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Legal Leaders Blog

Building Strength, Confidence and Well-Being

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

Leadership is a skill, Manager is a role

Posted in Leadership, Management

Lyda Hawes is the Director of Client Services at LexBlog, the company that developed this blog. From time to time she and I have discussed the topic of management and leadership and I asked her to share her thoughts in this guest post. She also writes for LexBlog’s Client Services blog, Please Advise. Apart from this, as all who deal with her will confirm, she is one of those special people you get to deal with in the business world from time to time – Sean

Leadership vs Management? In this guest post Lyda Hawes  reviews this age-old distinction. I always encourage managers to develop their leadership skills and leaders to exercise good management skills as and when that is required as part of their role – Sean

Comparing the difference between leaders and managers is a popular topic in the leadership blogosphere. In fact, if you do a Google search on “leader vs manager” you get over 30 million results. While I expect there are examples that extoll the virtues of managers buried somewhere in those 30 million sites (well, at least I am aware of one, the one I wrote almost a year ago, Managers are People Too), the general consensus is that leaders are where all the cool stuff like vision and strategy take place, and managers are often left to the less fun task of managing tasks. In the 1989 book, “On Becoming a Leader,” author Warren Bennis gave us these comparisons (cited from The Wall Street Journal):

  • The manager administers; the leader innovates.
  • The manager is a copy; the leader is an original.
  • The manager maintains; the leader develops.
  • The manager focuses on systems and structure; the leader focuses on people.
  • The manager relies on control; the leader inspires trust.
  • The manager has a short-range view; the leader has a long-range perspective.
  • The manager asks how and when; the leader asks what and why.
  • The manager has his or her eye always on the bottom line; the leader’s eye is on the horizon.
  • The manager imitates; the leader originates.
  • The manager accepts the status quo; the leader challenges it.
  • The manager is the classic good soldier; the leader is his or her own person.
  • The manager does things right; the leader does the right thing. Continue Reading

Is your latest big initiative truly an outflow of your vision and strategy?

Posted in Leadership, Legal Profession, Management, Strategy, Vision

Again and again I come across senior law firm executives who are frantically busy with or concerned about their latest ‘big thing’ but who on enquiry struggle to relate this to the firm’s vision and strategy. Sometimes the latest item getting all the attention has arisen as a few other key competitor firms are doing something similar and are getting some publicity. Or it may have cropped up in  a recent firm board discussion or perhaps it is simply an idea that the managing partner or CEO feel strongly about and want to implement – and to hang with the written document!

It is interesting how often strategic initiatives which are undertaken in the months  and years after hard fought and agreed written vision is settled, go off in various often unrelated directions. Sometimes strategic initiatives or major issues taking up senior leadership’s time and energy fall into this category. This is sometimes the rule rather than the exception. It is almost as if the written vision and strategy does not exist or matter. (Sean Larkan 2012)

This is so often the problem with vision and strategy in a firm. A huge amount of work gets invested in getting it done and signed off, but invariably it then gets relegated to the ‘dusty shelf’ category seldom again to see the light of day and certainly not to be the driving framework for all key activities and initiatives in future. What a pity. How unnecessary – an opportunity lost.

Why does this happen?  Probably due to one or more of the following . . . . 

  1. the strategy simply gets forgotten;
  2. its too much hassle to pull it out, read it again and make sure what is being done aligns with it;
  3. what is being worked on is ‘so obviously important and urgent’, that it ‘must be done’ notwithstanding what might be in the strategy;
  4. the latest version of the strategy wasn’t really finally signed off and agreed with the partners as that last meeting was postponed. . . . .
  5. where is the latest strategy document anyway?

What steps should be taken to get maximum benefit out of both initiatives?

  1. get out the written strategy, dust it off and read it!
  2. make sure what is being done ties in with it. If it does not, suggest this as a stress-test of the strategy and update it;
  3. if it was not done before, use the opportunity to summarise the strategy into a page or two so it will never again be an excuse not to pull it out and test some initiative against it;
  4. announce the new initiative as being an outflow of the revised strategy – this gives the strategy standing in the firm and will make it more relevant when it is (hopefully) reviewed in a year’s time;
Take these simple steps and suddenly your strategy stops being the forgotten, unpopular, under-used management tool but rather, an incredibly important living framework guiding all important strategic initiatives of the firm in achieving its vision.
Sean Larkan, Partner, Edge International

 

How well embedded is ethics in your firm culture?

Posted in Culture, Leadership, Strategy, Values

While ethics is – or should be – important in all businesses, it is especially relevant for businesses that are trust-based, such as legal practices. Cynthia Schoeman of Ethics Monitor joins us as a guest today to provide her expert views on this important subject.

Leadership commitment to ethics is a primary factor in establishing an ethical culture in a trust-based organisation like a law firm. Leader behaviours effectively demonstrate to employees, colleagues and clients what will or won’t be tolerated. (Sean Larkan 2012).

The services and advice offered by the legal profession require a high level of client trust both as regards expertise and integrity. This exceeds the level of trust required in many other businesses, for example, in the retail industry where a customer’s interaction may only entail a transactional purchase.

A high level of trust is very advantageous for the success of a legal practice. Among other benefits, it deepens and strengthens relationships and fosters client loyalty. Given this correlation (between trust and success) it should follow that building and maintaining trust is imperative.

There are many ways in which a practice can generate client trust. It builds trust when the practitioner assigned to the matter has the necessary knowledge and experience, and when he/she acts with integrity, in accordance with the law, and in the best interest of the client. Continue Reading

Salaried partnership – make it GOOD, not BAD or UGLY

Posted in Leadership, Legal Profession, Management, Partners

Salaried partners as a proportion of total partners in law firms are on the increase. However, there are good, bad and not such good things about many implementations of the salaried partnership regime in firms. It makes real sense to ensure that your salaried partner structure is working in the best way possible. This means putting it together well and managing it well with constant reviews and stress-testing along the way.

This increased use of salaried partners was one of the clear findings of the 2012 Edge International compensation system survey of leading firms in the US, Canada, UK, Europe and Australia. This is a world-wide trend and is a reversal of the position of only a few years back when it seemed the appointment of salaried partners was on the decline.

Putting together an optimal salaried or fixed share partnership regime can be one of the wisest moves that law firm leadership ever undertakes – it can result in countless benefits – providing for succession and the long term health of the firm, a happy and hugely productive group of salaried partners and properly managed, very profitable and satisfactory for the equity partner group. (Sean Larkan 2012)

I wrote an article on this subject in the ALMJ (Australian Law Management Journal) which is available for download as a PDF.  A precis of some of the key points follows:

I am a strong believer in appointing salaried partners and believe that properly structured and managed this structure and system has the potential for many benefits for all concerned. To name a few:

  1. it is a good way to show appreciation and recognition;
  2. it is a good testing ground before equity partnership;
  3. it is a confidence builder;
  4. salaried partners have the opportunity to find their feet and understand the partner culture;
  5. it provides status;
  6. it can be an ideal alternative to equity partnership for some;
  7. it is ideal for some who may never meet the criteria for equity;
  8. it can help out with tough decisions where realistically it may be “impossible” to appoint equity partners;
  9. it can provide a realistic buffer to poaching firms; and
  10. sometimes it is a counter to lawyers leaving for greener pastures.
Having said this, I have consulted to a number of firms where we came to the view that the salaried partner system within the firms had either not been implemented properly or was not being managed satisfactorily. The result was that the salaried partner group was so disenchanted and it had, quite unintentionally for all concerned, become the enemy within the camp.
This situation can arise when:
  1. salaried partnership is used simply as a blockage to equity;
  2. salaried partnership is used to “park” under-performing partners;
  3. they are not treated with respect or provided with opportunities in regard to communication, consultation, listening, sharing of information, access to clients and so on;
  4. salaried partners are partners in name only or as glorified employees (it is not unusual to hear equity partners call them just this);
  5. they come to be viewed as nothing but a “necessary evil” (believe it or not this does happen!);
  6. salaried partners have not had conveyed to them the true nature of the regime in the firm;

Some outcomes of this are:

Continue Reading