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Legal Leaders Blog

Building Strength, Confidence and Well-Being

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

Your most powerful business building can come from interaction within

Posted in Management, Marketing, Partners

Law firms have become very effective in establishing functional marketing departments staffed by highly qualified and motivated personnel. All the usual categories can be ticked – communications, publications, client relationship management, events and social media. Why is it then that one is still left with the feeling that something is not quite right, something is not quite gelling? There is unrealised potential.

Getting partners or groups of partners in practice or industry sector groups working together to build practice areas, industry sector specialties or build interaction and relationships with clients can be the most powerful business building a firm does. It also has many off-shoot benefits. (Sean Larkan – Edge International)

Quite understandably, most marketing and business development efforts are focused externally – functions, publications, client visitations, media, relationship management and so on. However, as is so often the case , there remains real potential within.

Due to the nature of the profession and the professionals who people it, we tend to be competitive, individualistic and not natural sharers. We are usually of a fixed mindset disposition and to win is everything and we have an abject fear of failure. We play our cards close to our chest. But right here, amongst this partner group, lies the greatest potential to kick-start your marketing and business building efforts. Getting those self-same partners to start working together, sharing, swapping ideas, helping one another succeed.

Getting partners and groups of partners in practice areas or industry sector areas to start working together and to do so strategically and actively is not easy. But back in the time I was helping to run large corporate law firms this is where we got the most mileage. In in some cases it was startlingly successful. The good thing was that this success did not come from the leadership group – it came from the efforts and leadership of practice and industry sector heads. But, not alone, rather in conjunction with colleagues in other groups or sectors.

How to go about this? There are obviously various ways to tackle this but I have found the following framework helps things along: Continue Reading

Are clients one-eyed when they choose your law firm?

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

The Gouldian Finch, research conducted at Macquarie University in late 2012 has shown, uses just one eye and one side of its brain to choose its partner for life. In the study published in Biology Letters the researchers found that ‘Beauty, therefore, is in the right eye of the beholder for these songbirds, providing, to our knowledge, the first demonstration of visual mate choice lateralization‘. Black-headed males choose black-headed females, and used only their right eyes and left side of their brains to do this.

Here’s looking at you kid, that is, if you are on my right-hand side and are the right colour – the Gouldian Finch chooses its mate by using only  its left brain and right eye. While clients may not do precisely this, we need to recognise they are all individuals, are different and use different criteria to choose our firm or our partners for that next assignment. It is also these individuals who determine the power or otherwise of our brands – Sean Larkan (Image: (c) www.birdsville.net.au)

This provides a timely reminder – we somehow seem to assume that all clients fall into one amorphous group – ‘clients’  - and that all our marketing and approaches to them can be similar and should produce the same results. Of course, this is wrong. Each client is very different. Each individual at every client is different. And it is these individuals who choose our firms or the partners at our firms for their next assignment. It is also what they think, these individuals, that constitutes our firm brands, and the individual personal brands of each of our partners. Some of these individuals are notoriously one-eyed. Others adopt what one may call a balanced approach, taking all factors into account. In each case we need to understand and respect this.

What can we learn from or do as a result of this?

  1. firstly, simply understand and respect their individual differences. Some clients are definitely left-brainers, detail people,  even pernickety (excessively precise and attentive to detail; fussy), want every ‘i’ dotted and ‘t’ crossed, while others rely on trust and relationships and that you will do the right thing by them and ‘sort out the detail‘ – the ‘just tell me where to sign‘ type. Others are a wonderful balance between these extremes; Continue Reading

LEX AFRICA – Africa’s leading legal network, turns 20

Posted in Brand, Business Models, Legal Profession, Professional Service Firms (PSFs)

LEX AFRICA, widely regarded as Africa’s leading, and certainly its largest, law firm network, celebrates its 20th anniversary at a time when there is unprecedented interest in Africa and attention from foreign investors and businesses. From humble but determined beginnings in 1993 with just five founding firms, LEX AFRICA has grown steadily to now number 29 country members. Recently Boussayene Knani & Houerbi of Tunisia joined this vibrant network.

As Nigel Shaw of founding firm Kaplan & Stratton in Kenya told me recently growth for this leading African legal network has not been a numbers game; it has been all about quality. : ‘. . . . in time, building on our founding principles, I would like to see us have a network that covers the whole of Africa and still with firms of lawyers who are considered to be the very best in their jurisdictions’. LEX AFRICA has long recognised that doing business and undertaking legal matters in Africa presents some special challenges. As a result, one of the key founding principles for the network was to only admit as members leading law firms from strategically important African countries – this underlying principle has built a strong foundation of quality to ensure clients referred to any member will be in good hands. This provides comfort to both the referrer and clients.

There has been an increasing interest in and focus on Africa in recent years not least of all due to the location of the SKA (single kilometre array) satellite station on the continent. Member firm Werksmans played a pivotal role in SKA project and it is anticipated member firms will continue to provide support to it.

I chatted to a few long-standing members and include some of their thoughts below but need to declare my interest – while managing partner of Werksmans back in 1993 we founded the network so I have remained keenly interested in its phenomenal growth and evolution over the past 20 years. I was chuffed to attend the AGM in 2012 in Maputo and be part of the 20th anniversary celebrations recently in Cape Town RSA. What struck me when I met many of the members at the Maputo meeting was how well they seemed to know one another. Clearly, regular personal contact and the building of relationships over many years seems to have built trust and respect and ensured active communication amongst members. It appears to have stood LEX AFRICA in good stead.

  1. I asked Osayaba Giwa-Osagie of Nigeria what initially attracted him to the LEX AFRICA network and what has kept his firm so active and committed since then?

As the Senior Partner in Giwa Osagie & Co, it was my responsibility to attract new clients to the firm and also to expand the firm. Many years ago I met Charles Butler, CEO of Werksmans and we struck up a good relationship after we had some good dealings with each other. We joined because we wanted to belong to a reputable network with a strong brand that would provide comfort to anyone who dealt with us. In turn we were comfortable knowing we had to earn our keep and produce quality legal services.

  1. What do you find most powerful/valuable about your membership? What do you like best? Continue Reading

Always deliver what you say you do or offer to deliver

Posted in Brand, Professional Service Firms (PSFs), Strategy, Trust & Respect

A fundamental of a successful brand is building trust. You build trust when other individuals who experience your service, product and brand offering trust that you will deliver on what you offer to do thereby achieving what I term ‘Brand Fusion™’. In turn this builds loyalty, that much sought-after, but rarely achieved status. But, it can be won. It just takes effort and making sure you do in fact deliver on what you offer.

It seems so obvious doesn’t it? Why would firms not do this? However, it is surprising how few organisations and professional service firms deliver; those that do, you will notice, achieve lasting success based on sound fundamentals with a trusted brand at the top of the list.

Always deliver what you offer. So, if you say ‘contact us’, make sure your website and links actually make it easy and intuitive to do just that, ‘contact you’, and make sure it is a person at the other end! If it does not, don’t offer it, as you will simply annoy actual and potential customers and lose their trust, respect and this will hammer their loyalty.

Let’s consider one very simple and obvious example where countless organisations slip up. Ever had an issue with a product or service and tried to communicate this with the company or organisation concerned? Ever tried to get hold of a real human via their ‘contact us’ link? I bet you have! I have, often, and sadly I must say most companies come up wanting, particularly the bigger, most ‘successful’ ones. The reason is simple: ‘contact us’ in plain English means you can get in touch with a person in our organisation in this way. The reality of experience proves all too often this is not the case.

While I have the feeling that most law firms don’t perform badly on this example (mainly because you can in fact get hold of a human being when you have an issue and more often than not even the head of the firm). For the sake of the profession, long may this continue. But you need to remain keenly aware of getting even these simple things right and all the other stuff that you ‘promise’ to potential clients and recruits. You then need to test everything else that you ‘offer’ and make sure this is experienced at every touch-point by everyone who comes into contact with your organisation. The truly great organisations do this, even the big ones. That is why their brands engender trust and loyalty. Remember, people who trust a brand ‘buy now and ask questions later’. 

I have recently experienced two encouraging exceptions to this: Continue Reading

Ignore your law firm capital structure at your peril

Posted in Financial management, Leadership, Legal Profession

Law firms seldom pay much attention to their capital structures. This has certainly been the case traditionally. Management of this important area was and still is often delegated to ‘the partner who seems to have the best handle on the financial stuff‘, sometimes the banking partner as he or she works with financial institutions! Given recent experiences via Dewey & le Boeuf and Goldman Sachs this seems like a risky option. Instead, very careful strategic financial advice and planning is required.  Far more attention should be given to the strength of firm balance sheets than they received in the past. I asked Cameron Taylor to join Legal Leaders Blog as a guest on this important subject.

Cameron has for the past decade annually analysed, reported on and presented the financial and performance results from Australia’s leading Legal Benchmarking Survey, FMRC, at their large firm meeting. He has 15 years experience in law firm management at a senior level and as a consultant working with international and domestic law firms in Australia on financial strategic issues.

After the Goldman Sachs meltdown, the CEO, speaking to the U.S. Treasury Secretary: “I’ve never rooted so hard for a competitor (Morgan Stanley). If they go, we’re next!”

His first comment to me on this was: ‘predicting rain doesn’t count – building a financial ark does!’ He continued:

A 2007 study described Goldman Sachs as one of the truly great professional partnerships, “a global juggernaut with such strengths that it operates with almost no external constraints in virtually any financial market it chooses, on the terms it chooses, on the scale it chooses, when it chooses, and with the partners it chooses”.1   

A year later its financial position was so dire its CEO speaking to the U.S. Treasury Secretary said “I’ve never rooted so hard for a competitor (Morgan Stanley), if they go, we’re next!2

Two decades of rising profits and few disasters have resulted in law firm balance sheets being a dull subject which is given limited attention by management and boards. This benign neglect of fundamental financial structures, when they are capable of generating infrequent but severe adverse consequences, is dangerous.

CAPITAL STRUCTURE MATTERS FOR LAW FIRMS

It doesn’t matter whether your firm is big or small, your capital structure matters. Undoubtedly, it is a subject of strategic import and it deserves serious attention on a regular and technically thorough basis. Make sure you get good advice and understand it.

Continue Reading

All legal leaders need to know about growth via merger and alliance. . . and a touch of Swiss

Posted in Brand, Leadership, Legal Profession, Management, Mergers and Acquisitions, Strategy, Uncategorized

Alternative growth structures such as Swiss Vereins, global alliances, non-merger affiliations, expansion strategies and a great deal more is covered in the latest edition of the Edge International Review. It provides essential insights for legal leaders – in fact, just what legal leaders need to know about!

The latest edition of the Edge International Review 2012 – essential reading for all legal leaders and senior managers

The review is downloadable from www.edge.ai. Download your free copy now! Alternatively click on the article links below to go directly to something that takes your fancy.

Interesting items you will find in this edition include:

And there is also a special section on the popular Swiss Verein structure:

  • Enter the Swiss Verein (21st century global platform or just the latest fad?) By Nick Jarrett car and Ed Wesemann
  • Harvesting the diamonds (cross selling in a multinational law firm) by Gerry Riskin
  • Come together (creating a collaborative business development culture despite separate profit pools) by Michael J White
  • Lead the way (leadership, guiding principles and brand strategy and a Swiss Verein) by Sean larkan

I take this opportunity of wishing all readers a wonderful festive, Christmas and holiday season and 2013, and thank you for your support, comments and sharing your insights and learnings during this first year of legal leaders blog. It has been a fun journey – I have learned much along the way and made many new friends and professional colleagues. I look forward very much to sharing thoughts and experiences next year!

Sean Larkan, Partner, Edge International