry sector groups, partner teams, offices or even floors within offices. We have all seen them and experienced them at some time or another.

Secondly, horizontal silos; these can develop when there is a lack of communication, sharing or interaction between groups defined by role or seniority. The most obvious examples here are when salaried partners say are not treated as ‘partners’ but as ‘glorified employees’ which causes resentment, a lack of sharing, under-performance, lack of recognition and file or client hogging.

In both cases there will be examples that I have not listed or thought of.

What makes vertical and horizontal silos a challenge? Continue Reading